FOOTBALL: Breaks help Irish
Associate Sports Editor
Last week, Bob Davie noticed a lack of focus on the part of the Irish football team. He worried if his squad would be ready to play Purdue despite the emotional distractions caused by Tuesday's terrorist attacks. He sensed a different atmosphere out on the practice field.
So he dealt with it.
When he found out the Notre Dame-Purdue game was cancelled, Davie cancelled Thursday's practice and organized a meeting to talk about the direction in which the football team was heading. He held a short walk-through Friday afternoon that only lasted an hour and a half.
The results were obvious Saturday morning as Davie addressed a crowd of reporters at about the same time the Irish were supposed to take the field against the Boilermakers.
"It's fun to be out there coaching and working," he said. "I think we have an opportunity to take advantage of this time. It felt like football again out there."
"We had a great practice," co-captain Anthony Weaver said. "Everyone was a lot more lively out there. It felt like a real football practice."
Weaver wouldn't have been able to say the same a few days ago. A tired, worn out Irish team didn't even know if they would have been able to play football against the Boilermakers. Players were saying things like "We can focus if we have to" and "We'll be prepared if we need to be."
They just didn't sound entirely confident.
"From a mental standpoint, if we had to play [last] week, I think we could have been about maxed out, mentally," said Davie. "We got away from it, we got a chance to reestablish and reaffirm some of the things we feel strongly about with our players and get away from the X and O parts. I feel like we're just starting now."
"We needed to get refocused and put things in perspective," said Weaver.
Because the Irish have an extra week to prepare for Michigan State, Davie has been able to move slower in practice. He began making game preparations
Saturday, and intends on simplifying the offense. According to Davie, Michigan State is the beginning of a whole new season for the Irish.
"We're playing ourselves. We got off to such a poor start, we forgot what we were doing and playing the way we're capable," he said. "This gave us a chance to spend time on the little things that end up being the big things. That's been our approach — this is the end of training camp."
The Irish gained more than an extra week off by pushing the Purdue game back to Dec. 1.
Instead of playing three of their first four games on the road, the Irish are now playing four or their next five games in Notre Dame Stadium — a change that Davie says makes Notre Dame's tough schedule that much easier.
Davie is more concerned with Michigan State than the schedule, however. Davie has never beaten Michigan State since taking over as head coach.
But at least he's worried about his opponent rather than his own team.
"I feel a little bit of a transformation," Davie said. "I feel what our team's starting to feel like. I feel really good about where we are."
u Davie said Kurt Vollers will start at guard and Brennan Curtin will start at tackle against Michigan State.
Sean Milligan, who made his first start against Nebraska but was largely ineffective, has been hampered by an injury and will not be starting.
"We feel this gives us our best chance to get our best five linemen on the field," Davie said.
u By pushing the Purdue game to Dec. 1, Davie said the Irish may have hurt their recruiting efforts.
Notre Dame scheduled their annual football banquet for Dec. 1, an event that takes place during one of the few available recruiting weekends available for prospective football players to take official visits. In the past, the Irish have always used the football banquet as a prime opportunity to showcase Notre Dame football.
Davie said the Irish would reschedule the banquet for a Dec. 8, but because the event is close to finals, most current Notre Dame players would have to spend time studying rather than helping with recruiting efforts.
All Sports Stories for Monday, September 17, 2001