Weis moves forward


While many look to circle the wagons, head coach Charlie Weis turned the page to eighth-ranked Pitt, in a game that might not have BCS ramifications, but now has a much more macabre feel for the embattled coach.

As usual, Weis took questions from the assembled media, and this week fielded questions from ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi and George Smith, a sure sign that the WWL hasn’t deemed Notre Dame irrelevant yet.

Here are a few observations from today’s press conference.

* Weis did his best to keep the focus on Pitt, which I think was a very wise idea. Even while he was baited every which way from some very persuasive reporters the focus was on Pitt.

You already know what my answer is going to be when you ask that
question. But I’m really only worrying about beating Pitt. And I’ll
never change. I think the day that I walk away from here and I get time to sit back
and reflect, I’ll give you a holler and we’ll go over that one. I’m
just worrying about beating Pittsburgh. And I put all my energy in the
week from the time the last game ends to the time the next game starts
and to just beating that opponent. And maybe I’m trained that way, but it’s just a complete tunnel vision
way of looking at it. I don’t spend any time reflecting. I only worry
about doing all I can to beat Pitt.

Even when asked by Tom Rinaldi a question that included the words “learned,” “muster,” “treetops,” and “journey,” Weis was like a broken record, keeping the focus on the this week’s opponent.

(Note to self: Use more flowery adjectives, and maybe I’ll get some interviews like Rinaldi pulls.)

* Speaking of that opponent, Weis was asked if it was important that they’re playing at Pittsburgh, a top ten team right now on their home turf, after last week’s disappointing loss.

I think it’s probably the same tact that you would expect me to take. That coming into a game, you’re can contend on the road, you’re playing
a Top 10 team, I think it’s going to be a raucous crowd. There’s all the reasons for the team to get fired up to get ready to
go. I mean, every reason. There isn’t a reason imaginable for the team
not to get fired up. They’re ready to go. You go beat a Top 10 team on
the road, it doesn’t take much for everyone to be feeling better after
that ends up happening. 
But we’ll know that about 11:30, 12:00 Saturday night.

For all those that have been screaming for Weis’ head this week, I can assure you that at 11:30 or 12:00 Saturday night, we’ll have a better picture of the head coach’s fate by then as well.

* Staying on the topic of Saturday’s game, it’s clear Weis understands how badly his team needs this win, having lost seven straight games to Top 25 teams.

I think I’m worried more about the kids, that’s what I’m worrying more
about than anything else. I think for these kids’ sake it would do them
wonder to do this. I think the most important thing I have to worry
about in the grand scheme of things, we talk about the program and I
think that that’s a critical factor. But most importantly, you know,
you’ve got a bunch of 18- to 22-year-old kids that after a loss go to
class and everyone says: Hey, what happened? What happened? And I think right now the most important thing, when things like that
happen, is for me to be there for them. And a situation like that, all
we can do is fight together to be in position to go ahead and get this
rectified this week.

No doubt a win this weekend would probably silence a few critics and stabilize the situation around the program for the time being.

* Weis was asked about a USA Today piece that discussed the rapidly rising rate of college coaches’ salaries. Weis predictably hadn’t seen the piece, but took the chance to talk about his much discussed contract.

By the way, John, mine is grossly misreported in case you’re wondering.
And one step further while we’re on that subject, if you would like to
have my tax returns I’d be more than willing to have them just as long
as you were willing to pay the difference between what’s been reported
and what I actually make… You better have a seven-figure check ready, that’s all I have to say.

I’ve always found it incredibly annoying that people always cite this gigantic contract that Charlie Weis is paid, yet nobody has the faintest clue on the particulars. Depending on the source, Weis is either making $4 million a season, has a $15 million buyout, but really, nobody has the slightest clue. For the record, the reporter wasn’t willing to make the trade.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”