Looking ahead to Notre Dame

Washington is 0-7 against Notre Dame in a series that dates back to 1948. The Huskies arrive in South Bend as a 13 point underdog in the final meeting of a six game series set up by former UW AD Barbara Hedges many moons ago. You would think that the Irish would enjoy continuing the relationship because 7-0 against a BCS foe with a good reputation isn't a bad thing to have. However for now there are no more games scheduled in the immediate future.

Notre Dame is off to another rough start this season even though former Irish coach Lou Holtz predicted a national championship. The reason for Lou's prediction was simple. The Irish have the type of schedule this season that they can run from start to finish. That dream ended abruptly against Michigan when the Wolverines upset the Irish in the final minutes of the game.

All the Irish had to do in the Michigan game was keep the ball on the ground and run out the clock. For some strange reason Charlie Weis decided to air it out and it gave Michigan the opportunity to preserve its timeouts, have enough time to mount one more drive, and win the game.

Weis has taken a lot of heat for the Michigan game and things really haven't lightened up despite sporting a 3-1 record. Notre Dame looked like a world beater in its opener crushing Nevada 35-0. Then came the inexcusable 38-34 loss to Michigan. Close wins against Big Ten bottom feeders Michigan State 33-30 and Purdue last weekend 24-21 have the Irish faithful restless and speed dialing 1-800-Urban Meyer. Remember this is the same Purdue team which got their butts handed to them at home the previous week by Northern Illinois.

Next up is Washington who in Steve Sarkisian's first season has already accomplished what Charlie Weis has never come close to doing and that is coming up with a victory against USC. That brings us to the major rub on Weis. He has never won a game in his tenure at Notre Dame over a team he wasn't supposed to beat. He has never beaten USC and Boston College treats him like a red headed step child. That doesn't sit well with Irish fans.

Weis has recruited well at Notre Dame. It seems like he as a top five class almost every single season. Recruiting isn't the problem and it should never be a problem at Notre Dame. What seems to be the problem is that Weis and his staff have a tough time putting those pieces together on the field for game day. We know they have superior athletes to a Purdue, or Michigan State but for some reason they aren't getting it done the the satisfaction of Irish fans.

On offense the Irish prefer to throw the ball around the field all night without ever trying to establish a solid running game. QB Jimmy Clausen is a good looking QB. He has a quick release and can put some zip on the ball when he has time. He still has problems with his decision making and can go through spurts where he is wildly erratic such as the fourth quarter against Michigan.

Clausen has been banged up with a turf toe injury the past couple of weeks. He spent most of the second half of the Purdue game on the bench only to appear for the last drive of the game to hit the winning TD with 24 second left against the Boilermakers. Clausen is expected to start against Washington but his play is really going to be limited by that big toe and how many times they can shoot it full of painkillers and cortisone. Dayne Crist will fill in if Clausen can't go or is knocked out.

The Irish are also missing their top WR Michael Floyd who is out till November with a broken collarbone. Starting tailback Armando Allen also missed the Purdue game with an ankle problem but will most likely play against Washington if he checks out on Tuesday. With injuries affecting such key components of the Irish offense, last Saturday's game really was about survival. Moving forward, it's all about improvement. This is a team that doesn't have the look or feel of a Top 25 team yet.

Notre Dame has struggled to run the ball this season. One thing they have done to help that part of the game out is throw a little Wildcat offense into the playbook. Golden Tate picked up 55 yards on nine carries with a nice TD run against Purdue. Robert Hughes picked up 68 yards on 15 carries with a TD.

Lets put this all in perspective. They only scored 24 points and gained 383 yards with 72 coming on the last drive against a Purdue defense which has as much resistance as a sieve. Washington is no defensive Juggernaut as we saw last weekend but they are going to give the depleted Irish offense some problems because of the way the two teams match up.

Defensively the Irish are giving up too many yards through the air. Purdue scorched them for 283 yard last weekend. On the positive side they were able to shut down a good running attack limiting the Boilermakers to only 74 yards on the ground.

Washington has a good shot in this game because they are catching the Irish at a great time. Clausen if he starts is going to be less than mobile which will give the Husky defense a slow target to put pressure on. The Irish don't have the tools to put together a power running game to pound the Huskies either. On the other hand this is South Bend and we are playing a squad we haven't beaten in a history extending sixty years. Even when banged up at key positions the Irish have superior athletes and depth at most positions in comparison to Washington.

This one may actually come down to whose staff puts together the best game plan. Did I mention that Sarkisian and Holt are undefeated against Notre Dame? Did I mention that in every game Weis has faced them it hasn't been even close? Did I fail to mention the athletes at their disposal were at USC and that may have had a little to do with it? All that being said both of these coaches are very familiar with Weis and the Irish. They won't be intimidated.

For the players of course it is an entirely different thing. If the Irish were traveling to Seattle this week I would pick UW as the favorite regardless of what happened at Stanford. The Cardinal by the way are a much better football team than the Irish. Since this game is in South Bend it is going to be rough. The mystique of playing a game in the shadow of TD Jesus, Rockne, The Gipper, Rudy, and the Golden Dome is always a mental challenge to handle.

Game notes

Notre Dame completed its Big Ten record at 2-1, and now it starts its Pac-10 part of the schedule. The Irish take on three Pac-10 teams in October — facing Washington at home this week, and following a bye, USC and Washington State. Then, at the end of the year, it's a trip to Stanford.

I got more text messages last night from ND people saying that same thing: 'Good to see a quarterback with some guts,' " Weis said Sunday, a day after Clausen fought through turf toe to lead the Irish on a last-minute drive to a 24-21 win at Purdue. "The word might not have been 'guts,' but they were impressed."

I have been waiting for this game a long time. The Huskies don't often play in my neck of the woods and whenever they do it is special. We will be hosting folks from Seattle from Wednesday to Monday and having a Dawg Pound style tailgate before the game in South Bend

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