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|Notre Dame Focused on Michigan State
By TOM COYNE, AP Sports Writer
Friday, September 16, 2005
The Notre Dame campus is buzzing with excitement these days. Fans are still talking about last week's big win over Michigan and the No. 10 ranking while looking ahead to next week's game against former Fighting Irish coach Tyrone Willingham at Washington. Alumni are wondering which former Notre Dame greats will show up for Saturday's game. On campus there is debate among students whether to wear this year's official spirit shirt, which is yellow, to the game Saturday or to wear green as in past years.
This week's opponent, Michigan State, doesn't seem to be the main concern for many people, except coach Charlie Weis. He's not concerned about his team's focus, though.
"I don't know what's going on around campus. I don't know exactly how this is going to play out, but I know this has been a pretty good week of practice as far as preparation goes. I think the guys got right down to business," he said.
Weis set the tone Sunday for his home debut. Instead of starting by congratulating the team about their second straight win over a ranked opponent, he pointed out that Michigan State's 11 victories at Notre Dame Stadium are more than any other opponent. He then reminded the Irish the Spartans have won four straight at Notre Dame Stadium, one shy of the record set by Purdue (1954-62). Then on Tuesday he showed them the lowlights of those losses.
"I think the coaching staff did a good job of really drilling them before we even practiced for the first time about getting down to business. That's the approach they apparently have taken this week," Weis said.
The Irish had better take care of business. After wins over Kent State and Hawaii, the Spartans are second in the nation in total offense at 592 yards a game. Drew Stanton has completed 43-of-55 passes and is fourth in the nation in passer efficiency rating.
"He can he do it all," Weis said. "He can run. He's elusive. He's got an arm, he's got touch. He's got a lot going for him."
Michigan State coach John L. Smith said the key to Stanton's improved play is he's focusing on passing first and running only as a last resort.
"I really like the way he is managing the game and managing the offense," Smith said.
Weis expects the Spartans to be even more wide open offensively than they have been their first two games.
"They're not afraid to go four wide receivers and they're not afraid to go empty," he said. "They really stretch you."
The Spartans are looking at the game as a chance to show the nation how good they are, much like Notre Dame did against the Wolverines last week.
"This is our chance to get the national spotlight," linebacker Kaleb Thornhill said.
Smith said the game won't only show the nation how good the Spartans are. "We get to find out if we're worth a darn or not," he said.
For the Irish, it's another step toward getting back among the nation's best teams.
Notre Dame has played well in spots offensively, defensively and on special teams, but it's had breakdowns in each area as well.
"What we're shooting for is trying to get the defense and the offense and the special teams all playing consistent at the same time," Weis said.
And to avoid all the distractions around town, which Weis said he's had no problem doing.
"The funniest part this week is everyone asks, 'What's campus like this week?' I haven't been on campus all week. I come here early, the only time I leave the building is to go over to the practice field," he said. "I couldn't tell you what outside looks like."
And which color T-shirt does Weis want students wearing to the game?
"I just want them to be loud," he said. "I don't care what they wear. I just want them to be loud."