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FOOTBALL:Irish attempting to mend mistakes

Pat Leonard | Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Washington gave up more points in Week 2 to California (56) than it ever has before in a single game at Husky Stadium. Notre Dame scored 41 points last Saturday.

But Irish coach Charlie Weis knows game preparation is not that simple, even if he’s only been a head coach for three regular season games.

“If we continue to play like that,” Weis said Sunday of Saturday’s 44-41 overtime loss to Michigan State, “if we don’t play better fundamentally and we don’t play better with better techniques, [we] could lose to everybody.”

Despite record-breaking performances Saturday by quarterback Brady Quinn and wide receiver Maurice Stovall, Notre Dame did not capitalize on late-game chances.

More glaringly, the defense couldn’t stop the Spartans offense for the majority of the afternoon. Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns.

“This week, besides getting ready for an opponent, our point of emphasis is going to be … fixing ourselves,” Weis said at the next-day press conference.

That means more work on fundamentals – footwork, blocking, tackling – all of the aspects of the game the Irish coaching staff prides itself on addressing.

Following Notre Dame’s win against Michigan two weekends ago, Weis was pleased with his defense’s aggressiveness in “flying to the ball,” something he and his staff have emphasized through spring and fall practice and into the game weeks.

He also said after beating the Wolverines that even when Michigan quarterback Chad Henne was not being directly chased, the Irish defensive line continued to pressure the pocket backward.

In Saturday’s loss to Michigan State, however, Stanton had ample time to find receivers and spread the field, a style of play Notre Dame’s entire defense – the line and secondary, in particular – struggled with.

“The bottom line is whether they bunch you up or spread you out, if you do proper things fundamentally and with proper techniques, X’s and O’s and schemes only do so much,” Weis said. “Eventually it’s going to come down to blocking and tackling and throwing and catching and running.

“It’s going to come down to the things that we all know, and we just didn’t do those well enough.”

Once Notre Dame gets around to evaluating its next opponent, coaches will find a 1-2 squad hungry for a win in its fourth-straight home game to open Tyrone Willingham’s first season as head coach.

The Huskies have struggled to put entire games together so far, winning convincingly against Idaho on Saturday (34-6) but losing to Cal in a route (56-17) and Air Force in a 20-17 heartbreaking opener.

Washington led its first game 17-6 with 10:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, only to drop the contest.

Weis no doubt will have more to say on his next opponent this afternoon in his second press conference of the week. But on Sunday, he was not finished reacting to his first loss as a head coach at any level.

“To be honest with you, I was disappointed, disappointed for our team,” he said. “Because when you rally like that and you’re having such a comeback like that, you’d say well, ‘what ifs’ … But you know we didn’t deserve to win.”

And the work begins immediately to make sure Notre Dame deserves it in Seattle, Wash. on Saturday.