The underclassmen had a huge hand in the victory. Freshman Jimmy Clausen threw three touchdowns and has six scores to zero interceptions in his last two starts. Freshman running back Robert Hughes bulled his way to 110 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Wide receiver Duval Karama caught his fourth touchdown of the year, breaking the single season freshman record. Other freshmen got to see extensive action and contribute, including Armando Allen, Kerry Neal, Brian Smith and Ian Williams.
The upperclassmen also got into the act as fifth-year seniors Trevor Laws and Ambrose Wooden recovered fumbles in the second quarter. Both takeaways turned into touchdowns for the Irish. Tommy Zbikowski got to play a series at quarterback and ended up rushing for zero yards on three carries. Linebacker Joe Brockington led the defense with seven tackles. There was a strong positive vibe floating around Notre Dame Stadium after the game for the first time in 2007 and the players responded to Weis's message.
"I think next week's game doesn't have anywhere near the same pressure, because the game was built up by the coaching staff, starting with the head coach, about sending out the seniors with a win at home," Weis said on Sunday. "And that was from the second I talked to you guys last week right on through.
"That was the whole message, and it would have been a big downer if you built it up to let's go out with the seniors with a win at home and just spit the bit on that. And with that out of the way, you can move to another direction; a combination of the seniors playing their last game, but more importantly you'd like to be moving the program forward. And I think that's the intent; that's the message we want to move forward with this week."
The forward movement will be tested next weekend. Notre Dame travels west to California to take on Stanford. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 PM and ESPN2 will have the national television broadcast. The Irish's other victory of the season came in the Golden State with a 20-6 win over UCLA. The Cardinal's biggest victory of the season was one of the shockers of 2007, a 24-23 triumph at USC. Notre Dame lost at home to the Trojans 38-0.
The Irish have talked over and over again about finishing the season strong and gaining momentum heading into spring practice and the off-season. Notre Dame did get a win against a -10 Duke team, a good first step as Weis talked about. Now, can the Irish win back-to-back contests and create a true feeling of turning the corner? It'll be the seniors last contest in a Notre Dame uniform but the vision is for the future.
"The theme is moving the program forward," Weis said. "I think that we made one small step yesterday but I think we've got to be moving the program forward. And I'm no different than you. The last thing I want to do is go to Stanford and all of a sudden lay an egg and go into the off-season saying, ‘Well, you won at home on Senior Day, but you couldn't tie another good performance together.'
"So I think we want to be moving the program forward; simultaneously not losing sight of the fact that this is the last game for a large number of players. And I think that you can never lose the fact that being considerate of the guys that are on your team that have been playing for the last time."
After the emotional drain of winning for the seniors on Saturday, Weis will make sure the team is squarely focused on the upcoming opponent.
"We're going to start off Tuesday fairly early in practice hit pretty hard and smacking each other in the mouth and I think that will bring them back to reality that, ‘Okay, this isn't vacation week because it's Thanksgiving week,‘" Weis said. "Early on in practice after we knock out special teams, we'll be in full pads. I think I'll do my best to bring them back to business because I always have to be a bit concerned about that."