Weis says Notre Dame believes it can beat USC
Coach Charlie Weis thinks his players believe, too. The 25th-ranked Fighting Irish believe they are going to beat No. 6 USC on Saturday.
"I don't know if that's always been the case," said Weis, who is 0-4 against the Trojans. "They understand the talent level of who they're going against, but I'd say this is probably the first time since I've been here where the players really believe they're going to win. They might be in the minority but they certainly believe that."
Three straight victories, all decided in the final minute, has boosted the players confidence.
"There's an expectation where good things are going to happen instead of hopes that bad things don't happen. I think that's a very important comment," he said.
Weis conceded that two years ago, when the Irish entered the game against USC with a 1-6 record and were beaten 38-0, "we might have been beat walking out the tunnel." Last year they were able to hang in there for a little more than a quarter.
This season, the Irish (4-1) head into their annual rivalry game with the Trojans (4-1) as 10-point underdogs, the smallest spread with Weis as coach.
The last time Notre Dame beat USC was in 2001, when Bob Davie was coach. Since then the Irish have lost a record seven straight to the Trojans. Six of those losses have been by 20 or more points, including last year's 38-3 loss. Only the 34-31 loss in Weis' first season, 2005's Bush Push game, was close.
Weis said he thinks the lopsided losses are a thing of the past.
"I'm not expecting to be taking a whuppin'," he said.
Despite the 35-point loss last year, Weis said there were some bright spots. Cornerback Robert Blanton intercepted the first pass of the game by Mark Sanchez and the Irish defense held the Trojans to one touchdown on their first four possessions. But the offense did manage a first down until the second half.
"On offense, I thought we just got manhandled. From start to finish I thought we got manhandled. They were able to manhandle us without having to bring a lot of pressure," Weis said. "They were able just to pin their ears back with four guys and get after us. I think they completely controlled the line of scrimmage, and I'd like to think that that won't be the case this week."
The Irish enter the game with the nation's most efficient passing offense, averaging 322 yards a game through the air. Overall, the Irish are 10th in the nation in offense at 470 yards a game.
The Trojans are sixth in the nation in total defense, giving up 239 yards a game, including 64 yards a game rushing. They also lead the nation in sacks at 4.2 a game.
The Irish are the best offense the Trojans have seen this season, while the Trojans are the best defense the Irish have played.
Weis said he believes the Irish offense, led by Jimmy Clausen, is better, especially the offensive line. It had better be.
"I think that if we played like we did last year and get dominated like we did last year, it won't make a darn bit of difference what Jimmy does," Weis said. "I think that is where it all starts."
It's obvious beating USC is personal to Weis. He conceded Tuesday he's had trouble sleeping, joking that he's been getting his four hours of sleep.
"That's just what you do. That's what we do," he said.
Weis has been talking about beating USC since he arrived at Notre Dame. He talked about it when he was introduced during halftime of a basketball game several weeks after he was hired. He talked about it again on his first day on the job when he met with students for the first time.
He keeps a baseball cap that reads "USC owns Notre Dame" in his office. It was sent to him before the Irish played USC in 2005. He said it came with derogatory note about his now 14-year-old daughter, who has a developmental disorder. He didn't want to say anything more about it.
"Until we win a game, I'll hold on to that cap," Weis said. "And when we've won a game, that cap won't around any more. It's kind of a refresher for me."