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Avenging their losses

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, September 22, 2004

They have never beaten Notre Dame, but that could all change Saturday.

Washington comes to town with an 0-2 record, losing to Fresno State 35-16 and UCLA 37-31. But that might be what concerns Irish coach Tyrone Willingham the most. Willingham said Tuesday at his weekly press conference that Washington is a talented team, despite that record.

“Defensively, they have given up some yardage, but they look to be like most Washington teams, physical and athletic,” Willingham said. “And it just is a surprise that they have given up the yardage that they have given up. So to me this is a football team that is very capable of coming in and getting a victory.”

Washington gave up 170 yards on the ground against Fresno State and 219 yards against UCLA. They also gave up 190 and 200 yards, respectively in the air.

And Notre Dame has a good history against the Huskies. In 1996, the last time these two teams faced off, the Irish rattled off 650 yards of total offense. This was the last time the Irish topped the 600-yard mark on offense.

But Willingham knows his offense has a lot of work to do, as it continues to improve on the pro-style offense.

“We’ve still got a lot of room to improve,” he said. “A lot of things we have to improve on our offense in order for us to be the kind of offense we’d like to be.”

The key to this is quarterback Brady Quinn, who has yet to have a breakout game this season for the 2-1 Irish.

Last week against Michigan State, Quinn completed 11-of-24 passes for 215 yards and one interception. He is averaging 219.3 yards per game in the air, but Willingham is still watching his sophomore quarterback mature.

“As a quarterback, there’s just a natural mantle of leadership that’s placed on you, and most guys in that position readily accept that,” Willingham said. “But as you grow and have greater confidence and greater knowledge of all of the other facets of the game, then you naturally expand into a greater leadership role.”

And Quinn and his offense should have a good opportunity to build on their success against Washington, if they continue to play well.

Defensively, the Irish will have to stop the Huskies’ quick running backs, Kenny James and Shelton Sampson, as well as big-play receiver Charles Frederick.

“I am really frightened by their running back, [Sampson],” Willingham said. “They seem to be very difficult to tackle and they are playing behind a pretty big offensive line that seems to be athletic. There seems to be some question about who their quarterback will be and in that rotation and they have done a great job of producing points, even with that instability. And of course the receiver is a big play guy. He makes plays.”

With the Irish on a two-game win streak, the confidence is high after hitting rock-bottom after the loss at Brigham Young.

“There’s always a real thin line that you walk between having just enough and too much [swagger],” Willingham said. “You’re always trying to balance that. You do want a team that is very confident and believes it can get something done, but you do not want a team so confident that it forgets how to work or what it took to get where they are at.”