After the game, some of the Notre Dame players said that they had never seen their head coach as fired up as he was before Michigan. Charlie Weis had thought about what he was going to say to his team before this game for almost a year.
"I had been waiting for a long time to have that conversation before that game. As you guys know last year after the Michigan game, as I sat there in Ann Arbor and answered all of those questions, which was a long press conference," Weis said. "The next day we started going to work on trying to change things, we started then. We didn't wait six weeks from then, we didn't wait a year from then, we started then.
"I remember standing there on that sideline humiliated at how things were going. I said, ‘Things are going to change.' I think that the message I wanted to say to them before we went out of the locker room is, 'Today's the day that you've got to make a change.' I'd like to sit there and take the kudos, but it wasn't me, it was the players. But if you're asking me if I was kind of wired up, yeah I probably was a little wired up."
No coach will ever see their team play a perfect game, but Weis was pleased with the overall play of the Irish on Saturday.
"I think that yesterday, although it was far from perfect and we have many things to correct in all three facets," said Weis. "I think we played a complementary game where the offense made plays, the defense made plays, special teams made plays, and when all three facets are making plays, you have a good chance of winning."
The head coach started to get the feeling that his team was ready during the week, but it became clearer as the game approached.
"They're not a boisterous group, but even in practice on Thursday they were loose. A lot of times when you're eating pregame, you can tell. When they're real quiet, they're usually too uptight. When they're real loud, they're usually too loosey-goosey," he said. "You just had a feel that there was a quiet confidence about the group."
In two games, the increased aggression on defense has only produced a single sack, but the real impact of the pressure does not show up on the stat sheet.
"(Michigan) did have a couple of balls down the field, but most of the balls were all the slip screen, bubble screen, quick-throw variety, so you're basically telling the team when you're bringing the heat that, ‘OK, you're going to throw another three-step drop, that's the way it's going to go, the ball is going to have to come out quickly,'" Weis said. "I think that they did have a couple balls down the field, but it kind of eliminates the intermediate to long passing game on a regular basis when you're bringing a bunch of heat."
While the Notre Dame defense only has one sack, the Irish offensive line has not allowed any through two games, a huge improvement over 2007.
"First of all, they're playing hard. OK, it all starts with that. The second week in a row we go without giving up a sack against a team that last year was a fire drill. So that's an awfully big statement," Weis said. "Number two, going into the fourth quarter, I mean, we're averaging over four yards a carry running the ball against a team that's giving up one yard a carry. So obviously they were slugging it out toe-to-toe with them. And going against a front four like theirs, which is pretty darned good, they're showing that they can play with the big boys."
Even after yesterday's game plan, the Irish don't plan to scrap the ‘pound it' mentality, although it may not play out the way people thought it would.
"Sometimes you think to pound it means that you're going to come out and you're going to run it 15 plays in a row. It's really what's happened at the end of the day? What did we throw it, 21 times in a game? I don't know how many times we ran it, but it was a lot more than 21," Weis said. "I think that when it's all said and done, what you don't do is just play into the mentality of the team you're going against. ‘They average one yard rushing defense, so let's go run it at them ten times in a row.' The whole key is to try to win the game, so when it all evens out, if you look at a culmination of the whole 60 minutes, usually you'll see a lot of straight ahead runs, and that's what pounding is, is straight ahead runs."
The Irish head coach said that getting a three-touchdown lead so early and reclaiming a commanding advantage in the fourth quarter allowed Notre Dame to play it safe.
"An analogy that I always have learned, a baseball analogy, is ‘put the bats away.' This was a ‘put the bats away' game, and make sure that when it's pouring there in the third and fourth quarter, sometimes punting isn't the worst thing you could end up doing," he said. "If you're playing field position and ball control and the like right there because now you have enough confidence that if you're punting down there your defense is going to stop it."
The Irish offense was just 3 of 12 on third down, which is something that Notre Dame will need to improve on going forward.
"Obviously converting 25 percent isn't what we're looking for. But at the same time, I talked to Michael (Haywood) during the game, and I said that -- especially when it got to be 35 to 17, I said, ‘Even if it's 3rd and 9, we don't need to be in shotgun. We don't need to be in shotgun throwing the ball 15 yards down the field. We can throw a three-step drop. If we make it, fine, if not, we'll punt,'" Weis said. "But what you don't want to do is put something at risk and give them a cheap one at that time right there. That being said, 3rd down conversions will be an area of concentration for the offense this week."
While the offense did not need to rely on the wide receivers late in the game their development will give the unit an added dimension down the road.
"I think that seeing us now start to stretch the field more than we've been stretching it, whether it be Golden (Tate) or Michael (Floyd), or David (Grimes), who wasn't obviously 100 percent yesterday," Weis said. "As you've seen us start to stretch the field a little bit more, it eventually will pay positive residual effects in everything else you do, the running game and intermediate passing."
Defensively, the staff liked what it saw out of the defensive backfield.
"I think that the secondary as a whole has played very solid. I thought Raeshon (McNeil) has played solid. Everyone was really concerned with Darrin (Walls) not being here for the semester, 'What's going to happen now?' and I think he's stepped up," Weis said. "But those safeties, I think (David) Bruton must have been in on 15 tackles yesterday and (Kyle) McCarthy must have been in on double digits again. These guys are very physical tacklers."
The defense stepped its game up in the second half and shut the Wolverines out after intermission.
"I think that we made some very good halftime adjustments because in the second half they only had 43 yards rushing. They averaged, what, 3.8 for the game, but they were two and a half in the second half," Weis said. "Then we got off the field on 3rd down, I think they were 1 of 5 on conversions in the second half, had the ball seven times, and there was a couple three-and-outs and three punts and a couple turnovers. So I think that our defensive staff did a nice job at halftime. Obviously they shut them out the second half, so I think that they got a better feel by halftime of what they needed to do and pitched a shutout in the second half."
And the special teams units played just as large of a role as the offense and defense.
"First of all, on the punt team, I think those two gunners, (Mike) Anello and Bruton, have been -- they're tough to get -- they're making plays. They're getting down there and they're trying to block them, but they're getting down there and they're making plays. And those same two guys are the two leading guys on kickoff. I think David must have had four tackles and Anello must have had three. So the two guys keep on showing up," Weis said. "Now, as the season goes on, somewhere along the line they're going to try to do something to take those two guys away, and I think somebody has got to be ready to pick up the slack. But they had negative yardage on punt return.
"Kickoff coverage was very good and field position when that hidden yardage once again was decidedly was in our favor, because I think our average drive start was maybe the 39 and theirs was like the 24. I mean, that's a big difference between turnovers and special teams."
Notre Dame did suffer a couple of injuries during the game, but nothing major and Weis was pleased with the replacements, especially freshman Trevor Robinson at right guard.
"We're in pretty good shape. Grimes is back, still tight. Chris (Stewart) got rolled up again during the game. He wanted to go, but I just felt at the time, him hobbled, versus Trevor fresh, I thought it was the better way to go that way," said Weis. "Other than that, we had a couple guys get bumps and bruises. Mo (Crum) was bumped up, Bruton was bumped up, McCarthy was bumped up, but they're all a go."
As for his own injury, after consulting with doctors, Weis will not have surgery on his knee anytime soon if at all.
"As of right now, just talking to the doctors a little while ago, I think we're just going to go without having surgery for the foreseeable future, if at all for the ACL," he said. "The MCL we just let it tighten up. The ACL, if we need to address it down the road, we'll address it down the road. But I certainly would not do it, based on my conversations with them, I certainly would not do it anytime we had a game. So if I did it at all it would be the bye week or after the season."
The Irish led 28-17 in the second quarter when the injury occurred and Weis wanted to make sure that his team remained focused on the game and not his health.
"I didn't want to be a distraction or be a part of any momentum change to the negative side," he said. "I felt that if I had gone in, not that I'm trying to show my manhood, but more importantly I thought it could possibly hurt our momentum and I didn't want to risk that."
Weis will wear a brace and plans to coach from the sidelines with some precautions.
"I'll probably place myself a little different. I like to try to stay somewhere around the 50-yard line. Certainly on offense, I always try to stay behind the ball, which sometimes I'm ahead of the ball, sometimes I'm behind the ball," he said. "On defense, I'll probably try to stay behind their offensive group. You never can totally protect yourself, but I'll probably be a little bit more end-to-end conscious and try to stay there in the middle.
"I'll probably get Ruben (Mendoza) or Ruben and another one of his guys to look out for me."
Tom Brady called his former coach with some firsthand advice.
"He said for about a week you'll be struggling, after that it gets better," Weis said.
"(Ryan) must have come to me out of the blue five times (to apologize)," Weis said. "He felt bad, but he had no reason to feel bad. It wasn't his fault."