Notebook: Michigan Game

ANN ARBOR - As the Notre Dame players filed into the visiting locker room following the 38-0 loss they took to Michigan on Saturday, its third straight lopsided loss to begin the season, head coach Charlie Weis looked everyone he could in the eye.

"I was looking at their eyes to see if they threw in the towel or not," Weis said. "That's exactly what I was doing with everyone that came by, that included the coaching staff to. I wanted to make sure I looked at everyone. I wanted to see who's eyes were up, who's eyes were down. I wasn't sending a message I was just observing."

After seeing what he wanted, Weis went into the locker room and sent his own message. That he wasn't throwing in the towel. He was starting from the beginning.

The team will be going back to training camp mode, back to basics on Sunday. There will be no film review, no meetings, no preparation for next Saturday's opponent Michigan State.

"We have to worry about Notre Dame," Weis stated. "I can't worry about Michigan. I can't worry about Michigan State. I got to worry about Notre Dame. I got to worry about me. I got to worry about my coaching staff. I got to worry about my players."

This coming because the Irish (0-3) came into Saturday's game with the worst offense in the nation, averaging just 133 yards per game. That included minus-four yards rushing for the season. Against the Wolverines, 79 total yards and minus-six yards rushing did nothing to help. Defensively, the Irish have had a hard time stopping the run, allowing 214.5 yards per game (ranking 100th nationally). That's before Michigan ran for 302 yards. Mike Hart, who guaranteed a Wolverines (1-2) victory, went for 187 yards and two touchdowns to back up his statement.

"You have to go back to work, you have to go back to basics," fifth-year senior safety Tom Zbikowski said. "We have to get better. We can't let this happen."

"It's the only thing to do right now," fifth-year senior center John Sullivan said. "We have to go back and start getting better, with the basics. Going back to training camp sounds like the right thing to do."

Nobody can benefit more than the offensive linemen. The reason why the Irish's rushing stats are so terrible, is because Notre Dame quarterbacks have been sacked an amazing 23 times. The Irish only gave up 31 sacks in all of 2006. Not all of the blame can go on the offensive line, but they should take the brunt of it.

"We just have to go back to the drawing board," Sullivan said. "Obviously we need to play better."

"We have to make a lot of changes because we're not getting the job done," sophomore tackle Sam Young said. "There weren't any fundamentals present."

For the offense to play better, they need to establish an identity.

Against Georgia Tech in the opener, Weis started Demetrius Jones, and went with a dynamic rushing attack, that obviously didn't work in a 33-3 rout. Last Saturday against Penn State, Weis started freshman Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, and went with a conservative running/short passing game that also failed to the tune of 31-10. After Saturday's debacle, the offense is still looking for its first touchdown of the season.

"I've not been able to create a small niche that is a staple or foundation for us to grow from," Weis said. "That's what I've not accomplished at this point, three games into the season. And you would like to think that three games into the season, there is some things you're starting to do better and better and that's not happened."

So here is how the upcoming week is going to go. Four hours of practice on Sunday. Four hours of practice Tuesday through Thursday. The team will be together for one hour on Friday. Three of the 20 hours per week a college team can spend together is devoted to the Saturday game.

"It's not going to be show teams," Weis explained of practice. "It's going to be the first offense against the first defense. After I wear them out, then it will be the second offense against the second defense. Then whoever's left, they go next. And then we're going to start it all over again until we get it right.

"It doesn't make a difference what happened in this game. One game is worse than the next game. So it doesn't do any good for me to sit there and harp on that. I think what I really need to do, is start going back and finding a way to fix the problem rather than just try x's and o's, technique, try and do something different each week. I think the only way I know is going back to work and that's exactly what we're going to do.

"Really it doesn't make a difference who were playing until we start getting good at something. Right now we're grab bagging, and we're not really getting good at something. We have to have a staple. We have to have something to start from. That has to be our approach."

***Weis had no idea backup quarterback Demetrius Jones decided to leave school until 2:15 p.m. on Friday. The team bus was set to leave soon there after. ESPN reported on Saturday that the sophomore has enrolled at Northern Illinois.

Weis wasn't sure how this distracted his team before heading to Ann Arbor.

"I really don't know, but I don't want to use it as an excuse," he said. "Because the easy thing for me to do is, yeah the team was all distracted, but that's a cop out on my part here. Jimmy was the starting quarterback all week. Evan (Sharpley) was given a bunch of reps. Demetrius was given some reps. It came as a surprise, but lets not blame Demetrius for that performance today."

At the last minute, Weis called walk-on signal-callers Darrin Bragg and Justin Gillett for insurance.

"I said grab your stuff, we need a couple of quarterbacks," Weis said.

Gillett made it on time. Bragg was on the other side of town, and had to meet the team in Ann Arbor. He arrived just before the Friday night meetings.

Weis said all the jobs are open for his second training camp of the year, but it's likely Clausen remains the starter and the junior Sharpley will be the backup. Jones leaving causes some concern.

"What it does is, it hurts you with some depth after one and two," Weis said. "I already have a plan in place. You can't wait to have a plan in place. But right now, one and two are one and two, and unless somebody ends up going down, we're okay."

***Sharpley entered the game with just over 13 minutes remaining. Clausen was 11-of-17 passing for 74 yards, while being pressured all afternoon, and sacked eight times. Sharpley finished up 2-of-5 for 11 yards.

The move was not an indication that Weis was heading in yet another direction at quarterback.

"I thought Evan deserved a shot to go ahead and get some reps," Weis said. "The way the game was going, I think there was no reason he shouldn't have a shot to get some reps."

"It wasn't like I was looking to pull Jimmy. Jimmy was part of the problem, but he was a part of the problem like everything else. I'm not big on making sacrificial lambs. I just felt like a lot of other guys were getting a chance to get an opportunity, I thought Evan deserved that chance."

***Weis flip-flopped right tackle Sam Young and left tackle Paul Duncan. He wouldn't go into too much detail, but he said the move was going to stick for awhile.

"Not going into physical ailments of one or the other," Weis began. "Lets just say one of them is a lot better position to play on the other side than where they were playing. So because they both played at right tackle and left tackle, it became the logical thing to do. I don't want to go into anymore detail because then you end up exposing yourself."

***Of the 102 points Notre Dame has surrendered in 2007, 43 have come on drives of less than 38 yards. Michigan had a pair of 21-yard drives and a 38-yard drive in taking a 17-0 lead over the Irish.

***Though the Irish rush defense is suspect, teams are only averaging 114 yards passing against Notre Dame. In his first career start, Michigan freshman Ryan Mallet was just 7-of-15 passing for 90 yards. However three of those completions went for touchdowns.

***David Bruton led the Irish with nine tackles. Zbikowski and defensive end Justin Brown each had eight stops. Defensive end Trevor Laws added seven tackles with two coming for loss.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories