Huskies impressed with Irish attack

If Tyrone Willingham ever crossed paths with Notre Dame Head Coach Charlie Weis during his tenure in the NFL, he can't remember. But he's certainly not unfamiliar with Weis' coaching style and ability to call a game, something the new Fighting Irish coach has hung his pigskin reputation on. And it would be hard enough to coach against Weis, but now Willingham will have to coach against Weis using players he recruited to South Bend.

"I don't think I've ever tried to downplay my emotions for any football game," said Willingham Monday when asked if he'll be a little more emotional for Saturday's upcoming ND-Washington game than normal. "This football game is important, just like the last football game (against Idaho) was important. The fact that you have players that I recruited makes it a little different. But no, when you get to the football game, it's the game that's most important.

"I have great respect for the program and the young men left in the program and great respect for some of the administrators. They are still friends and I value that, but when it comes time to play the game I think I'd much prefer Washington to win than Notre Dame to win." He would not comment on any conversations he may have had with his former players since leaving ND.

There's no question the stakes were hightened in South Bend, a place teeming with lore. But Willingham never intended to be the second-coming of Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian or Lou Holtz. In the end, that might have been his undoing, as he was fired three years into a six-year contract. "You have a captive audience because it is a university with a catholic notation with it," said Willingham. "Because of that it has an audience that's naturally a part of it's history and tradition. And then you have the subway group and the alumni. From that standpoint, there is a little more scrutiny, but it didn't change things for me. What I do and didn't do there, I still do and don't do."

Enter Weis, an Irish alumnus who has seemingly captured the Irish nation because of his ties to South Bend. "I watched Charlie when he came and visited with our team," Willingham said of the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, winners of three Super Bowls. "As a Notre Dame grad, he wants much success for the program. We enjoyed those visits. He is a well-documented play-caller, coach and has done a great job."

Willingham has nothing but praise for Weis and especially his offense - one that has racked up an impressive 446 yards and 33 points per game so far this season. "He gives you a variety of formations," said Willingham on what makes Weis such a formidable playcaller. "He keeps you very much off-balance with what he's doing, what he's thinking. He's unpredictable. He's quite brash in his calling."

And Willingham knows all about the ingredients Weis gets to work with. "Their offense is pretty spectacular," he said. "They have a back in (Darius) Walker that every day can get 100 yards-plus for you very easily. They've got a big, aggressive offensive line that is talented. They can protect and make lanes for their runners. And their receivers - not only are they pretty good size, but they are pretty quick as a group also."

And is it any wonder that Weis is working with another quarterback that goes by Brady? If there's any collegiate signal-caller that has a game similar to that of Patriots' QB Tom Brady, it's Irish quarterback Brady Quinn. Quinn went for a career day this past Saturday in a loss to Michigan State, throwing for 487 yards and five scores. "I wouldn't say he's perfect as a quarterback, but he's working in that direction," said Willingham when asked about Quinn. "That would be his goal, to be the best that has ever played the position."

Since Willingham orchestrated Notre Dame's 38-3 win over Washington last year, does that mean the Huskies might have an edge in understanding the Irish scheme and personnel? "They are both extremely important, but usually knowing the personnel is more important. When you have that in hand, it's a plus for you. The scheme you can get from the film, but sometimes there's more to it than you can see with the eye," said Willingham.

"I think Charlie's approach will be a lot different, in how he patterns his offense and what he does. He'll have his own ideas."

Injury report: "It's a little too early in the week to speculate," said Willingham when asked if either Ryan Campbell or J.R. Wolfork - two special teamers injured against Idaho - would be available for Notre Dame. Cornerback Roy Lewis is not listed on Washington's depth. "His status hasn't changed and we'll be watching that throughout the week," Willingham said when asked about Lewis. And tackle Joe Toledo, out since the first game of the year against Air Force, is still doubtful. "There is a chance, but I can't say right now," said Willingham. "His ankle is getting better, but I don't know if this week is the week." Toledo's injured ankle is out of the protective boot he's been wearing for the past two weeks. Jordan White-Frisbee (foot) and Kenny James (shoulder) are two other players that are in 'wait-and-see' mode as far as their injuries go.

Awards Galore: After every win, Willingham plans on naming players of the game. After UW's 34-6 win over Idaho, tailback Louis Rankin, defensive tackle Manase Hopoi, kicker Evan Knudson, tailback J.R. Hasty and defensive lineman Daniel Te'o-Nesheim all won the award. Rankin had 115 yards on 19 carries, Hopoi had four sacks and led a UW defensive effort that held Idaho to minus-four yards rushing. Knudson was two-of-three on field goal attempts and half of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Hasty and Te'o-Nesheim both won awards for their work on the scout teams.

Always on his mind: Even as the Idaho win was wrapped up, Willingham watched some of the end of the Michigan State-Notre Dame overtime game after his press session was complete. "It happened to be on," said Willingham. "If there was another game with one of our opponents on, I would have watched it." He added that he also watched some highlights from the Oklahoma-UCLA and Oregon State-Louisville games at various points during the day.

Self-Test: Willingham said that he has a self-critiquing process that is always ongoing. "When you stop improving, you might as well stop what you're doing," he said. "To me, that's where you go." When asked if there had been anything he had improved on, he did give one example: body language. "For a coach, body language is important," he said. "You have to be great at reading body language. Hopefully I continue to get better at that so I can do a better job of knowing where their minds are when their mouths aren't saying anything."

No relief: When asked if a bit of a weight had been lifted off since the win over Idaho, Willingham dismissed the idea. "Relief has never been a part of my makeup," he said, matter-of-factly. "You always go out to win. That's why you coach."

Double-duty for Heater: Senior Andy Heater, son of former Washington coach Chuck Heater, has been promoted to snapper for both punting and kicking situations. This move was done, Willingham said, to give Heater sole ownership of the position and to give him total focus on the job at hand. "Like any other skill, the more you do it the more confidence you gain," said Willingham. "By freeing him (Heater) up to just focus on that may allow him to be even better because he doesn't have to go through the mental gymnastics that sometimes you go through when you only do things a couple of times."

DuRocher ready to step in?: Johnny DuRocher, held out until the Notre Dame because of transfer rules, is now totally eligible to begin his Washington career. But has the sophomore from Graham kept up enough with his work to step right in if needed in case starting QB Isaiah Stanback goes down? "We'll watch that and evaluate it," said Willingham. "We're excited to have him back in the fold."

A sell-out in the works?: Approximately 1,000 tickets remain for purchase for Saturday's Notre Dame contest at Husky Stadium. Reserved tickets are $60. The phone number for the Husky Ticket Office is (206) 543-2200. Top Stories