Irish Look to Avoid 0-3 Start

Notre Dame and Michigan are two of the most tradition-laden programs in college football. Between the two schools, the Irish and Wolverines have combined for 1,681 wins, 20 national championships and 171 All-Americans. This season, the two programs share another similarity, a 0-2 record, with Notre Dame being outscored 64-13 and Michigan 73-39.

On Saturday, one of these two schools will earn their first win of the year. Kickoff in Ann Arbor is set for 3:36 PM and ABC will have the television coverage. One team, the Irish, can't move the ball. The other, the Wolverines, have had big-time trouble stopping the opposition from putting points up on the scoreboard. It looked like a marquee match-up just a few weeks back. Now, it's a respectability fight for these two, proud storied football schools.

"It's a definite plus that you're playing a team with the quality of Michigan and with the tradition of Michigan," Weis said. "Throw on top of that that the situations are mirrored. Our players are cognizant of the fact that their players are going through the same thing we're going through. I think that the team that stays together the best and doesn't finger point and accepts accountability and handles adversity will in all likelihood be one that plays the best on Saturday."

Notre Dame has been abysmal so far on offense. Out of 119 schools in Division 1A, the Irish are dead last in rushing offense, total offense and sacks allowed, 117th in scoring offense, 107th in passing offense and 102nd in pass efficiency offense. The offensive struggles and lack of first downs has caused the defense to wear down a bit in the second halves versus Georgia Tech and Penn State. Notre Dame, although 13th nationally against the pass, is 100th in stopping the run and 93rd in scoring defense.

After Michigan, the next five Irish opponents are a combined 9-0. Road trips to Purdue and No. 11 UCLA, coupled with home dates against Michigan State, No. 19 Boston College and No. 1 USC have Notre Dame haters out in force. Weis' focus isn't on the tough five game stretch. It's on the Wolverines and avoiding only the second 0-3 start in the history of Irish football.

"We've lost two games," Weis said. "And right now we're trying to win one. I think that that's going to be our goal until we got the first one under our belt. And hopefully it is this week against Michigan.

"But I think that you never, ever worry about 12 games from now. You worry about this one and this one only. So I'm only worrying about trying to beat Michigan and I live my life under that creed. I don't worry about six weeks from now. I don't worry about eight weeks from now. I live my life week by week. I live my life day by day."

This week will also be the second start for Jimmy Clausen. In the freshman's first start in the loss to the Nittany Lions, Clausen was 17-of-32 for 144 yards and an interception. Clausen was constantly under pressure from the stingy Penn State defense and sacked six times. In two games this year, the Irish quarterbacks have been sacked 15 times. When the freshman did have time to throw, most of the passes were either swing passes to running backs or short routes to wide receivers. Clausen wasn't given a lot to digest in the Nittany Lions contest.

"We had minimal in," Weis said about the offensive package. "I wouldn't say it was the least I've ever had, but it wasn't very much. And we believed it was enough to be able to manage the game. But the problem I have is I have a catch-22. I would rather not open it up. But you have to open it up to give you an opportunity to score points."

The lack of points up on the scoreboard might mean a bigger set of plays to choose from for the Michigan game on Saturday afternoon.

"Obviously, we've gone through two games without much production on offense," Weis said. "So you can't sit back. You can't just sit there and take baby steps. You have to make some significant strides to try to get some production on offense."

The production on offense could be traced back to the line play. Notre Dame, because of the 15 sacks factored in, have rushed for -8 yards on the season. The young offensive line, whether it be in the rushing game or passing game, has not been getting the job done. Granted, Penn State and Georgia Tech are both currently in the top-10 in total defense and have a lot of talent on that side of the ball. But it's been one mistake after the other through two games that's contributed heavily to the Irish's offensive woes.

"There are some questions that are easier to fix and some questions that are harder to fix," Weis said. "There are some things I don't understand either. But once again, it's not all just the offensive line. What then you end up doing by qualifying that too much there, is then you put the onus all on them.

"Have they played great? No, they haven't played great. As a unit, they haven't played great. So what my job then to do is to keep on working to find a way to fix it. They have to be part of it given that accountability prospect that I talked about before, and I got to be part of it, too."

Weis said center John Sullivan's play has been "excellent." Competition at the other spots along the offensive line, though, is there for the taking this week.

"I think that you have to go by what you see in practice because you have to believe that the guys you're going to put in there are going to give you a better chance than the guys that are already in there, and they have to give you some evidence," Weis said. "And I've always believed that by going by what I see in practice, and if it doesn't look any better in practice than the guys we've got, then I'm going with the guys we've got."


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