SOUTH BEND, Ind. - A last-minute win on defense, followed by a last-minute win on offense. So what’s next for Notre Dame, a last-minute win on special teams?
“You’re joking, but I had a similar comment about 30 minutes ago,” coach Charlie Weis said Tuesday, referring to his fellow coaches. “We came up with the same deduction.”
Weis would rather not have to depend on a game-winning field goal or punt return for a touchdown to pull one out. But he hopes that the wins over Michigan State and Purdue following a last-minute loss against Michigan have provided the Fighting Irish with some valuable lessons for the rest of the season.
“I think it’s really helped the confidence of our football team,” he said.
Weis doesn’t plan to talk to his team about the need to avoid waiting until the last minute to win. Perhaps that’s because last year when he talked to his players about the need to learn to put teams away, the heavily favored Irish lost 24-23 in the last minute to Syracuse.
Still, Weis would like to see some easier wins.
“Would you like to pull away from a team and win by three touchdowns and not have to your heart palpitating in the last minute? You betcha,” he said.
Notre Dame this week will attempt to improve to 4-1 when they face Washington (2-2), a team that looks quite a bit different from the squad that lost 33-7 to the Irish last year en route to an 0-12 finish under former Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham.
New coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt have the Huskies playing tough.
It could be easy for the Irish to take Washington lightly considering how easily they beat them last season and because Notre Dame is 7-0 all-time against the Huskies. But Weis said he’s not worried about Notre Dame overlooking the Huskies with a bye week upcoming and their annual game with rival USC looming. The Irish are well aware the Huskies beat the Trojans, something the Irish haven’t done since 2001.
“It’s pretty easy when you have an attention-getter, and them beating USC is definitely an attention-getter,” Weis said.
The Irish, who started the season ranked No. 23 and moved up to 18th after an opening-game victory before being knocked out of the rankings with the loss to Michigan, are still a bit of a mystery. They are a play away from being 4-0 and two plays away from 1-3.
“It’s not exactly utopia where you have to play like that,” Weis said. “I think that the most important thing is, people can debate on the status of a team, but the bottom line is you’re 3-1, and you’re 3-1 for a reason.”
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who missed much of the second half against Purdue with a turf toe injury, took part in throwing drills Tuesday but pedaled a stationary bike during running drills. Weis said he expects Clausen to be ready to play Saturday. Leading rusher Armando Allen Jr. took part in all the drills the media was allowed to watch and did not show any signs of a limp after missing the game against the Boilermakers with an injured ankle, though Weis said he’s not sure he’d be able to play every down against Washington.
Weis is making one lineup change for Saturday. Freshman Ben Turk will replace senior Eric Maust as the punter. Through four games, the Irish ranked 85th in the nation in net punting with a 34.9-yard average.
“I think the only facet of special teams that we were disappointed with in last week’s game was our punt team,” Weis said. “Now it’s not all Eric’s fault, but we were disappointed with the punt team. So based off the fact that it’s been pretty even in practice between the two of them, we figured we’d give the freshman a chance.”
Lingering questions were answered emphatically by the 2012 team, but 2013 is an all-new season that brings all-new question marks. Brian Kelly feels fairly confident his offense is in a great position to take a step forward, but to do that, they’ll need the services of some under-the-radar players.
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