2008 Strikes Back
Last season, the Notre Dame offense played the bulk of the final three months with one viable tight end.
As the Irish hit the home stretch in ‘09, head coach Charlie Weis will once again be without a key element to his multi-package attack, sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Rudolph did not suffer a broken collarbone as originally feared.
"Its (regarding) muscles on his shoulder. It's not a broken collarbone. They (doctors) said Stanford is a possibility. I think that's a reach. I think he'll be able to practice again in December."
As for Plan B:
"We're training a couple of the offensive linemen to be able to utilize in the game," Weis answered. "But it would take two injuries to get into a truly precarious situation where you had no actual tight ends playing in a game.
"We have that covered too…in that case you either use linemen or you use receivers or ‘backs (at tight ends)," Weis offered as the last resort.
Right tackle Lane Clelland technically lined up at tight end late vs. Washington State and guard Andrew Nuss appears to be the likely second candidate (as he was vs. the Cougars) to fill an emergent role at the position.
In other words, freshman Jake Golic's potential 5th season of eligibility in 2013 is unlikely to be sacrificed this November.
Underdogs Once Again
After the disheartening loss last Saturday, Weis agreed when asked if a prime time matchup in Pittsburgh vs. a nationally ranked team was the most direct cure for what mentally ails his Irish.
"It's probably the same tact you'd expect me to take. Going on the road, playing top 10 team; going to be a raucous crowd," Weis observed. "There's not a reason imaginable not to get fired up and ready to go, because if you go beat a top 10 team on the road, it doesn't take much for everyone to be feeling better, but we'll know that about 11:30-12:00 Saturday night."
One month after Weis was asked if "the program needed this win" (speaking then of the matchup with USC), the Irish head man fielded a similar question and offered a familiar response.
"I'm more concerned about the kids. I think for the kids' sake it would do wonders to go ahead and (beat Pittsburgh)," Weis began. "We talk about the ‘program' and I think that's a critical factor, but most importantly you have a bunch of 18-22 year old kids that after a loss go to class and everyone asks them ‘what happened?' I think right now the most important thing is for me to be there for them.
"All we can do is be in position to get this rectified this week."
Weis and the Irish are in that position due mainly to the presence of the nation's best passer, junior QB Jimmy Clausen.
"The thing you know when you have a quarterback like Jimmy Clausen, there isn't a game you go into that you aren't expecting to win.
"He wants that burden. Most people after the game (Navy) were feeling sorry for themselves. He was mad at himself because he felt like he had lost that game. And that's what really good players do: they don't look at why (after a loss) other than any reason but themselves.
"He was texting me at one in the morning about fumbling on the 1-yard line. He had just thrown for 450-plus yards and that meant nothing to him. The only thing he wanted to talk about was fumbling on the 1-yard line."
And Let Me be the Next to Say: It's About Time…
Weis was asked if he was able to impart the need for self-reflection, throughout the Irish roster, during Sunday's meetings with the players.
"I think when you talk to the players today you'll see that the message (from Sunday) was about exactly what I told you it would be: accountability," Weis stated. "We had more guys around this building yesterday (Monday is the players' day off) than we've ever had. And I think a lot of guys looked at it from a different perspective.
"Jimmy's always going to be around here on Monday…but there were more people here Monday than (ever). More people were taking a personnel accountability and I think that bodes well as we move forward into today's practice."
While Weis and his staff deserve no leeway after a loss to the Naval Academy, it's equally true that there were several on-field mistakes Saturday that are not attributable to guidance from the sidelines or game week preparation.
As for the offensive leader's role heading into practice tonight, Weis knows his signal-caller is capable, but doesn't believe that Clausen will need to coax too much out of the roster when the team takes to the LaBar Practice Complex tonight.
"I don't think he's going to have to," Weis responded. "If he needed to that's what he'd do, but I'd be very surprised if he's going to have to."
Next Week, on Red Zone Follies…
An otherwise focused Weis responded flippantly to a fair question regarding how he hoped his team would improve this Saturday in the red zone.
"Well we're going to try not to fumble on the one (yard line); and we're going to try not to throw an interception inside the five," Weis observed making direct reference to the in-close issus that plagued his team vs. Navy. "Then we're going to try to make field goals when we're on the 14-yard line. That takes care of a few of them. Then on 4th and 3 if we go for it we're going to try to score a touchdown or kick the field goal instead.
"And we're also going to try not to have two receivers off the line of scrimmage and have an illegal formation. We're going to try to do all those things. But in reality, from the head coach right on through the quarterback and everyone else we're going to have to be a lot cleaner in execution because that just wasn't good enough."
Good enough? No. Familiar? Yes.
Weis' entire session with the media could be summarized by the header above, as the embattled coach repeatedly deflected big picture questions in an effort to (re)focus on what he can control: preparations for Pittsburgh.
On looking back at the team‘s performance vs. Nevada (a team that has shown promise since the 35-0 loss in South Bend: "We don't ever look back, we only look forward. We only address what we need to do to beat Pitt," Weis offered in a familiar refrain.
"It's all about Pitt." Weis reiterated. "You can go through and reevaluate the different things you did well (from self-examination) but really when you give the players a plan: this is what we need to do to beat Pitt and really on a week-to-week basis, that's all you have time for."
On his career at ND coming full circle this week in Pittsburgh, the site of Weis first game and win: "I'm only worrying about beating Pitt. I'll never change.
"The day that I walk away and get time to sit back and reflect, I'll give you a holler and we'll go over that one. I'm just worrying about beating Pittsburgh. I put all my energy in the week from the time the last game ends to the time the next game starts into beating (the upcoming) opponent.
"Maybe I'm trained that way but it's just a complete tunnel vision way of looking at it. I don't spend anytime reflecting. I'm only worried about doing all I can to beat Pitt."
On how he's perceived by people that don't know him or those that only know him through sound bytes/the media: "I should be more concerned by the people that do know me than by the people that don't know me. I think that's more important in life. People that don't know me…what do I care? Really? What do I care? If they don't know you they're going to have an opinion based off of what?
"If (someone) knows you and doesn't like you. That's a different problem."
On how he'd describe his "journey" from Game 1 at Pitt in 2005 to Saturday's game: "I'll let you know years from now when I'm sitting back and thinking about it, I'll answer that question, but I'm not taking that bait. That's great for sound bytes but in reality, it's all about Pitt. It's all about Pitt on Saturday night. And I promise you, that's the only way I think and that's the only way I ever think. That'll never change."
And it shouldn't. Weis can't control past failures but a win Saturday night would allow his '09 team to remain relevant in January bowl considerations.
Press Conference Fodder
A few tidbits from Tuesday:
- Sophomore WR John Goodman moved into the punt return role last week in an attempt to "take some hits off of Golden (Tate)."
- Weis never told the NBC production crew that he had spoken with sophomore WR Michael Floyd about how he should fall in his first game back from a broken clavicle (the training staff could have, but Weis did not). "I told them in my production meeting that I was going to keep him on the right side…to save him from hits. It would give him more protection by staying on the right side."
- The Irish head coach reiterated that he believes the national perception surrounding Jimmy Clausen changed when the banged up QB brought the Irish back on the road to beat Purdue: "He showed toughness and he showed he could have that great drive to win a game."
- Weis lamented that his team had prepared for Navy's best, but was apparently unable to stop the Midshipmen from executing their game plan, a cause of disappointment (rather than drop of confidence) down the roster: "When you have a minus-three turnover ratio; you're 2-6 in the red zone; you don't stop the fullback and you give up a play-action shot (for a touchdown)…really all the goals we had in the game (to emerge victorious) and all of those things manifested themselves (against the Irish)."
- Both half back Armando Allen and right guard Trevor Robinson are expected to start Saturday in Pittsburgh (barring a setback, Weis noted). Clausen is fine (and was not concussed on his fumble) other that retaining his mantle as "king of the ice packs" post-game.
- Weis called his salary (when prompted) "Grossly misreported," offering (jokingly) "While we're on that subject, if you would like to have my tax returns, I'd be more than willing just as long as you're willing to pay the difference between what's reported and what's (accurate)."
- Weis was offered a chance to clear up a statement that "he doesn't change." The coach was (of course) only talking about his approach to preparation week-to-week and singular focus, not that he won't change to combat an opponent: "That doesn't mean you don't change your approach based off the body of evidence of the game you played. I'm just saying you're going to prepare whatever the message is and (not deviate).
- Irish CB Darrin Walls returns home this week to play in front of family and friends and Weis believes the senior is ready: "I think that Darrin's going to be very excited to play in this game and that's a good thing because he's going to get challenged in this game as well. Coming back to your home turf….I think more than any game that he's played this year, I feel pretty confident that whatever his best is, we're going to get it."