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Published: Tuesday, 9/12/2006

Weis focuses on Irish, not on UM's recent woes

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Charlie Weis realizes how important it is for No. 2 Notre Dame to hold serve on its home field.

The Fighting Irish were just 10-8 at Notre Dame Stadium the last three seasons until powdering Penn State in their opener Saturday.

That ugly three-year stretch included just one victory against a ranked opponent: No. 8 Michigan in 2004.

The Wolverines are coming to town again Saturday, the second of seven home games for the Irish.

The two winningest programs in college football history are both off to 2-0 starts.

Weis doesn't care if Michigan coach Lloyd Carr is 0-3 in leprechaun land or that the 11th-ranked Wolverines haven't won here since 1994, when Carr was an assistant under Gary Moeller.

All Weis cares about is the psyche of his team.

"It's very easy to keep the players on an even keel when you got Michigan coming in," he said. "We know it's a big opponent, a tough opponent. We know they want us because we've gotten the best of them the last couple of years."

When Michigan last paid a visit in 2004, the Irish were in the final year of the Tyrone Willingham

regime.

He had lost 10 of his previous 15 games, and instead of waking up the echoes, Willingham woke up his critics.

Even so, the Irish delivered a huge victory for their embattled coach, scoring all of their points in the second half en route to a stunning 28-20 win over the Wolverines.

Tailback Darius Walker, then an 18-year-old freshman, rushed for 115 yards and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in his first collegiate game for the Irish. And quarterback Brady Quinn tossed two touchdown passes.

That win still wasn't enough to save Willingham's job. Notre Dame finished 6-6 and he was fired before the team's bowl game.

Enter Weis, whose rookie season as Irish coach a year ago followed much the same script as Willingham's: nine wins, a top-10 ranking, and a disappointing finish.

Notre Dame opened this season with a lackluster 14-10 win at Georgia Tech before rebounding to blast Penn State 41-17.

That resounding victory had some fans dancing an Irish jig at midfield.

"I'm not a guy interested in making statements," Weis said. "I'm a guy interested in making my team better and trying to win each time we go out there."

As good as Weis has been for the program, keep in mind that storied Notre Dame hasn't had back-to-back winning seasons since 1998 or back-to-back nine-win years since 1993 under Lou Holtz. And the Irish haven't won a bowl game since beating Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl in January, 1994, going 0-8 since then.

Notre Dame's national title hopes this season are built around a high-powered offense that includes Quinn, a Heisman candidate, Walker and Jeff Samardzija, one of the nation's top receivers.

After getting bludgeoned for a school-record 617 yards in a 34-20 loss to Ohio State in last year's Fiesta Bowl, Weis has made major adjustments and improvements on defense.

"It's not quite dominant yet," safety Tom Zbikowski said. "We've had two pretty good games. But we want to keep playing with a chip on our shoulders, and keep winning."

That's especially true at home, where Notre Dame has had trouble with just about every team since the 2003 season.



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