On Saturday, one team will get their season back on track. Another will continue their downward spiral. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:36 PM in Ann Arbor and ABC will have the television coverage. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis doesn't think the slow start will have an effect for either the Irish or Wolverines.
"There is too much pride on both these teams to just throw in the towel," Weis said. "But the normal psyche of teams in this mode right now that are 0-2 is to be a bit fragile. Obviously, the better start you have, the better things will go. I don't think anyone from either team is ready to cash in the season. Both teams want to right the ship and I think you'll have a hard game."
For Notre Dame to right the ship, there are several areas the team will have to get better. The offensive line has struggled mightily with protection (15 sacks allowed) and opening up running lanes for the halfbacks (a total of -8 rushing yards through two games). This has contributed to the offense being held out of the end zone so far in 2007. This week, though, the Irish have displayed a fire on the practice fields in the hopes of getting off the snide.
"I see a greater sense of urgency," Weis said. "What I want is a greater sense of urgency and that's what I'm feeling now. If I would seen the former and not the latter, then I'd be a lot more concerned. I'm always concerned. We're 0-2 and we haven't done anything on the offensive side of the ball. I've seen a greater sense of urgency, even among the guys not starting."
Weis said that when a team is facing adversity, the players can react two ways to get themselves out of the hole. The team can play with a greater sense of urgency or a lower sense and throw in the towel. This Notre Dame team isn't ready to give up on the 2007 season.
"I'm just saying there's a coaching phrase that you either get better or get worse," Weis said. "One of two things has to happen. We have to do the little things better and backup guys have to get ready to play. It's more about the whole team accepting accountability. When that happens, you walk away with a greater sense of urgency."
***The Notre Dame defense has tried to do its part this year. The Irish are 54th in total defense and 13th against the pass. The one area where Notre Dame has not got the job done is stopping the ground game of the opposition. The Irish are 100th in this category. An explanation for this is the group's constant presence on the field as the offense fails to gain first downs and keep drives alive. The defense has worn down in both losses. Weis has tried to work both sides of the fence when talking to the defense.
"I tell them one positive and one negative," Weis said. "I tell them the offense feels accountable for the lack of production, starting with the coaching staff, and that we're going to right that ship. That's the one that doesn't point fingers or place blame. Now after I say that, I tell them there's no rule that you can't go three-and-out yourself. That's really the bottom the line. We can talk about them wearing out. But they could be out there for the same number of plays if they got off the field on third down."
***Weis said on Tuesday there will be competition along the offensive line for playing time. The Notre Dame head coach did praise fifth-year senior John Sullivan's performance, calling it "excellent." Weis has seen progress in the backups' efforts through two practices this week.
"I think the backups are playing their way back into contention,' Weis said. "When I was asked that question last week, I was a little disappointed in our backups. I have more confidence this week that if things go bad I could play additional guys."
***James Aldridge had a light workload last Saturday night in the loss to Penn State. The sophomore running back carried the ball one time but fumbled. Aldridge did recover it but his night was done. Weis lets running backs coach Michael Haywood substitute the players at this position and thought the fumble might have been why Aldridge didn't see another carry.
"I know that the one play he did carry, we flipped the ball to him and he dropped it," Weis said. "I would assume that would be a good reason to not have gotten another quick touch. I don't really worry about who's in the game when I'm calling play. I just call plays."