Going into 2008 this was going to be the most touted game of the season for two teams that had a good chance of being under .500 at the end of the season. The hype of course was that you had the ex Notre Dame coach going up against the current Notre Dame coach and both were on the hot seat after poor finishes last season.
Washington was expected to struggle in their first three games against Oregon, BYU, and Oklahoma and they did starting the season 0-3. Disaster struck after that first bye week when Husky QB Jake Locker injured his thumb and was shelved for the rest of the season. The Huskies have been in a free fall ever since battling injuries and inexperience while falling to 0-6.
Notre Dame struggled in its first game out of the chute just getting by hapless San Diego State 21-13 at home. The next week they came out and smashed a struggling Michigan team 35-17 and everyone was declaring the Irish back even though the Wolverines are having one of their worst seasons in decades. A solid 38-21 win over Purdue followed. The Irish held on to beat Stanford the following week 28-21. They then lost on the road to #22 North Carolina 29-24.
Weis has the Irish in good shape to go bowling this post season. Remaining games on the schedule include Washington, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Navy, Syracuse, and USC. The Irish will likely lose to Pitt, BC, and USC. You can pencil in victories over UW, Syracuse, and most likely Navy which would give the Irish a respectable 7-5 record and a bowl bid.
The knock on Weis is that he doesn't beat anyone he isn't supposed to beat. Where are the signature victories? The win over Michigan looks good on paper but that was soon erased by the reality of how horrible the Wolverines are this season. The only rated team the Irish have played this season beat them. The Irish may be 4-2 as they head in to Seattle but they are far from being a top twenty five football team.
To beat the Irish you need to put pressure on Clausen and stop one of the nations best passing attacks. UW has seen better passing attacks this year but hasn't been able to stop anyone yet. Last weeks game against Oregon State showed some improvement but the Huskies are still very much a work in progress going into this one.
The Irish running game isn't really a threat so if you "Tee" off on Clausen you can keep these guys under control. The problem for Washington is they haven't been able to "Tee" off on anyone this year. Opponents have completed 116 of 160 passes against the Huskies this year with only two interceptions. To make matters worse the Huskies have only three sacks this season. All were against Arizona by Daniel Teo Nesheim. UW is going to have to do a much better job providing pressure if they are going to beat the Irish.
How good are the Irish? Notre Dame is a team that will struggle to finish over .500 this season. Like the Huskies they have a bunch of youth on the roster which is continuing to develop each week. The key for the Irish in this one is confidence. With four wins under their belt they feel much better about themselves than the Huskies do.
Washington has a chance to beat Notre Dame at home. The Irish are not as good as Arizona, and Oregon State. We do know that they are better than Stanford who beat the Huskies three games ago. The Vegas line has Notre Dame as a 12 point favorite and I think that is pretty accurate going into this game.
For Washington to win they need to start better in the first half and not turn the ball over. Turnovers have been killing this team ever since Locker was hurt. If the Huskies can keep their hands on the ball and give Ronnie Fouch a little time an upset is possible.
Another key for Washington is if they will be ready to play emotionally this week after starting the season 0-6. Obviously the coaching staff is beginning to lose the confidence of most of the players but this is Notre Dame and I am sure the team will be up for this one.
Finally Washington needs to put pressure on Clausen so he doesn't pick the defensive backfield apart. If UW can keep his completion ration at around 50% or lower they have a chance to come away with a victory.
Bulletin Board Material
Fat Charlie isn't one of the sharpest knives in the drawer when it comes to keeping his mouth shut at the appropriate times.
Willingham and Weis are not on friendly terms. Upon arriving at South Bend Weis took a number of pot shots at Willingham and continued to do it during last years horrible 3-9 season.
When asked if he ever asked former Irish coaches including Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie for advice he said this:
"When I call people up, I usually like to talk to the guys who left here with a good taste in their mouth," Weis said on a conference call with reporters. "When guys leave here before they're ready to leave, they're not the people that would be the best for me to talk to."
"I don't want them to feel they have to say something, and I really don't want to ask them," he said of his immediate predecessors. "When I have a question to ask somebody who's been in that boat, I call Ara or Lou because they were here over a decade, and I just feel those are the guys that can kind of guide me the best.
"I feel bad for the other people, but the bottom line is, when people leave before they want to leave, it's never a good conversation."
Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times has an interesting take directly from the mouths of those who cover the Irish concerning Willingham's performance at UW as being vindication for Notre Dame firing Willingham with two years left on his contract.
"At some points, it's gotten to be too much," said Lou Somogyi, editor of the Notre Dame fan magazine, Blue and Gold Illustrated. "It's almost gotten to where all the maladies of Notre Dame were blamed on Tyrone the last couple of years. Not saying he's not culpable, but at times it's like he was even responsible for Original Sin."
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis was asked if he feels any sympathy for Tyrone Willingham, coach of the 0-6 Washington Huskies.
"Was anyone asking that question last year?"
Notre Dame used to be my second favorite team behind the Huskies. I grew up watching Lindsey Nelson rebroadcast the games on Sunday mornings. We have all watched the Knute Rockne movie and have seen Rudy. It is tough not to admire the Irish tradition even if you are not a fan.
Since Willingham was fired I haven't been a Notre Dame fan. I still feel Tyrone was jobbed at ND regardless of his performance at UW. I think Weis has a big mouth and is a poor representative of what Notre Dame is really about. He doesn't have enough class to be walking those hallowed sidelines in my humble opinion.
Weis hasn't proven anything at Notre Dame other than he can win with Willingham's players. He fell flat on his face his during his third season and this season has been saved by a relatively easy schedule. When you struggle to beat San Diego State in your opener at home you are not impressing me.
This is a bigger game than most people think. This is Willinghams chance to stick it to Notre Dame and Charlie Weis. A win over the Irish on Saturday won't salvage UW's season or Willingham's coaching career at UW, but it will give an extremely young team who hasn't given up some confidence going into the second half of the season.
For Notre Dame a loss to Washington could be a disaster that will possibly cost Notre Dame a bowl bid at the end of the season. Two straight years without a bowl game could mean the end of Charlie Weis at Notre Dame even though he is obviously building well for the future.
Whatever happens on Saturday you can safely bet on one thing. Irish football coaches of the future will not be calling Charlie Weis for advice on how to succeed at Notre Dame either.