Everyone feels better after a win, even when they are being critiqued.
"It's tougher to go to work when you come in after a loss because the constructive criticism that takes place after a loss, which you really need to get better, is a little tougher to hear when you're already a little bit emotionally or psychologically in the tank," Charlie Weis said at his Sunday afternoon press conference. "After a win, it's really easy to criticize people. It's easy because they're already feeling good… They're a lot more perceptive after a win than after a loss."
Weis was impressed with the fact that his team responded to the first loss of the season with a 38-21 victory over Purdue.
"I was pleased to see how they reacted to the loss at Michigan State," he said. "We obviously had a bump in the road last weekend and we came back and there were some distractions right off the bat and they came in on Monday and got focused in on the entire week and they practiced really hard."
As in any game, the win over the Boilermakers featured both pros and cons for the Irish. Offensively, the Irish started slow, but ended fast.
"We go three-and-out the first drive. Second drive we get the ball, come up 4th-and-short, 4th-and-less than a yard and don't get a yard, turn the ball over on downs. The next time we have 2nd-and-goal from the 8-yard line, we get a false start penalty. Almost every time you end up with a penalty in the red zone it ends up costing you points," Weis said. "At the end of the day, we end up missing a field goal. Not only do we not get a touchdown, but we ended up not getting any points. Those are the first three drives the game.
"Conversely, you take the last drive of the first half, not including the last two plays. You really score four touchdowns in a row. Scored a touchdown there, then those two plays, then you scored the first three times you got the ball in the second half. It doesn't get much better than that. Really, it's four touchdowns in a row. Then you follow that up with a field goal after that. It's really five scores in five drives."
For the most part, the defense played well in both halves, but there are still some issues to address.
"Obviously one of the biggest, if not the biggest play in the game, is R.J. (Blanton's) interception for a touchdown, which is the only turnover in the game," Weis said. "I was pleased with the red zone defense. I was exceptionally pleased at how they played in the second half on defense on third and fourth down. I think they pitched a shutout in the second half. I'm not exactly sure, but I think they were 0-4 on third down and 0-2 on fourth down. When you can do that, usually something good is going to end up happening.
"I think when the players watch us having Purdue backed up, letting them get off their goal line, that will be a concern. Giving up the seam ball for a touchdown versus cover three that'll be a concern. Getting a couple penalties, the horse collar and the PI on Sergio (Brown), that will be a concern."
Outside of a missed field goal in the second quarter, the special teams were the most consistent of the three units.
"On special teams, I thought our coverage units were exceptional. I thought our kickoff coverage was exceptional. (Mike) Anello and Scott Smith each had three tackles in the game. I thought they played really well," said Weis. "Our punt coverage team was good, once again. We got some good yardage on our kickoff return. The only area where we didn't get any action was at punt return, which that bothered me some. Then, of course, we missed the one field goal, but there are a lot of good things that happened on special teams."
Heading into the game, there were a lot of questions about whether Notre Dame would turn into a pass-heavy offense after struggling with the run in East Lansing. While the Irish did come out throwing the ball, in the end they found a good balance between run and pass.
"I think this was a way for us to start and make sure we didn't get one-dimensional, come out and figure we were going to throw the ball all day," Weis said. "That wasn't in any way our intent, coming out and throwing the ball all day. We knew what we had to do. We had to loosen them up before we started hammering them inside or on the stretch play."
Jimmy Clausen posted some of his best career numbers at Notre Dame, but for the head coach, it was more than that.
"He's had days with higher completion percentage, but he hasn't played any better than he played yesterday. He played pretty darn well yesterday," said Weis. "He got us out of some plays. He moved runs from one side to the other side. I mean, he really did a nice job for us yesterday."
"He's getting closer. I mean, let's say, for instance, the touchdown pass to David. That was an all-out blitz. They were bringing the house, they were bringing more than we could block. So we had routes outside to get you to first down. The route was get the first down with the outside guys, then go for the home run with Grimes," Weis recalled. "He saw there were more coming with more than we could block, even though Sam Young did a great job of taking two on the play. He stepped to his guy, got a hand on the other guy who was coming on block. Jimmy just saw that, back-pedaled, laid one up there.
"That's not something an inexperienced quarterback does. I mean, that's something an experienced quarterback knows, ‘Hey, they got more coming than I can handle. I know the only place I can throw the ball is a layup down the field, let them run up under it.' That's a big-time play. I believe it was 4th-and-7 at the time, too. Incomplete pass, it's their ball. Instead it's a touchdown, strike up the band. "
The mental portion of the game is one that Clausen really works on and it shows on the field.
"Jimmy has always been a gym rat. By that I mean he's always around. I think that that's one quality of any good quarterback is that they need to want to be around. The quarterbacks that you kind of have to look for them and can't find them are usually the ones that are missing that special something that gives them the potential to be a big-time quarterback," said Weis. "Whether it's the breeding or the family, whether that's part of the deal, football has always been important to him and I think that really helps. Then the fact that he just likes to play the game. So to him, the more he can be around it, the more of a junky he can be. He wants to progress and he wants to progress in all facets and I think mentally is one of the areas that he's progressing very fast."
This year's freshmen class came in with the idea that it could help this team and it continued to make contributions against Purdue.
"I'd say they had plenty of evidence watching games last year that they would have an opportunity to get into the mix. But at the same time I'd also say we've been saying right along, I've never seen, in any class coming in, camaraderie like the one with this group this year. Forget about the ratings,' Weis said. "Forget about the rankings, the camaraderie that these guys had from the beginning to end of recruiting. As we had rehashed last year several times, when they were getting hammered and hammered, the guys stuck together. They formed such a close bond that they wanted to be a part of something special. A bunch of them are now getting themselves on the field."
Freshman running back Jonas Gray was the latest rookie to make his debut in the win over the Boilermakers. Gray showed up on special teams, but don't be surprised to see him in the offensive backfield soon.
"That's the intent…It's the same thing we did a week earlier with (Steve) Filer," Weis said. "We made a decision these were two guys that could help us on special teams. Obviously when the situation presents itself, we'd like to see them get involved in the offense and the defense."
Freshman tight end Joseph Fauria did not make an appearance against Purdue. Weis said that Fauria was ready to go and probably will get into the mix sometime soon, but for the most part, the freshmen that have seen the field will probably be the only ones that do this year.
"In a lot of cases if there's guys that are far down the depth chart, they'll probably stay far down the depth chart at this point," Weis said.
Meanwhile, tight end Luke Schmidt did not dress for Saturday's game and after undergoing a cognitive test on Friday, it is uncertain when he will be back.
"I would say we should say he's going to be out indefinitely," said Weis.
After suffering the knee injury against Michigan, Weis has employed the services of strength coaches Ruben Mendoza and Rick Perry as his personal protectors on the sidelines and they were needed on a Kory Sheets run late in the third quarter to the Notre Dame sidelines. Sheets was pushed out of bounds near the head coach and Perry guided him away from Weis, which surprised the Purdue running back.
"Sheets got up, he was a little bit stunned by it because he was a little bit away from me as he was getting run by me," Weis said. "He popped up, he looked at Rick. I said, ‘Kory, he's just protecting me.' He said, ‘OK, gotcha, Coach.' I think Rick was being a little overprotective, but I'd rather him err on the side of caution, to tell you the truth."
The orders for Mendoza and Perry are simple and clear.
"I told them, if I get hit, they get fired," Weis laughed
But overall, Weis was happy with the day.
"If you look at the analysis of the whole game, there's a lot more pros than cons," he said. "But there's plenty of constructive criticism that will be dealt out tomorrow morning nice and early."
Perfect day for a coach.
"It doesn't get any better than that. It really doesn't get any better."