This week, head coach Charlie Weis has one trump card to play to his team to focus on winning and not worrying about going to 1-10. It's Senior Day on Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium when the Irish will host the 1-9 Blue Devils. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:43 PM and NBC will have the national television broadcast. Notre Dame has not won at home this season with their only victory coming at UCLA. A victory in the final home of the seniors' careers would ease some of the pain from the frustrating year.
"This week, I'm really only worrying about one thing," Weis said on Thursday after practice. "I'm trying to get all our energy and focus on one thing. It's not whether we're playing Duke or Stanford next week. This week is about playing their last home game. That's where all the direction is. You have to have a focus each week, especially when you're stumbling. I'll worry about the record in two weeks."
As has been his practice in years past, Weis will take all the seniors, walk-ons included, to the team hotel on Friday.
***With the focus being on the seniors this week and putting all effort into winning the Duke game for the group, there remains just two more opportunities for Notre Dame to earn a win. After the shutout loss to USC, the Irish had a bye and all the talk was about finishing the year strong and for the momentum to carryover to spring and the start of the 2008 season.
Two games later, Notre Dame remains stuck at one victory, including back-to-back losses to service academies. The message for the young Irish team remains the same: the group desperately wants to win. If Notre Dame doesn't, it's possible the negativity will follow the players during the off-season and spring practice.
"That's a legitimate concern" Weis said. "You go into the last games of the year sitting at 1-9. They're talking about how hard they're going to work in the off-season and all the promise and all the young guys playing. But if they don't have a taste of something good happening-it's not like you can't fix it or you can't repair it-it's psychologically significant when you're on the uptick and believing we can do this."
***Mike Ragone's status has improved throughout the week of practice. On Tuesday, Weis declared the freshman tight end doubtful for the Duke game because of an ankle injury. But Ragone has been out on the practice fields on Wednesday and Thursday and Weis said he would be surprised if the freshman didn't play on Saturday.
***Duke is 55th in the nation in sacks, averaging just over two a contest. One of Notre Dame's biggest deficiencies has been the ability to protect the quarterback. The Irish are dead last in the country in sacks allowed, surrendering almost five a game. Head coach Ted Roof coaches the Blue Devils defense and they aren't a blitz happy team. With the problems the Notre Dame offensive line has had in keeping Jimmy Clausen off the ground, what will Duke do on Saturday? It's a question Weis is wondering as well.
"The biggest concern we have, as we get ready to face Duke, is you can take the last half dozen games and get a scouting report for the game," Weis said. "Based on what they do, they're not a high pressure team. You kind of expect when you come up against us we're going to get a lot of pressure. You can practice against their tendencies and what you think they're going to do but the bottom line is that you'll have to wait to see what they do in a game. How much will they change going into the game?"
Weis did say Clausen looked real sharp in practice this week. The freshman quarterback will look to build off of his 22-of-40 performance for 246 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to Air Force.
***The weather forecast for South Bend on Saturday is for a high of 44 and a low of 28 with a 30 percent change for morning snow showers. Duke doesn't get to see a lot of snow down in Durham, North Carolina. Usually, Notre Dame practices indoors on Thursday but didn't do that this week because of the cold conditions predicted for Saturday.
"That's why we went out and practiced out there today," Weis said. "It's supposed to be in the mid-40's. I think it'll be pretty brisk. I'll take any edge we can get."
***Weis on the level of fan support despite the 1-9 record: "When I went to school here, I don't know if I would have been in the stands at the end of these games the way things have gone. Most of the places I've been, I can promise you most of the fans would have been home by the time the game ended. It's been remarkable. It's not just the student body. The student body has been beyond reproach and remarkable. But the people who've been here have been very good to our football team. I know that to a man, every senior you ask this week would say, especially with the way things have gone, it's been quite a sight to see."