"I think he's going to try (to play on Saturday vs. Navy) because he feels that'll be the best distraction for him," head coach Charlie Weis said on Wednesday. "I'm not encouraging him one way or another. I'm leaving that with him. He came back because he doesn't want to fall too far behind academically and secondly he feels the best way to get things off his mind is to be here at school."
Weis said Hughes, who has one of the two rushing touchdowns on the year for the Irish, returned to campus right before practice on Wednesday, will go to class on Thursday and then practice with the team later in the afternoon. After practice, the Notre Dame head coach will personally drive Hughes back to his home in Chicago in order for the freshman to be with his family. Weis will drive back to South Bend some time late Thursday night but will spend as much time as needed with Robert and his family before returning. The Irish head coach is driving the freshman back to Chicago as a safety precaution.
"I don't think a kid in that emotional state should be driving home and be behind a car. We all have kids," Weis said. "All of a sudden, they're going back at 90 MPH and not paying attention and things like that. There's a couple of things precautionary that any father/dad would be concerned with. I think it's a precautionary manner and it allows me to spend some one-on-one time with the family."
The funeral for Earl Hughes is set for Friday. Weis has arranged at least one bus of players and coaches to go to Chicago for the service and is trying to arrange a second bus. As for Hughes, his return to the team in a time of great tragedy will be helped by the players at his position.
"I think that running back group is pretty close," Weis said. "I had to break the news the other day. He's close to Armando (Allen) but Armando left to go to class. Travis (Thomas) and James (Aldridge) and Asaph (Schwapp) just got done working out. That running back group is a pretty close group."
***By now, almost everyone, including non-college football fans, have seen the video of the incredible ending to the Trinity (TX)-Millsaps Division III contest last Saturday afternoon. Trinity was down 24-21 with two seconds remaining and 60 yards to the end zone. But 15 crazy laterals and 62 seconds later, Trinity's Riley Curry made it across the goal line for the winning touchdown and an unbelievable 28-24 victory. Weis got some help from Charlie, Jr. in viewing the video clip.
"My son showed it to me online" Weis said. "He told me about it and I had no idea what he was talking about. I guess you can punch up the play. It's a pretty crazy ending. It was reminiscent of Stanford-Cal."
***Last year in the 39-17 win over Air Force, Chinedum Ndukwe turned in an incredible performance. The senior safety, playing against the option offense that the Falcons employed, was all over the field and totaled 22 tackles on the afternoon. With Ndukwe gone, David Bruton has stepped into the position opposite Tom Zbikowski and had a productive junior season with 53 tackles and two interceptions. As the Navy contest approaches, Bruton could get some insight into Ndukwe's play last season against the option.
"We always study our games against an opponent that plays a similar offense first," Weis said. "The only problem is that so do they. That's one thing you have to do is not fall in the trap where you come up, you come up and you come up and then one time you're supposed to have the wheel route and he ends up running the wheel right by you. But it's been a real good resource for us."
***The bye came at a good time for the Notre Dame defense. The Irish rank 93rd in the nation against the run, allowing 191 yards per game on the ground. The next two games, Notre Dame will face the top-ranked rushing attack in Navy and the nation's sixth best group in Air Force on November 10th. The Irish have a solid resource in defensive line coach Jappy Oliver, who spent time at both Navy and Air Force. Weis hopes the defense will have their assignments down pat by the time the Midshipmen come to town on Saturday.
"The things we've been doing, we've been practicing them for two weeks," Weis said. "What you do against this team is that you don't put in too many things. All you're doing is opening yourself up for ‘yeah, buts.' You do less and you practice more. There aren't 100 calls going into this game. You mix up those things about whose got the dive, whose got the pitch, whose got the sweep, whose got the load option, whose got the wheel route.
"In the defense, you have to know who has who or unless, as you saw last week, on an inside run a fullback goes 70 yards for a touchdown because everyone is worrying about the guy on the edge."
***Weis on the health of freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen: "He looks better. He's not perfect but he's better."