Two weeks ago against Michigan State, the Irish (0-5) entered the game with minus-yards rushing for the season. But the team showed they could indeed run the football, gaining 117 yards on 35 carries, including the first two offensive touchdowns of the season. However, 76 yards and both scores came in the first half, and Notre Dame was blown out, 31-14.
Last Saturday at Purdue, Notre Dame, the nation's second-worst statistical offense got the passing game going for the first time this fall to the tune of 377 yards and three touchdowns. Starter Jimmy Clausen was 18-of-26 passing for 169 yards and a touchdown. After he left the game with a hip injury in the third quarter, Evan Sharpley picked up where he left off, completing 16-of-26 passes for 208 yards and two scores. Clausen wasn't sacked, and Evan Sharpley was brought down just twice, which is a huge improvement considering Irish signal-callers had been sacked a nation's worst 27 times coming into the game. Last year, Notre Dame allowed only 31 sacks.
As Notre Dame prepares for this Saturday's game at UCLA (4-1), it's about bottling up the positives from those two games, and putting it together in Pasadena.
"I think the positive is we have both aspects in place," sophomore left tackle Sam Young said. "Michigan State, we were able to really run the ball, and this game we had a lot of passing attempts and something over 400 yards of offense. We just have to find away to put it together, and today we had a pretty good practice and keep building on."
Up until last week, Notre Dame had lost six games in a row by 20 points or more dating back to last season. But as the offense continues to make baby steps, the program has come closer to staying in the game and earning a win. A second-half comeback against Purdue last week cut the deficit to seven points, before the Irish finally went down 33-19. With some Playstation like play calling in the second half, Notre Dame's offense looked like it did the last two seasons, scoring all of its points in the second half by throwing the ball up and down the field.
The Irish players could finally feel the momentum change.
"When we went out onto the field there was no question, we're going to score a touchdown, and that's a nice feeling to have," Young said.
Also a feeling that was maybe forgotten.
"There's a lot to build from," quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus began. "All year long we've been trying to get better each and every week, in each and every day, in each and every practice, in each every play. There were some good things in the Purdue game that the team did, but clearly not enough. We need to win games. It's easy for people to look at and people are quoting stats and that doesn't mean anything unless we win the game. The great thing is right now that everybody on the team has that same attitude and same mentality, that the only thing everyone is caring about is working towards a victory."
A victory against the Bruins won't be easy to come by.
UCLA ranks 16th in the nation against the run, and Notre Dame has lived in the basement of rushing yards per game since the season opener. The Bruins also rank 16th in quarterback sacks, and you guessed it, the Irish also reside in the basement of sacks allowed as well.
"That's what we're trying to get better at," senior running back Junior Jabbie said. "We obviously showed that we could run the ball in the Michigan State game, and we showed we could pass the ball in the Purdue game. We just need to put that all together for 60 minutes and I think our offense will be a lot more productive.
"We're getting more and more confidence every game and it's just showing that we're clicking a lot better and we're just going to be able to keep practicing and get better in all aspects."
Weis has always said that at the end of the season, he likes to see that his play calling was balanced throughout the year. He stated this past Sunday he would not be against having the pass set up the run. The way his team threw the ball against Purdue, and the way UCLA defends the pass, that might not be a bad idea this weekend. UCLA is giving up nearly 273 yards passing per game, ranking 100th nationally.
Exploit the Bruin's secondary, and the Irish could see more than just flashes of success this weekend.