Weis credits December meeting for ND turnaround

Sep 6, 2009 - 9:42 PM By TOM COYNE AP Sports Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind.(AP) -- Charlie Weis sat in front of his players last December and asked them a question.

"Where are we heading here fellas?"

It was his first chance to talk to his team after an embarrassing 38-3 loss to USC and a highly publicized meeting on the West Coast with the athletic director in which he learned he'd return to Notre Dame for a fifth season as coach.

Weis recounted that meeting during a news conference with reporters Sunday, a day after the 23rd-ranked Fighting Irish opened the season with a 35-0 victory against Nevada.

A lot of Irish fans were wondering where the program was headed last December after the Irish finished the regular season with ugly losses to Syracuse and Southern California.

The Irish were 6-6, facing the prospect of posting back-to-back losing records for just the third time in the programs 120 seasons. The 15 losses over two years were already the most in school history.

So Weis gathered his players for a talk hours before the team's annual banquet. He told them that it was up to them to decide which way the program was headed. With finals exams looming, they had to decide what attitude they were going to take into the yet-to-be-decided bowl.

"What's the approach going to be? What are we going to do?" Weis asked. "Are we just going to go somewhere and just throw in the towel and just go through the motions, just say we went to a bowl game? Or are we going to go use it as a mechanism to get this thing going in the right direction?"

The Irish players say they decided at that meeting that it was time to turn things around.

"There came a time we had to say 'Enough is enough,"' said center Eric Olsen, one of the team captains. "We had to buckle down and get to work."

The team decided instead of using the trip to the Hawaii Bowl as a chance to cap off the season with some fun in the islands, they would act as if the game against Hawaii were the start of 2009.

"On Dec. 24 in the Hawaii Bowl we decided we're putting our foot down," linebacker Brian Smith said. "We're not going to be the media's whipping boy any more. We're going to go out and play how we play."

The Irish played their best game of the year, with Jimmy Clausen completing 22 of 26 passes for 401 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. Although the 49-21 victory in Hawaii may not have done much to quiet critics, it gave the Irish a bit of confidence.

"It let us show ourselves what we could do and it boosted us into the offseason program," safety Kyle McCarthy said.

Notre Dame seemed to pick up where it left off against Hawaii in its 2009 opener.

Clausen completed 15-of-18 passes for 315 yards with four touchdowns with no interceptions against Nevada. He leads the nation in pass efficiency with a 303.67 rating, nearly 56 points ahead of his nearest competitor.

Michael Floyd leads the nation in receiving with four catches for 189 yards and three TDs. The Irish also registered their first shutout in seven years and Weis was able to get plenty of playing time for backups, something he was criticized for not doing during his first two seasons when Notre Dame earned back-to-back Bowl Championship Series berths.

"Early on in my career here, there weren't enough guys that I had confidence putting in here, so I didn't play them," Weis said. "But now we have more guys that have ability that have earned our confidence to get playing time."

There appeared to be quite a bit of confidence among the Irish on Saturday with McCarthy even taking notice of some Orange Bowl representatives on the field after the game.

"It's nice to have some notoriety back around here after the last couple years," he said. "It feels like the old Notre Dame a little bit."

He knows, though, it will take more than wins against a pair of Western Athletic Conference teams to restore Notre Dame's luster.

"We know this is just one game, and coach Weis does a good job of bringing us down to an even keel and really letting us know that the season is a marathon," McCarthy said.

The next leg of the marathon passes through Michigan (1-0) on Saturday.

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