The Notre Dame defense has excelled in three of four contests since the bye week and defensive coordinator Corwin Brown talked about what the staff did during the extra week.
"We tried to zero in on what we were calling and exactly what we were doing. We looked at our problem areas and tried to decide if it was something that we were doing coaching-wise," said Brown. "Look at different guys, different matchups and just try to make our kids aware of, ‘OK, this is what's happened to us. These are the things that are getting us beat. These are things that are causing us trouble/problems.' And then we tried to address those issues."
The Irish starting defense shut out Washington in the first game after the bye before having a tough second half against Pittsburgh. The Notre Dame defense was solid against Boston College but got zero help from the offense before playing stellar for 57-plus minutes against Navy. Still, Brown is not completely satisfied.
"We've done some things well, there are other things where we would like to be more consistent," said Brown. "Overall it's been good. You still want to keep the points down, you want to finish strong, but for the most part it's been relatively OK, I'll say that."
The one area where Brown's unit struggled against the Midshipmen, Eagles and Huskies was in forcing turnovers. The Irish forced just one turnover, a fumble against Navy, in the trio of games. Notre Dame did have three interceptions against Pitt, but they were forgotten in the midst of a four-overtime loss.
SMITH FOR SMITH: When linebacker Brian Smith went down with a knee injury against Navy, Toryan Smith was the next guy up. Toryan Smith led the Irish with 10 tackles and recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Smith faced plenty of option offenses when he was in high school, but Brown said that he would have expected Smith to play that way against anybody and he is not afraid to play him against more traditional offenses.
"Some teams are going to pass it a little bit more and where teams that may throw it a little bit more, that may not be his quote-unquote strong suit, but at the end of the day there are things that he has to do in pass coverage," Brown said. "I really would believe and I really deep down in my heart feel that no matter who would have played that he would have played along the same lines because he prepared."
Smith does not want to hear about being a starter right now.
"Don't say that yet," he cautioned. "Don't jinx me, let me get to Saturday."
And he says that his preparation this week is no different from any other.
"It don't change nothing. You've got to prepare like you're going to be a starter anyway. Anytime you're on the field, you're a starter," he said. "This week is no different. I go in, I watch tape, I go work out and I do what I'm supposed to do.
"Study my playbook, stay in the film room and really try to be disciplined and do the best I can do."
ORANGE TOUGH ON DEFENSE?: At least according to Clausen and receiver David Grimes they are.
Despite the fact that Syracuse is 104th nationally in total defense, 105th in pass efficiency defense, 106th in scoring defense and 107th in rushing defense, Notre Dame's offensive leaders still gave the Orange respect.
"They're a pretty good defense," Clausen said with a straight face. "They've got a lot of good athletes in the secondary. Their linebackers run real well. You know, the front four gets after it, big, strong and physical. So they're a pretty good defense."
"They lost some games this year. But if you watch film on these guys, they were in the game in a lot of these games that they lost," said Grimes. "They've got a lot of talent on their defense. We've just got to take care of them on Saturday."
AND ON OFFENSE?: Brown followed suit later in the day giving the Orange offense, which ranks 114th in total offense, the same respect.
"Good team, good team. They haven't got the results that they've wanted, but they've got good players. They've got receivers that are good, they've got a couple of good running backs," he said. "Everybody is not going to have an undefeated season. Everybody is not going to make all of the touchdowns. But they've got kids like other schools that have made good plays. They've had long runs, long passes, so they've got good players."
"Kevin Washington has been here for four years. Hardly has played at all, a little bit on special teams," said Weis. "I can tell you this year if we wanted to, we could make him the defensive show team player of the week every single week. And what we do is we use guys like him as examples with our young linebackers and the other guys on defense. ‘Fellas, this is the way it's supposed to be done. This is the way you practice. This is the tempo you practice at. This is how it's supposed to be important.'
"When a guy realizes that, hey, his time has come and gone as far as productive playing time. But rather than complain about their role, accept their role and do what they can do to help the team win, I have a lot of respect for players like that."
Washington admitted that he briefly wondered about leaving after his sophomore season, but chose to stick it out for the right reasons.
"You realize at that same token you're not getting yourself better, you're not getting your teammates any better and that's not helping yourself at all," he said. "I'm not the type of person to go out there and say because I'm not getting something than I'm not going to try as hard as I can. Because at the same token, if you're doing that when it is your turn, if you do get your chance, you can't justify you actually being in the game."
COVER-2 OPENS UP OTHER THINGS: Defenses have gone to a cover-2 look against the Irish in recent weeks to take away deep threats from Jimmy Clausen, but the Irish should have more room to get the tight end and the running game going.
"I think tight ends should become more and more of a factor as we go forward because of the two guys lined up outside," Weis said. "I think that, for example, the last three or four weeks people have gone to a lot more cover-2, which there's two things you do in cover-2 or any time you have split safeties. Any time you have split safeties, whether it's quarters or halves, the best two people to throw the ball to are the tight end and the backs and run the ball. Whereas, when you have post safeties, the best thing to do is to try to isolate those people outside one-on-one."
Clausen was happy to see Notre Dame run the ball effectively against Navy as it kept its safeties deep.
"The disadvantage of them running the cover-2 is you've got to be able to run the ball a little bit, and you know, we did a great job of that last week," he said. "I think you've got to take what the defense gives you whether they're playing cover-2, cover-3, cover-8, cover-4, whatever the coverage is, just stick with what the defense gives you."
Still, Clausen has struggled since the defenses have adjusted to the split-safety look, but Weis thinks that the sophomore is becoming more comfortable against the look.
"I think that there's a learning process," Weis said. "With any quarterback, what happens, as you see things, the more you see them, the less it confuses you when you do see them."
GRIMES LOOKS BACK: With his college career down to just a few games, one moment that Grimes and Notre Dame fans will always think back to was his amazing touchdown grab at Stanford last year.
"Well, the non-catch at Stanford," Grimes correctly called it as the grab was wrongly ruled an incompletion even after instant replay.
Grimes always knew that he had caught the ball and the replay proved that to everyone except the official.
"No doubt in my mind. I knew I caught it when I stood up," Grimes said. "Coach asked me on the sideline, and I said I caught it, no doubt in my mind."
Grimes could not believe that the official ruled that he did not.
"I was shocked," he said. "But the refs made a call, and you have to live with it and continue to play, but it was definitely shocking."
WILL ND GO WITH GREEN JERSEYS?: That has been one of the questions surrounding this game because Weis allowed the seniors in 2006 to wear the green jerseys during their final home game. There will be no word on whether or not they will wear the green and gold until game time, but one senior has his vote in.
Grimes said that the decision is up to the coaches, but that he would like to wear the alternate jerseys.
"Oh, yeah, I'm all in," he said.
KUNTZ FINAL HOME HAIRDO: Patrick Kuntz has had a number of memorable hairdos in Notre Dame Stadium and although his hair is pretty short right now, that won't prevent him doing something special for his final home game.
"Right now it may look like that, but we'll see what happens on Friday," he said.