Leaving a Mark
One constant criticism of Weis' 55-game tenure at Notre Dame is the absence of a "signature win" on his coaching resume. Predictably, Weis was asked to address this concern entering the biggest game for the program since at least the Sugar Bowl matchup vs. LSU following the '06 season.
"Look. USC's one of the best teams in the country and they've beaten us seven times in a row," Weis began. "That's really the bottom line. And some of them (the losses) have been ugly.
"Winning this week would do wonders for my spirits, but it wouldn't just be my spirits, it would be everyone affiliated with Notre Dame, so that's what we're going to try to do."
Weis continued, explaining that a defeat of the Trojans isn't simply about him or the players.
"I think that our University really could use this win. Not me personally, our football team, our University. We don't just play for us, we play for them too. It's been a long time coming.
"We know the challenge we have at hand. We're not oblivious to that fact. It's been a long time coming and we're going to give it a fair go."
Weis was (later) asked if Jimmy Clausen needed this win, and asked why fans and the media tend to label the QB and head coach as those in need of "signature victories."
"I don't think it's the quarterback, I don't think it's the head coach. I think Notre Dame needs it.
"I think that Notre Dame, after seven years of getting beat on by one of their arch rivals, would do well (in victory) for everyone, not just Jimmy Clausen."
Return to the Woodshed?
Notre Dame's last two meetings with the Trojans haven't been pretty for Irish fans, with USC holding a (mind-boggling) combined 76-3 advantage in those contests.
What happened, and why can Saturday be different?
"I actually thought our defense hung in there awhile (in '08)," Weis offered of last year's loss in LA. "On offense, I thought we just got manhandled. From start to finish I thought we got manhandled and they were able to manhandle us without bringing a lot of pressure. They were able to just pin their ears back with four guys and get after us.
"They were able to completely control the line of scrimmage and I'd like to think that that won't be the case this week."
Is seeing believing? And if so, what does that mean for the Irish collective mindset as they walk through the tunnel?
"I think that our players believe they're going to win. I don't know if that's always been the case. They understand the talent level of who they're going against but I'd say this is probably the first time since I've been here where the players really believe they're going to win.
"They might be in the minority, but they certainly believe that."
When pressed, Weis expanded on his belief that the Irish are prepared to compete with the Trojans on Saturday.
"I thought the offense was just taking a ‘whoopin' (last year). I'm not expecting to be taking a whoopin."
The comment was followed questioning Weis if he's really seen that much improvement in the play of his offensive line since last season?
And it was met with an understandably terse response.
"Have you been at the games?" Weis said.
Weis reiterated his thoughts on the topic as they related to the squad as a whole (not just his personal belief on the matter or that of the obviously confident Clausen, who's name was brought up often as the chief topic of national reporters questions).
"I think there's a whole bunch of (players) for a change (that believe ND will win). I think two years ago when (USC) rolled in here we might have been beat walking out of the tunnel."
Editor's Note: Yes. Yes they were.
"Then last year, I think we hung in there at the beginning but it didn't roll that way…I'm expecting a large number of our team being on the other side of that fence this time (believing they will prevail)."
Though most likely stated to prove his point, it's nonetheless disconcerting that the 2006 team could have possibly entered the season-ending contest at the Coliseum doubting their chances to prevail, but I digress…
The Rise of the Machine
In past seasons and entering '09, it was easy for Weis to deflect comparisons of his former protégé and program record-breaker Brady Quinn to that of his current student, junior Jimmy Clausen.
But Clausen's sterling September and encore performance on October 3rd vs. the Huskies has made that comparison almost necessary.
"Well I think we'll have a better answer for that Sunday. I think he's had a heck of year," Weis said of his junior leader. "If you look at what he's done through these first five games there couldn't be anyone in the country better than him.
"He's going against the best defense that he's seen all year. So I think that these are the type of moments that you really get to be judged. When you go against the really, really good guys. And that's not being disrespectful to the last five opponents.
"He won't be judged by bringing us back three times in a row or four times in a row, for that matter. He'll be judged by what he does vs. USC."
Was there a moment this season in which Clausen turned the corner as a quarterback?
"I actually think there was. The Purdue game (in which Clausen entered the contest plagued by a turf toe injury suffered one week prior.
"I think the bottom line that when he had to play in the fourth quarter; when he had to come into the game and the game had changed (from a 10-point advantage to a 4-point deficit with under four minutes remaining) and he led us on that drive at the end of the game and threw a touchdown pass with 30 seconds to go…I think that was a moment where his career might have changed in that drive.
"Because it showed the team a toughness…the team has to witness that. And it was visible to his teammates and our fans, and everyone else.
"I think that was a turning point for Jimmy Clausen."
In a lighter moment, Weis was asked the difference between Clausen as a freshman quarterback and USC's current true freshman signal-caller, Matt Barkley.
"I think Jimmy wasn't around as good of a supporting cast. Now that might be the biggest understatement I will ever say."
So Let Me Get This Straight: Those Help?
Weis was asked, as a "student of the program's history" about two epic contests of the team's past: the 1988 win vs. Miami and the aforementioned '05 loss to USC. In both of those contests, underdog Irish squads scored a non-offensive touchdown to aid their cause.
But the 2009 Irish team has yet to register a score (or near-score) defensively or in the return game. Can either unit break through Saturday?
"I think we're trying to make big plays…I'll throw in the '77 game (against USC) which was my senior year, having a blocked punt for a touchdown," Weis happily recalled of another great Irish moment.
"I think that having a big play for a score on defense and/or special teams can change the complexion of the game very quickly."
In other breaking news: blocking and tackling found to be key to football success...
No Rest for the Weary
Weis was asked about the 3-4 motivational chalk messages scrawled onto the sidewalk on the main path into The Gug.
"They weren't there at 10 (minutes) to 4 (AM)."
"I haven't been on campus so I can't tell you but all the feedback I'm getting is that everyone is excited about this game as well they should be. My goal is for them to be excited at 7 (on Saturday) not excited now."
Back to those sleep patterns...3:50 AM arrivals have to take a toll over the course of a football season, right?
"I get enough (sleep)," Weis offered. "I get my four hours in. That's not that unusual for football season: four or five hours.
"You get home late and want to spend a little time saying hello to your wife. You go to sleep and wake up early. That's what we (coaches) do."
Green is Good …in the Stands, that is
If you'd like to plan your wardrobe (or avoid a trip to the Booksstore), the requisite "Green-Out" is planned for those of you attending Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday. Will the Irish follow suit?
"No, we'll be wearing blue jerseys on Saturday."
Thank God for small favors...