But Will He Want to Talk About Stanford on Sunday?
Irish head coach Charlie Weis was in no mood for punch lines at his regularly scheduled noon press conference today, regardless of the widely publicized fist of a Notre Dame alum that struck junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen early Sunday morning at/outside CJ's Pub in downtown South Bend.
"We're talking about Stanford, if you want to ask me a question about Stanford I'm all ears." Weis replied when asked to clarify the details of the punch-heard-round-the-Bend."
Weis deflected one more Clausen-related query (Clausen, by the way, will practice today and start against Stanford) as well as a bowl-speculation question before the media joined Weis in his singular focus on the Cardinal.
Because as you know, there's nothing more interesting in late November than a 6-5 team traveling west to face a 7-4 team when both are coming off losses to lesser opponents…
At Least We Agree on Something
When asked about the Stanford running game, Weis noted the team's offensive line, the scheme, and their "mentality" but made special mention of the key to the attack, bruising Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart (the nation's second-leading rusher).
"No. 7 is special. He's a hard north-south runner…you have to gang tackle him.
"We've had a few problems with tackling now," Weis admitted in the understatement of the season. "And if you don't gang tackle him he gets a lot of hidden yardage. You don't get 135 yards (Gerhart's average) per game by just running in the open field all the time or by scheme.
"This kid is a heck of a runner and I have a lot of respect for him."
Weis noted one way the Irish will prepare for Gerhart is to mimick the plays the Cardinals have featured in today's practice.
"We're going to run their main plays against ourselves today with our first offense running with our first defense.
"Period No. 4 (right after the media exits) will be dedicated to their main plays with our starting offensive line and trying to most closely simulate the speed of the game so it isn't just the show-team (the defense) is going against because we have to be ready to play smash-mouth.
"That's what they're going to try to do. They're going to try to run it down our throat."
Taking the Good with the Bad
Weis deemed Irish half back Armando Allen doubtful for Saturday night's matchup with the Cardinal. Allen injured his hand at some point Saturday vs. the Huskies.
"Armando cracked bone in his right hand and he's going to get it fixed to day which will leave him probably ‘out' for this game."
Weis was later asked if Allen's strength was the key to his emergence this season.
"The only problem with Armando is I don't get him out there (healthy) enough," Weis half-joked. "That's probably been one of the greatest improvements in his game."
"It'll be Riddick/Hughes and we'll get Jonas (Gray) some in the mix, too. He's been (in the depth chart situation) one-guy behind, but we'll bump him up and get him some reps as well," Weis explained. "But it will probably be a combination to start off the game of Theo and Robert….not necessarily in that order."
With one key starter down, Weis did have good news to offer regarding another key element of the offense, sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph, who has made a quick recovery from an undisclosed shoulder (muscle) injury.
"He's practicing today," Weis informed the gathering. "He's cleared to play, its (a matter of) how much pain he's going to be able to tolerate. We'll start practicing him today; he'll be out there in individuals and get going right from the start and we'll see how it goes as the week goes on, but the hope is that he'll be able to go in a non-limited capacity on Saturday."
Also ready to try is sophomore right guard Trevor Robinson who suffered consecutive setbacks vs. Pittsburgh and (last week) Connecticut on his right ankle, first injured in San Antonio vs. Washington State.
"His ankle gave way and we'll be starting all over again this week. He'll be out there today and we'll see how it goes. I'm sure he'll be playing and somewhere in the game we'll probably lose him again because until he can get (the ankle) rest, that's where we'll be."
Backup guard Andrew Nuss took Robinson's place in the lineup for the 4th Quarter last week due largely to an illness that hampered senior guard/center Dan Wenger during practice preparations for the Huskies. Wenger is expected back for Saturday.
Notre Dame has lost each of its last three games with Robinson missing all or portions of those contests.
A Trash-Talking, Touchdown Scoring, Rocked Up Unit…
Though unrelated to Stanford, Weis did offer a few thoughts on the brilliance of Golden Tate, both as a junior and potential NFL player down the road.
"Well he is a ‘rocked up unit' to start out with," Weis noted when asked if strength and conditioning has played a major part in Tate's '09 excellence. "He's a strong physical rocked up unit and he has a great center of gravity. How many times have we seen people bounce off of him? I think that and a strong will…it's a good combination."
What has been the key to Tate's improvement at the position after entering the program as a running back out of high school?
"He's a great competitor on the field," Weis began. "He's probably improved more than any player on the team and there are still some things that he can do to get better.
"When he goes over a few of the more refined coaching points he can get better than he (already) is. Maybe not numbers-wise, but he can get better from where he is now."
As for some of those finer points?
"He's capable of running even better routes and he has improved exponentially on that subject," Weis offered later. "With his strength and quickness, getting off the line of scrimmage vs. the jam….when he starts using better technique it's going to be scary. "
Weis was asked about Tate's NFL Draft prospects, either for 2010 or 2011 and the assumed concern regarding Tate's height (which, by the way, is a bit generous in its 5'11" media guide listing).
"They (scouts) won't be worried about the height. They're going to watch the tape. Anyone that watches the tape (is not) going to worry about (Tate's) height.
"More importantly they want to let him go to the combine and see what number (40-yard dash) he runs. Because of all a sudden when it's a 4.4 flat or something along those lines…that height (issue) will be thrown right out the window.
"Just think about the number of plays he's made this year," Weis continued. "The bottom-line is you have visual evidence. (Scouts) don't have to ‘bet on the come' with him…just go pick a game out and you're going to have 9 or 10 plays in most games where you say ‘this kid is something special.'"
Tate, incidentally, reminded Weis of the same NFL player mentioned by many IrishEyes Football Forum members over the course of this season.
"He reminds me of (Carolina Panthers receiver) Steve Smith. I know Steve Smith well, I'm a big fan of Steve Smith: a little trash-talker…just like Golden.
"They're personalities are alike: they make big plays, they're fiery guys; they're tough; they don't back down from anyone. I would imagine (they're close in size). And (Smith has) done pretty well the last time I checked."
The Punky QB
Weis was asked about this week's opposing coach, a former Michigan quarterback and NFL veteran of (most notably) the Bears, Colts, and Chargers, Jim Harbaugh.
"There aren't many quarterbacks who are tough guys," Weis began. "And he was one that was (as a player). So I have a lot of respect for those quarterbacks that are tough guys. One of the first quarterbacks I ever dealt with in the NFL was Phil Simms and he was a tough guy. He hung with the offensive linemen. He lifted with them. I had a lot of respect for (Simms) and that's what Harbaugh was (like as a player).
"That personality permeates down (to his team)…he's done a nice job and the team, especially on offense, because he was an offensive guy, he doesn't have their offensive players thinking like offensive players. They have more of a defensive mentality where they just want to ‘mash you.'"
In Line for a Beating?
Weis was told Irish players offered that last season's disappointing Senior Day loss to Syracuse made it tough for them to prepare mentally for the following week's trip to USC, a 38-3 shellacking at the hands of the Trojans.
Could the Irish be in a similar situation this Thanksgiving weekend?
"That defense of USC might have had something to do with that, so they can make all the excuses they want," Weis offered with a smile. "That was a formidable defense they faced that day that laid a ‘whoopin' on us.
"That being said, I don't see any close correlation with this team the way they've acted on a week-to-week basis. Based on the body of evidence from the year to where we are right now, there's no reason for me to believe that our team won't be ready to go.
"Everyone's been waiting for a total collapse. We've lost a lot of games. I'm right at the forefront of that but the bottom line is, they're fighting in every game and there's no reason for me to believe its going to be any different this week."
Update: Tonight's scheduled interviews with Irish assistant coach's and requested players have been cancelled. It is assumed Wednesday's Captains' Press Conference will be held, as scheduled, at Noon.