After watching the tape of Saturday's season-opening 21-13 win over San Diego State, Charlie Weis has two lists prepared for his players.
"When I get in front of the team, I'll have a whole list of pros and a whole list of cons," he said. "I actually have a lot more things on the pro page than the con page, but there's plenty of both. I think that's the way the game went.
"Fortunately, it's a lot easier to really emphasize the cons after a win than after a loss."
Most of those cons must be on the offensive side because the defense and special teams were the only reasons why Notre Dame was even in a position to win the game at the end.
As did just about everybody else, Weis saw David Bruton's fumble recovery in the fourth quarter as the turning point of the opener.
"I'd like to think that later on this year we're going to reflect back on that play, saying that that was the play that set Notre Dame up for success. Because that play was the game-changing play in the game," he said. "It's a one-score game, about ready to be a two-score game, even if they settle for three, at that point it's a two-score game. That turnover changed the whole complexion of the game."
The defense was pretty solid for the most part.
"They only allowed 13 points. In the first half, I thought we were excellent on third down. I think they were 2 of 10 on third down in the first half. As far as getting off the field, I thought we tackled well, we had several pass breakups, I think it was like eight. Several three-and-outs, I know the stats only have it at four, but the way we count it is actually at seven," said Weis. "The quarterback completed under 50% of his passes because he was throwing the ball quick because we were bringing some heat."
When junior Raeshon McNeil was listed as the starter at the cornerback position opposite of Terrail Lambert it was thought that sophomore Gary Gray would also see plenty of action with freshman Robert Blanton possibly getting time as well. But as the game played out McNeil and Lambert were the only corners that saw the field.
"Our intent was to play both (Gray and Blanton) for a good portion of the game," said Weis, who mentioned that the defense never really got worn down after the first quarter. "Raeshon, for his first legitimate start, I thought had a nice, solid game and I thought Lambert was good too. As a matter of fact, I thought the secondary as a whole really played well…I would have loved to get Gary and R.J. into the mix for sure."
Brandon Walker missed a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter and never got a chance to attempt a 25-yarder when holder Eric Maust was unable to get Braxston Cave's snap down. But the rest of the special teams units played well.
"We averaged 39 yards net punt with them only getting 1.6 yards per return. I was really happy with that with two balls inside the 20. Obviously, Mike Anello had four tackles in the game with two inside the 20 there. Then on kickoff, the average drive start for them was inside the 20-yard line, I think it was just under 19.75 drive start, but they only averaged 12.5 yards per return on kickoff return. Obviously with both the punt and kickoff I was pleased with the coverage units," said Weis. "I was really interested to see what kind of numbers the punt return and kickoff return showed. The punt return we had a 13.7 average, but that number is skewed a little bit negatively because Armando (Allen) really averaged 17.5 yards a return because the one return is after Scott Smith picked up the blocked punt by Sergio (Brown) so that gets factored in as the other punt return.
"As far as the coverage and return units in the game I felt good about them coming out of the game and after watching them on tape that was substantiated. Obviously the one area, my biggest area of concern on special teams, was our field goal/PAT operation and I'd say that I was with just cause because I felt the operation wasn't very good on tape when I watched it today."
While the defense and special teams were solid, for three quarters the offense was anything but.
"Offensively, the first thing that sticks to mind to me was situational football and situational football only came into play after the starts of both halves where we went three-and-out on both drives in the first and second half. I didn't think we played very good situational football. We didn't play very good on third down," said Weis. "You fumble inside the five, you thrown an interception, after an interception, you throw an interception on the first play. Then you botch a field goal attempt, so who knows how many points you left on the field in those three opportunities right there?
"Anytime you turn the ball over four times on offense and throw a botched field goal in to play right there for a fifth time, the odds of winning usually is very, very small."
The Irish were just 3 of 12 on third downs and despite their pledge to stick to the running game and despite the fact that many were manageable, 10 of those 12 third down-plays were passes.
"We were in five 3rd and 2-5's and three 3rd and 1's, so there was a whole bunch of plays, but obviously the 3rd and 1's were all runs, so let's take those out those and turn those into short-yardage plays," said Weis. "On the 2-5 plays, when the staff does their research I tell them to give me the best stuff, whatever the best stuff is. If the best stuff is a run they call a run, if the best stuff is a pass, they call a pass. I was letting them go with what they thought was best."
Determining what is the ‘best stuff' is a combination of both the Irish and their opponent.
"It's the best things that you have with your guys versus their guys, all personnel and schematics. That changes based on what teams are doing during the game," Weis said.
On one of the two third-down rushes, Robert Hughes was stuffed for a four yard-loss on Notre Dame's final possession of the third quarter.
"That was a miscall," Weis said. "It was a middle linebacker that was unblocked, that had a party in the backfield is what that was. The playcall is set for a fullback to be there to block that guy but there wasn't a fullback. There was a fullback on the field, but the formation was different than the play.
"Robert Hughes came over to me saying, ‘Sorry Coach, sorry Coach.' I said, ‘Robert you had an unblocked guy hitting you in the face. Relax.' He felt bad like he had let us down because we tell him that on 3rd and 1, we're counting on you being able to get the yard. I don't know anyone that would have gotten that yard in that situation."
Still, Notre Dame managed to make enough plays down the stretch and quarterback Jimmy Clausen led the team down the field for two touchdown drives to pull out the victory.
"I thought he was playing his best ball as the game went on to tell you the truth. In the fourth quarter, he had that string where he actually went 8 for 9 there in the fourth quarter," Weis said. "I think that with the game under duress, with him being under duress, for him to come march us down the field six plays for 80 yards and a touchdown and then come follow it right back with a 14-play drive for another touchdown, I think showed a lot about the ability of the kid to lead the team when things aren't looking so good."
Notre Dame's first touchdown, Michael Floyd's grab shortly before halftime, came after Clausen changed the play at the line of scrimmage, something he did not have much freedom to do in 2007.
"He audibles and sends (Floyd), instead of running a comeback, he tells him to run a go, he throws him a fade ball for a touchdown," said Weis. "He turns to him tells him to run a go and the next thing you know it's six. I don't think that ever happened, that's one more than last year."
The winner to Golden Tate was also made possible by an adjustment at the line that sent Tate deep.
At the request of the Notre Dame offensive coordinator, Weis brought the offense together for a meeting during the second quarter to keep their heads right.
"Michael (Haywood) asked me to kind of grab everyone together, basically saying, you can't sit there and harp on getting into a little bit of a rut so early in the game. What you have to do is you have to start picking yourself up. I think that there were some of them in that second quarter that were starting to get frustrated because they expected things to be going a lot smoother or a lot better than they were," said Weis. "It was just kind of to get everybody focused. In the past Michael would be doing that, but with him upstairs, we kind of have where either, depending on what the situation is, either I'll do it or (John) Latina will do it based off of what needs to be said."
Another area of concern for the Irish offense is the four times that it gave the ball away.
"The four turnovers were four different situations. One guy is trying to get extra yardage when he's down on the goalline, whether he's down or not is really a moot point they called him where he wasn't down. Here is a perfect example when you're being stood up and you're trying to reach for extra yardage that you still have to secure the football," Weis said of Hughes' second quarter-fumble. "The other one Armando got his clock cleaned. I think most people in that situation probably would have fumbled the football because he just got crushed."
Both interceptions came on passes intended for Duval Kamara.
"As far as the interceptions, one hits Duval in the chest. It goes to Jimmy, but it hits the wide receiver in the chest," said Weis. "The other one, I think that, Jimmy, I would have liked for him to throw to other side, but also the wide receiver has to protect the throw too."
The head coach said that Kamara "obviously had a couple of balls that he would definitely like to have back," and said that the staff would work with him on the importance of using his hands to catch the ball.
Kyle Rudolph became the first freshman to start an opener for Notre Dame and although he struggled at times in the run game, Weis was pleased with his overall play.
"I think Kyle held up fairly well for his first game," he said.
Notre Dame was called for seven penalties for 58 yards, some better than others.
"Sometimes a penalty is a smart penalty and sometimes a penalty is a dumb penalty," said Weis. "Mo Crum got called for two penalties. Now the roughing the passer penalty that wasn't very smart. The holding penalty was very smart because a guy is running an angle route and if he doesn't grab him who knows where this guy's is going to? It might be for a long, long way."
Notre Dame's head coach did not excuse his team's poor play on it being the first game, but he is confident that the Irish will show improvement in game two.
"After you get the first game out of the way, and that's true for the coaches too, but usually the whole operation and the players now have gone through it at a high tempo and now can progress to the next game," he said.
With what many consider to be the biggest game on the schedule coming up, Weis believes that will be a positive for the Irish as they try to forget about the negative things that happened against the Aztecs.
"The best thing is after a game like that, the next team on your docket is Michigan. I think that helps. It really does, it helps because you have a fierce opponent that you have a lot of respect for, that you know is going through a little transition themselves. You know that as you step up to the plate right here, they've got the one game under their belt and got out of there with the so-called ugly win," he said. "Fortunately the next one is big and as we know will be a tough opponent."