A Game of Attrition
Three August Irish starters will be withheld from practice Tuesday, the team's first day of preparation for the Boilermakers.
"He does have a turf toe. I'll probably hold him from practice today," said Weis of his near-perfect QB Jimmy Clausen. "When you get a turf toe you get a plate put in your shoe that lifts your toe up so you're not getting pressure on your foot.
"What I'll do today is give Dayne (Crist) the majority of the reps and I'll even give (Evan) Sharpley some reps to knock off the rust because he's been running the show team.
"Our plan is to give Jimmy some of it on Wednesday; all of it on Thursday, and see how it goes from there."
In addition to Allen and Clausen, senior fullback James Aldridge continues to be hampered by a shoulder injury suffered vs. Nevada in the season opener.
"James is feeling fine," Weis offered. "We gave him a little contact the other day to see how his shoulder felt when he was hitting somebody and it was still giving him some problems.
"I think what I'm planning on doing, even though he wants to try to play this week and try to play next week – I'm leaning more toward holding him (out of action) this week and next week so that I get a full three weeks with the Bye week coming up after that and have him ready for… ‘whoever we play after the Bye.'"
The last line was said in jest, of course, as the rival USC Trojans come to South Bend following the two teams' October 10 Bye.
Who Are These Guys?
Irish fans and Northwest Indiana residents have become quite familiar with former Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller's "Basketball on Grass" approach offensively. The spread or spread option has been a staple at Purdue since Tiller's first season in 1997.
What can we expect Saturday from new head coach Danny Hope's staff?
"Actually they've gone more conventional than in the past and that's one of the reasons why they've been running the ball so efficiently," said Weis of a Purdue team averaging more than 210 rushing yards per contest through three weeks. "They actually get in the I (formation) a lot and put multiple tight ends in there and they run a lot of conventional stuff."
Weis added the Boilers haven't exactly abandoned their spread-the-field mentality.
"In addition they have the shotgun package up and running, but they're much more versatile and they can go both ways as far as how they attack you."
Weis later asked what he'd seen on tape from Purdue that differed in their strong offensive performance Week Two at Oregon (a 38-36 loss) vs. last Saturday in West Lafayette when the Boilers were upset by Northern Illinois.
"Actually they ran the ball a lot more against Oregon. They didn't run it as many times (vs. NIU). They had the ball the whole game vs. Oregon…Oregon was very fortunate to get out of that game with a win.
"In this last game (NIU) it was a perfect example of a team that was very disheartened after a loss…they played very well vs. a good Oregon team on the road. And they (Purdue) come home with Notre Dame on deck - before your Big 10 schedule starts and though you have to give credit to Northern Illinois - that was no fluke win, they really played well…"
In other words, Weis expects to see a different Purdue team than the group upset at home last Saturday.
No Not Better…Just Different
With super-soph Michael Floyd lost for at least the regular season (more on Floyd below), a pair of upperclassmen and a trio of youngsters have suddenly stepped into the limelight for one of the nation's best passing games.
How does Weis plan to augment their strengths in an effort to make up for the loss of Floyd?
Note: Michael Floyd manned the "Z" wide receiver spot while Golden Tate starts at "X."
"It's interesting because when one guy goes down, like Michael, it also provides opportunities for some other people. You'll notice at the starting ‘Z' I have Duval (Kamara) and/or Robby (Parris). Duval's normally been an ‘X' now I've put him over on the other side to put him in position to pick up the slack (of Floyd opposite Tate).
"Both of those guys have the opportunity for increased roles and hopefully increased production at the same time, to put us in position to make sure they can't just roll everything (coverage) into Golden."
"You'll also notice I have Deion and Shaq competing behind Golden at "X" both of those guys bring something different to the table. Deion's a bit more experienced; Shaq's very explosive…they know it's not practice squad; it's not ‘show team' anymore. These guys are really close to being heavily involved in the mix and they clearly understand that going into today's practice."
Goodman, for the record, is listed as an "OR" challenger to Parris behind Kamara on the updated depth chart.
Weis was asked how much he'll change what he's looking for from the new guys vs. what he had with Floyd on the outside.
"Oh not much. As a matter of fact there are some elements you gain: like Duval, if he's at Z, he's the best receiver we have. Not that you're putting in a receiver to block…but Duval, he's our best blocking wide receiver by far. It's not even close.
"So one thing you do gain…if you're running toward that side you got a guy that's a man over there when it comes to blocking.
"But nobody truly replaces Michael. Michael's a frontline, top-shelf player right now. It's a combination of guys that will pick up the slack and I think we'll be just fine."
Weis elaborated later, "At the end of the year is there an outside shot? Yeah, but I would never put Michael at risk, that's one thing I wouldn't do."
Those Who Can't Do, Teach
After undergoing surgery on his broken clavicle Sunday, and with at least a two-month recovery time ahead of him, no one would blame sophomore receiver Michael Floyd if he distanced himself a bit from the team and the game, at least in his newly found spare time. But that hasn't been the case.
"He thinks he's a coach now," said Weis of his shelved star receiver. "Michael's been all over everybody. He was in the training room this morning hammering on Clausen telling him to ‘get out of that boot, let's get going'…he was getting on Armando wanting a day off today. He's accepted this role...he's dealing with it but I think he's going to be a great asset for us because he's into the game. He's not a guy in the tank because he's hurt."
Weis was later asked about the unlikely possibility that a player of Floyd's talent level would apply for a medical redshirt, keeping him at the University passed graduation and for a 5th year of college.
"I think if we were playing in a bowl game and he were healthy, he'd be playing. Because that's what he'd want to do.
"I'm trying to be practical here. I'd give him the call on that one but I don't think that'd be much of a call (decision).
"I hope to have him for two more years, let alone three more years. If you'd give me him (at ND) for two more years I'd sign up right now."
"Frank: get in the car."…"Everybody's Doing It!"
The Irish offense has augmented its already multi-faceted sets by hopping on the bandwagon of football's newest (recycled) craze known as the Wildcat formation – one in which halfback Armando Allen takes a direct shotgun snap and has the option of handing off to Golden Tate (running parallel to the line) or keeping the ball himself.
Allen even through a touchdown pass to Robby Parris from the formation vs. the Spartans and had two options on the play including QB Jimmy Clausen, who splits out wide during Wildcat.
"There are different versions of it…everyone has different versions. In our version you have a lot of beef on one side (Duncan/Young generally on the right) so do you (the defense) want to overload to one side and expose yourself to the weak side (generally the left) where (tight end) Kyle Rudolph is? Or do you want to respect the fact that he's there and leave yourself vulnerable (to the run) on the other side.
"It's kind of pick-your-poison. A lot of people answer it with pressure, but we have enough guys to block everybody; we're not a man shy because the quarterback is standing about 30 yards (off the ball). And (a defender) is lined up on him.
"So you have one-for-one (blocking at the line). You're never outnumbered.
Just as teams have adopted the formation, so too have many taken liberties with its "Wildcat" moniker (for instance: the "Wild Hog" in Arkansas). How about the Irish?
"Oh we call it the Wildcat," admitted Weis. "Wildcat ‘right' and Wildcat ‘left'… I'm really innovative."
So, Um, Will it Happen Again?
The Irish special teams suffered a major blunder when it easily allowed an in-game onsides kick to be recovered by MSU in the 2nd Quarter on Saturday. Were the Irish ill-prepared for the Spartans sneak attack?
"The biggest problem I have on that one is I sat there and I listed to Coach Polian say ‘heads up for the onsides kick.'
"Now in that huddle before that kick (Polian said) ‘heads up for the onsides kick.' Yes, I have a problem with that (breakdown)."
I guess everyone assumed lightning wouldn't strike twice as there was no elaboration from Weis or the assembled media.
A major cause of message board angst (have you noticed the message board has replaced the proverbial water cooler as the hip place to exchange wildly off-base ideas?) has been that the Irish are playing a 4-3 defense with players that recruiting aficionados have deemed more appropriate for 3-4 defensive personnel.
Coach Weis was asked this question and offered a technical response.
"When you play 3-4 and you reduce an end (defensive end) it becomes ‘under,' that's what 3-4 is. Go watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play this week. They're a 3-4 defense and you're going to see that 80 percent of the game, the guy (defensive end) away from the tight end is going to be on the (offensive) guard and its ‘under,' so they're playing a 4-3, it's just 3-4 personnel. It's not really any different than Kerry Neal or John Ryan being on the weak side playing an outside linebacker position."
Aside from the obvious and far-too-easy quip regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kerry Neal, and John Ryan, I have nothing to add, as I could feel Coach Weis' Super Bowl rings hovering over the room during his honest, matter-of-fact explanation of fan concern.
So, About Those 68 Points by the Michiganders…
Coach Weis was asked about the level of complication regarding Co-Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta's scheme.
"I don't think the scheme is very complicated. Basically when you're playing a defense that's a one-gap defense, which is what it is; not a two-gap defense, but a one-gap defense you have to make sure you're in your gap. How you get there might be the issue, not where you're supposed to be. I don't think it's really that complicated.
"Now that it was stressed last week and it will continue to be stressed this week: that you need to get into your gap because if everyone's in there it closes up everything that the opponents want to do."
Weis later elaborated, "This wasn't about scheme. This was about guys being in a position to make a play and not making a play.
"When you're in a position to make a tackle, and the (ball carrier) is there and you're there, and you don't make the tackle, you feel bad. You feel like you're letting people down. You can't worry about that play. You can't worry about the play that just took place you have to worry about the next play.
"So what you (the coaches) then do is work on forward thinking. You have to get (the players) forward thinking. If you spend too much time thinking about the last guy you're fighting a losing battle."
As for Weis' approach to instilling his forward-thinking mantra this week?
"We're working on it. This will be a very upbeat day. At least the start of practice…we'll see how it goes from there."
Sometimes You Just Have to Ask
Our weekly review of the Irish defensive personnel showed 21 Notre Dame players in the team's defensive rotation. How many of those players are truly pushing the team's established starters? How many are No. 1 vs. No. 1A on the depth chart? We asked Coach Weis today:
"I think that if it's not 1A yet some of the No. 2s are good enough where we can count on them playing in the game and making plays. Even if the drop from one guy to the next guy is still significant, it's can the guy go in the game and still function? That's really the most critical thing.
"Like you said, at the Bye is a good time to evaluate where you are with a lot of people. Some guys move up and some guys move down...that's ever-changing.
"But I think that there are some guys, I'll give you one example: Sean Cwynar...we had mentioned him in training camp one time as a guy I could see on the field and now he's starting to get a little time in the game. And it's not necessarily because Sean might be playing as well as Ian; but Sean playing fresh vs. Ian playing tired you might gain more from Sean being out there than Ian being out there.
"I think we're at the stage now where we're not afraid to put him in the game."