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FOOTBALL: Emotions to tug at squad Saturday

Heather VanHoegarden | Thursday, November 17, 2005

There’s no doubt emotions will be running high on Saturday when Notre Dame’s seniors play their last game at Notre Dame Stadium. But Irish coach Charlie Weis wants them to stay focused on the task at hand – Syracuse, a team that beat them 38-12 in the final game of 2003, a 5-7 season for the Irish.

“I have a seven-minute tape that I’m going to show them about the 2003 game here at 2 p.m. [today], and that will be a very humbling experience for them and a quick reminder that this game is really about playing Syracuse as much as it is about being respectful to the seniors,” Weis said on Tuesday. “You’ve got to respect your opponent.”

Syracuse, which is 1-8 with its lone win coming over Buffalo, is a team that has struggled all season. But the Irish cannot overlook the Orange if they want to keep a BCS bowl in sight.

That’s where Weis comes into play.

“The biggest thing keeping us focused is Coach,” Irish wide receiver Matt Shelton said. “He’s obviously done a good job with the first season and the second season [Weis split the season in half for his team], and I think he’s just going to keep doing it.”

And Weis won’t go easy on his team as to avoid a letdown in the final stretch of the season that concludes next weekend in Palo Alto, Calif. with Stanford.

“You never can let up on the players,” Weis said. “It doesn’t make a difference what level you’re coaching at. You always put pressure on the players to make sure that there’s never a letup because when you let up as a coach, you’re just opening the door where there’s a possibility of a letdown. Regardless of how mature your team is, you never can let up.”

The Orange, which lost 27-0 to South Florida last week, are led by first-year head coach Greg Robinson, who coached at Texas last season and in the NFL before that. As a result, he is a familiar figure to both Weis and offensive coordinator Michael Haywood. Haywood and Robinson coached together last season at Texa, where Haywood was the co-special teams coordinator/recruiting coordinator and Robinson was the co-defensive coordinator.

“You get a lot of different schemes from him, depending on who the opponent he’s playing,” Haywood said. “He does a great job of putting those guys in positions to have some success.”

Weis is familiar with Robinson’s defensive schemes through the NFL, where Robinson coached from 1990-2003. Robinson, like Weis, wears his Super Bowl ring for recruits. And Weis said he compares Robinson’s defense to that of USC coach Pete Carroll.

“He’s a very good coach, and he’s very close with Pete,” Weis said. “They go all the way back from high school, right through college. They coached together. I remember years ago they were on the same staff for the Jets, and their philosophies are very similar.”

The Irish face an Orange team that doesn’t have a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game just yet. Perry Patterson and Joe Fields will both play, Robinson said in his Tuesday press conference. Fields struggled last week against South Florida, going 3-for-9, good for 18 yards and one interception. Patterson didn’t play much better, going 5-for-16, good for 47 yards and an interception of his own.

However, the Syracuse defense is solid. Safety Anthony Smith leads the nation with six interceptions.

“He’s one of those guys that has a nose for the football,” Weis said. “Sometimes the ball gravitates to certain people. Sometimes I don’t even know why. You could say, well, it’s coverage schemes, but sometimes being in the right place at the right time, but for some reason the ball comes to certain people on defense. It always has seemed to be that way, and he happens to be one of those guys.”

And the Irish will try to send their seniors out the right way on Saturday – with a win.

“We try to win,” Weis said. “That’s how you honor [the seniors]. There would be nothing worse than to honor a group of guys with a loss. That’s the whole point is to respect your opponent, know your opponent, know the strengths, know the weaknesses, play for your seniors.”


Weis had the Irish practicing outside on Wednesday to get used to the cold weather that has mostly avoided South Bend this fall. He wants the team to be ready for chilly conditions on Saturday.

“It was a little colder than it will be on Saturday, but it was good for them because it was such a drastic drop from what we’ve had,” Weis said.

“I was a little chilly, but I was pleased.”