Charlie Weis is not sure if Saturday's loss to Pittsburgh was the toughest of the season, but that is not as important as making sure that the Irish handle it correctly.
"I think it was a toss up with North Carolina. I think it was very, very similar. You went on the road and you thought you had them, but you didn't have them. You had a chance at the end and you didn't," Weis said. "The game went four overtimes and you can win it or lose it at any point. Any of those could have ended it there."
The Irish had a bye week following the loss at North Carolina, but with Notre Dame heading to Boston College this Saturday, Weis thought it was important for him to start working on the players' psyche right away.
"I had to immediately address it because this is the second time in a month's time frame where you're dealing with a similar situation and this one might have been even worse," he said. "You're talking about a four-overtime game where there's 50 plays in the game that you could go say, ‘If he would done this and if he would have done that, if he would have done this and if we would have done that.' It's the difference between winning and losing, one play."
The head coach wants his players to feel bad and take responsibility for the loss, but he does not want any one player taking more than his share of blame.
"With the high volume of relatively young players, especially first and second-year guys, I think that you can't let them sit there and take the blame," he said. "You have to make them accountable now and they're certainly going to be held accountable, but at the same time you don't want any one person thinking that they're solely responsible for the outcome of the game because it's a collective effort."
Weis was up all night thinking about ways to shake things up so that his team does not get caught in a rut and the changes will start on Monday.
"After a game like that I certainly didn't sleep very well. It was about 1 or 2 o'clock and I was rolling around. After you've already revisited every play in the game in your mind for awhile, now you have to think, ‘OK, what can I do to shock their system?'" he said. "I think that if I just let them go into their normal routine I could set it up for them taking a little bit longer to get out of the tank."
So instead of devoting Monday afternoon entirely to special teams, Notre Dame will spend most of its time on going over the game plan for Boston College on first and second down. So on Tuesday the Irish will need only to go over some quick special teams stuff before getting out on the practice field earlier.
"What I'm really trying to do more than anything else is shock their system, get them out of the rut and I had a couple of plans to make sure it just wasn't business as usual," Weis said.
Weis will also look at making some personnel changes.
"I think that there will be some players, some frontline players that will definitely be being challenged this week," Weis said. "They'll know who they are tomorrow. If they don't know right now, which they should, they'll certainly know tomorrow."
"He did a fairly decent job of covering most of the day, there was a couple of tackles that he'd like to have done better," Weis said. "He's not afraid to be out there and one of the guys we were talking about, could you see Blanton playing more? I could see Blanton playing more."
One player who will not be replaced is quarterback Jimmy Clausen. The sophomore quarterback is hard on himself and Weis will take a different approach when dealing with his signal-caller.
"I have a good cop-bad cop situation set up where tomorrow I happen to be the bad cop," Weis said. "Jimmy will come in and visit with me and I'll go through every play of the game that I have something critical to say about. Some of those plays end up being good plays, but it doesn't mean that I don't have something critical to say about them. So I'll truly be the bad cop and the shortly thereafter when they start going into offense and Ron (Powlus) gets him, Ron gets to be the good cop and show him all of the good things that happened in the game.
"I think it's important to point out both of them and it's always better to end with the good stuff rather than start with the good stuff so that you have a good taste in your mouth."
Golden Tate said after the game that the team might have thought that it had the game won at halftime.
"Well, that doesn't surprise me," Weis said when informed that Tate was one of the guys to make those comments. "Let's just say that I'll have a talk with Golden and he won't be saying that any more. He seems to be the team spokesman for two weeks in a row now, just like Michael Floyd was lateraling the ball in the North Carolina game. By the way, I checked with Mike on that. It wasn't the case."
Weis is not one to call out players for mistakes, but he was obviously miffed by hearing Tate's words and mentioned that Tate was the receiver who made a mental error on the second play of the half.
"Maybe because he was one of the guys making a mental mistake. Maybe that's where that answer came from," Weis said. "I don't say names, but if we go back and review the bidding on the second play, when we're throwing the sight adjust to a guy who's running a go, we're throwing a ball out there, there's just nobody there. So maybe the next question you should ask him when you talk to him is, ‘Did you see that weak corner coming, the guy who was lined up right over your face?' Maybe that would be a better question."
Whether or not Tate was right in saying what he said, it is clear that the Irish have had an issue closing out games. Weis said that his former team, the New England Patriots, developed a killer instinct by winning those close games.
"Once you start winning close games, every time you go out there you're expecting something good to happen at the end of the game instead of something bad to happen at the end of the game," Weis said. "I do not believe our guys are expecting something bad to happen because these guys are fighting till the end of the game now. You saw both teams going after it right to the very end of the game. They ended up being happy and we ended up not being happy. I think the first thing that's going to happen, especially for a relatively young team, something good has to happen, you have to win a couple of these close games, and I think your momentum grows from there."
With a team dominated by underclassmen, youth is an obvious factor in some of the mistakes, but not an excuse the head coach is willing to use.
"I'm not making any excuses. You can attribute it to a lot of things. There's a whole bunch of things that happened in the third and fourth quarters of the game pro and con," he said. "I could give you a whole litany of things that happened. I think ‘young' is not the word. I think the more experience you have, the easier it comes to be prepared for those situations."
But at the same time, Weis admitted that can be distressing to see his team make the same mistakes that it has made before.
"I think error-repeaters bother you. By ‘error-repeaters' I mean there's errors addressed both during the week and after a game when it happens," he said. "You go through and walk through mistakes from a game, you make sure you present those things during the week. Even if the other team doesn't do those things, you still present them to make sure you got them solved. When they present themselves again in the game, that is frustrating."