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Last season will prevent “trap” game for the Irish

Jay Fitzpatrick | Thursday, October 2, 2008

If there is one good thing about last year’s debacle, it’s that this year Notre Dame understands how important each game is, Irish coach Charlie Weis said.

“I think one of the best things is because we had not been winning last year, this is not a team that’s set up for a letdown. Some teams like that sometimes have trap games, you know, where you just – they just figure they can show up and win,” he said.

The team is coming off an impressive win last week against Purdue – whose only previous loss was in double overtime against No. 23 Oregon.

Weis said that his team treats each individual game separately because it wants to make sure it can win.

“That’s why when we go to play against Stanford, you don’t have to say, well, they are going to feel pretty good about beating Purdue and not show up for Stanford,” Weis said.

Up next for the Irish is the Cardinal, a team Notre Dame has beaten the last six times they have met.

Despite Notre Dame’s recent success against Stanford, Weis said every game on the schedule is losable if his team fails to perform.

“We could lose to anybody on the schedule if we just show up; whereas, there’s teams, the upper echelon teams, I’m not going to say any of them in particular, but there’s a lot of upper echelon teams that because they already have that mentality where they expect to win every week, okay, when they show up for a game, they figure, well, we’ll still end up winning at the end of the day, and guess what, it doesn’t always work out that way,” he said.

Last weekend, four top-10 teams (No. 1 USC, No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 Florida and No. 9 Wisconsin) all lost, and only Georgia lost to a ranked team (41-30 at home to No. 8 Alabama).

Stanford has struggled of late, going only 4-8 last season, but with wins at Southern Cal and at Arizona. This year, the Cardinal already have three wins, including a victory against Oregon State in the season opener.

One reason for this turnaround is head coach Jim Harbaugh, who is in the middle of his second year with the program.

Although this is Harbaugh’s first trip to South Bend as a coach, he is no stranger to Notre Dame Stadium, having played there as a senior at Michigan in 1986. Harbaugh’s Wolverines won that game 24-23 en route to an 11-2 record and a Rose Bowl berth.

Harbaugh said in his weekly media news conference Tuesday that he told his players to relish this moment because it is a unique one in college football.

“[Notre Dame is] an unbelievable setting. I had a chance to play there once as a college senior. It’s something you’ll remember for awhile,” he said. “I told our team it’s kind of like when you were nine-years old playing in the back yard and visualizing playing in front of a big crowd. Put yourself in that setting. We’re not nine-years old anymore but we are in that setting.”

While their Michigan playing careers never overlapped, Irish defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said he personally knows Harbaugh from working football camps with him. Their professional careers also overlapped.

Brown also said the Cardinal have taken on Harbaugh’s tough attitude.

“It looks like they have [taken on his personality]. They play hard and try to execute, kind of what you expect from a team he coaches,” Brown said.

Harbaugh said one of the biggest challenges for his squad Saturday will be Notre Dame’s balanced offense. The Irish ran the ball 39 times and threw the ball 35 times with one sack. Both the run and pass were effective against Purdue, leading to 476 yards of total offense.

Harbaugh said that Notre Dame’s young players early success in the college game this season also provide a test for his squad.

“They seem to be in gear. They have a lot of young guys playing skilled positions and they are not playing like freshmen. The quarterback [Jimmy Clausen] is starting to come into his own. He’s confident back there and his passes are crisp. He likes throwing deep, especially on early downs. We’ll be tested in the passing game,” Harbaugh said.