The results of Notre Dame's defensive self-analysis were clear: everyone can get better and that's a good thing.
"There's a lot of room for improvement player-wise and coaching-wise. That's the thing that's good. If we were doing all we could do and it's not going to get much better, then that ain't good," defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said. "We can get better. But everybody, to a man across the board, needs to realize, ‘This is my role. This what I can do better.' We've tried to do that."
Brown did not get in to too many specifics on what could be improved, but said it involved players and coaches.
"I saw that we needed to fundamentally clean up some things. I saw that as coaches there are things that we can do that will definitely help our kids play better, perform better," he said. "Looking at what we do well, what we don't do as well and then attacking those issues and addressing those issues."
Brown admitted that after examining the defense during the bye week, there were some things that surprised him.
"There are some things that we thought that we would do better that we didn't do as well," he said. "But on the flip side, there were some things that coming in we thought this would be an issue and it didn't really turn out to be as much of an issue."
Much like Mike Haywood and the offense, some things will be thrown out of the defensive game plans.
"There will be some things where you probably might not see the Irish running a lot and there will probably be some things that you get a heavier dose of. I think in that regard, that should help us," he said. "We needed to zone in on some things, look at really where our problem areas are. Come up with some precise answers for the kids. ‘This is what you need to do in this situation.' ‘This is what we need to call in this situation.' ‘This is how we need to coach it.' ‘This guy does this well, this guy doesn't do that so well. We need to put this guy in this position and we need to go from there.'"
The defense has kept the Irish in every ball game and that is something that the unit can build on.
"We can build upon the fact that we've been able to create some turnovers, we've been able to get people stopped," said Brown. "When we do things right like we're supposed to, we can get off the field in a 1-2-3-and-out fashion. I think when we communicate well and when everybody is on point, coaches and players, we can be pretty good. But for whatever reason, if our focus isn't there, mainly starting with mine, then it makes for a long game."
Like any good coach, Brown was hardest on himself first.
"There were a ton of things in the North Carolina game that me, personally, I could have done better. Then you take it and you look at the players and they all have those issues," he said. "I just looked at how I call the game and how I prepare for games and some things that I do better during the week where I can say, ‘Damn, I can be a whole lot better than that.' Just little things that I know better growing up, being around some of the guys that I've been around."
Head coach Charlie Weis spoke about how the Irish have raised the bar with their play through the first half of the season. For the defense, which has been stingy in the red zone, that means not giving offenses a chance to score.
"We want to get to third down quicker and then we want to get off the field from there," he said. "The hell with letting them get to the red zone, just keep them from getting there, keep them from crossing the 50."
CLAUSEN LEADS GROUP TO KNOXVILLE: Turns out it was quarterback Jimmy Clausen, whose older brothers both attended Tennessee, who led a group of sophomores down to Knoxville last weekend to visit his sister and see the Volunteers play Mississippi State.
"I actually went down to the University of Tennessee to see my sister with a couple of guys on the team," he said. "We just hung out down there, relaxed, went to the Tennessee game for the first half and then came back and watched the rest of the game on TV. So just hung out."
"It was a boring first half. It was 6-3 and we were like, ‘Let's go,'" said Brian Smith. "So we left and as soon as we leave we keep hearing fireworks go off. I guess they beat them 34-3."
But the Irish players sat two rows up in the corner of the end zone and enjoyed themselves while they were there.
"We cheered a little bit. They gave us little pom poms underneath our seats, singing the Rocky Top fight song," said Smith. "It was good to get to another college game. UT stadium is beautiful. It's huge and even with the troubles they're having it was still packed and still getting loud."
The linebacker was sporting some Volunteer basketball gear and posed as a hoopster.
"I let it ride for a minute. I was like, ‘Yeah, I'm Tyler Smith,'" he said, referring to Tennessee's star forward. "After awhile people started figuring out that I don't look like any Tyler Smith."
It seems college linebackers are not as recognizable as college quarterbacks, or running backs for that matter.
"They all recognized Jimmy and a couple of them recognized Armando. I kind of joked with them that I'm the guy who's just with the guys who are on the team. No one knows my face like that," Smith said. "I was the last one in the line, I'm walking through the aisles and you kind of see people look like, ‘Wait a second, is that Jimmy Clausen?' and I'd look at them like, ‘No, that's not him. No."
"He's more of a pure passer from what I see," cornerback Terrail Lambert said of Fouch. "He likes to spread the ball around and makes decent decisions regardless of whether he's being pressured or not. It's going to be a challenge."
"He's not as athletic as the other quarterback so he works more as a pocket passer," said safety Sergio Brown. "He's a pretty good passer."
And Fouch has weapons to get the ball to.
"They have playmakers at the receiver spots across the board," Lambert said. "I'm expecting a couple of gadget plays. They're in a situation where they have nothing to lose."
"They've got a lot of good receivers. A lot of guys like to go up and get the ball," said Brown. "They've got a pretty good passing game, it's something to look forward to."
WINLESS WASHINGTON WON'T BE TAKEN LIGHTLY: Notre Dame is all too familiar with the dangerousness of a winless football team after 2007.
"I remember last year when we were 0-5 we hung around in games when people let us hang around, but it seemed like when people got up on us it was kind of hard to stay focused on the task at hand," Brian Smith said. "So we've definitely got to get on top of them because they do things well. Their record doesn't reflect how good they really are.
"UCLA thought they could just show up and win. With that being said, if we do the same thing we're going to get beat."
Brown also referenced last year's game in Los Angeles where the Irish got their first win of the season.
"We can't look down at them because we were there last year. We were starved for a win," he said. "UCLA last year had a pretty good record and we came in defeated the whole year. We came in and we played good."
TY'S FINAL GUYS: Lambert, defensive end Justin Brown and linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. are the only fifth-year seniors on Notre Dame, meaning they are the only players left from the Tyrone Willingham era in South Bend. Lambert and Brown both said that they never had any thoughts of transferring after their coaches' firing.
Brown echoed Weis' comments on Tuesday about this year's game not being as emotional as the 2005 matchup.
"It's a game. We're playing against Washington, we're not really playing against Coach Willingham," he said. "It was a little different (in 2005) seeing Coach Willingham wearing purple and gold. That was the only difference."
Lambert said that playing against his former coach will not provide any added motivation.
"I think at this point both sides, both respective coaches, Coach Weis and Coach Willingham have relatively established themselves within their respective programs. We're way past that," he said. "Our biggest motivation this week is getting our first road win."
The corner did say that it was tough to see Willingham leave Notre Dame.
"In the back of your mind you knew at some point if we didn't start winning games it would be inevitable. Let's just be honest," said Lambert. "But to be honest, I didn't think it would happen that soon. You just kind of feel bad. I'll say my initial reaction was shock and then after that you just kind of felt bad because he's a class guy and one of the best people I've been around. It kind of hurt to see him go.
"At the same time I think change is good. Definitely for my situation because after things have gone on for the better in both cases… It was unfortunate, but I think in the long run it was for the best."