Weis Notebook 9/18

The 38-0 loss to Michigan last Saturday was a new low for Notre Dame in head coach Charlie Weis' three-year tenure in South Bend. After back-to-back BCS Bowl appearances, many Irish fans expected an up-and-down season in 2007. But a third straight 20-plus point defeat to open the year and not scoring an offensive touchdown in the three contests have sent Notre Dame back to square one.

Weis said in his post-game press conference after the Wolverines loss that the Irish would be going back to "training camp." Usually, Sunday is reserved for non-contact football activities. Instead, a 38-point defeat to a Michigan team coming off two straight humbling losses forced the Notre Dame head coach's hand in making this week of a practice a physical one.

"I felt that needed to be done," Weis said Tuesday after practice.

Weis admitted that he has never been in this situation before of starting over after three weeks into the season. After looking so bad on offense and failing to stop the run on defense, it left the Irish head coach with few places to go. Weis has decided the best route is to get back into a training camp mode where being physical and taking players down to the ground is priority No. 1 in trying to right the sinking ship.

"I think it's pretty grueling," Weis said of the two practices so far this week. "Usually in training camp, we don't tackle anyways. We almost always stay up. Because I'm trying to develop a more physical mentality on both sides of the ball, we're trying to run the football with some physicality and pass block and stop the run and set the edge. The only way you can do it at this stage of the year with a limited amount of time is take them to the ground."

Of the two practices, Weis said Sunday's was the better of the two. The coaching staff didn't know how the team would respond to a physical practice 24 hours after being embarrassed by Michigan. Weis was "encouraged" by what he saw on Sunday and said Tuesday was more of the same. The hope is that the physical practices can remedy a few of the Irish's biggest problems, such as pass protection, creating a ground attack and stopping the opposition's rushing offense. The Wolverines exploited all three areas last Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor.

"If nothing else, this week is about finishing plays," Weis said. "That's one of the areas where we have to do the best job on both sides of the ball is finishing plays."

The biggest weakness for Notre Dame has been on the offensive side of the ball. The Irish's stats are laughable. Notre Dame is dead last in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense and sacks allowed. The team is just a tad better in passing offense, placing 115th out of 119 teams in Division 1A. Michigan was one of the worst defensive teams in the nation going into last weekend's contest but looked like the 1985 Chicago Bears against the Irish's offense.

Through three games, there have been three different game plans. In the 33-3 loss to Georgia Tech, sophomore quarterback Demetrius Jones was given the keys to an attack that resembled West Virginia's spread offense. The Yellow Jackets shut it down completely. Against Penn State, freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen, making his first start of his career, was given a vanilla game plan to minimize risk. It led to a 31-10 defeat. Versus Michigan, Weis opened up the offensive playbook but a direct shotgun snap that went sailing over freshman running back Armando Allen's head on the first play of the contest was a sign of things to come for Notre Dame in the 38-0 loss.

"Every game you try to X and O schematically the competition to best exploit their weaknesses, sometimes you don't really have an identity," Weis said. "The identity I've always dealt with on the offensive side of the football was multiple formations and multiple personnel groups to run the same plays. That's my stereotype and label. That's really what we have gotten to. We're trying to get back to the basics and core."

The identity part and finding out what this offense does best is key for Notre Dame this week in practice in the lead-up to Michigan State on Saturday in South Bend.

"I think you have to start force feeding who they are" Weis said. "Instead of trying to feel them out and see what they can do, you have to say, ‘This is what we're going to do. This is the one thing we're going to do. And we're going to do it and do it and do it until we get it right.'"

With the poor play comes the obvious call for different players in the lineup. While Weis said there are more players playing their way into and out of contention for playing time, there won't be major changes.

"What I didn't want to do is come in here and start firing people from their positions and start making massive changes," Weis said. "Then what you're doing is making sacrificial lambs. You can say, ‘You're the problem or you're the problem.' When you lose 38-0, there's plenty of problems. I'm part of the problem but I'm not playing."

***Sophomore right guard Dan Wenger was injured in the loss at Michigan. Wenger appeared to hurt his ankle. Weis said the sophomore's status is "iffy for a little while."

***Junior nose tackle Derrell Hand is done serving his three-game suspension after being arrested in early August for solicitation of a prostitute. Weis said Hand is available and expects the junior to play on Saturday.

***Weis finally got in contact with sophomore quarterback Demetrius Jones last night, who transferred to Northern Illinois this past weekend. Jones started the opener to Georgia Tech but was replaced in the second quarter after committing two turnovers on fumbles and completing 1-of-3 passes for four yards. Clausen replaced Jones as the starter the following week at Penn State and the Chicago, IL native decided the best move for him was to transfer to another school.

"It was a cordial conversation," Weis said of his conversation with Jones on Monday night around 9 PM. "I wouldn't say we aired it out but cleared up what was going on. He said he's moved on and wished him well. That was about it."

Jones did not show up for the team bus to Michigan last Friday afternoon. Weis said a player, who received a text message from Jones, informed an assistant coach and then let the Notre Dame head coach know around 2:10, just 20 minutes before the bus was to depart for Ann Arbor. Weis also said he would have let Jones play another position, if the Chicago, IL native decided to go that route. But Jones was firm on playing quarterback, hence the move to Northern Illinois.

***Weis on the knock that Notre Dame doesn't have any talent: "They said the same thing when I got here. When I got here, everyone said I had no talent. For a couple of years, we played pretty competitive football. Right now, we haven't played pretty competitive football for three weeks. I think we'll have to be judged on how the season goes. Right now, if I was looking at them play, I could see how they could make statements like that. I tend to believe different about this team. We'll have to find out."


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