Firing Tyrone Willingham isn't the onlything Washington and Notre Dame have in common.
The Huskies (2-2) and Fighting Irish (3-1), who play Saturday,are both struggling defensively and are coming off games where theyhad trouble tackling. Both depend heavily on junior quarterbacks tospark their offenses.
Both also are desperate to return to prominence and put memoriesof their recent struggles, including those Willingham years, behindthem.
The coaches were asked this week about the talent Willinghamleft them when he was fired. Charlie Weis, who led the Irish toback-to-back Bowl Championship Series in his first two years afterreplacing Willingham, declined to answer, saying he would not "sayanything derogatory about any coach that had been at Notre Dame."
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said Willingham had left someskilled offensive players, such as quarterback Jake Locker,tailback Chris Polk and several receivers.
"That's obviously a tribute to Ty and his ability to identifytalent and bring those guys in here. But I also know that we've gota lot of work to do in finding depth up front in our O and D linesand in our linebacker position," he said.
Irish fans are hoping to get to see more of Notre Dame'slinebacker future on Saturday. Both Weis and defensive coordinatorJon Tenuta said they expect to play highly touted freshman MantiTe'o a lot more starting this week. He has played a bit so far,making six tackles, including two for loss. One was a sack of
Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott on the final drive last week.
Weis said Irish coaches knew from the time that Te'o arrived oncampus that he was athletic enough to get on the field. Thechallenge was him learning to recognize multiple formations andpersonnel groups and becoming comfortable with Notre Dame'sdefensive schemes.
"He's going to get plenty of opportunity this week to grow fromthat. Because it's kind of tough for that to evolve without beingout there," Weis said.
Having a speedy linebacker on the field also won't hurt goingagainst Locker, who is just as important to Washington as JimmyClausen is to Notre Dame.
They have faced similar expectations of being franchise players.
"When you anoint someone the second coming - 'Here's theprogram, now go take us to it' - that can be a lot of pressure,"Sarkisian said. "It doesn't matter where these kids come from orwhat they do. At the end of the day, when they're playing asfreshmen, when they're 18-, 19-year-old kids, it's a lot ofpressure, especially when you put a lot on them from a schematicstandpoint. I think it takes time to grow, it takes time to learn.
"You've got to learn from mistakes. I think they've both donethat. Jimmy's done that, and I think Jake's doing that."
Clausen is fourth in the nation in pass efficiency while Lockeris 64th. But Locker is much more of a running threat, especiallywith Clausen still recovering from a turf toe injury sustained twoweeks ago.
"To be honest, I'm not very mobile as it is, whether I'mhealthy or not healthy," Clausen joked.
Clausen said he doesn't think his toe will be 100 percent therest of the season, but said he can move well enough that throwingisn't a problem.
The Irish are 7-0 all time against Washington, with six of thewins being by 19 points or more. The Irish, who have played threestraight games decided in the final minute, would like to see thetrend of easy wins over the Huskies continue.
But center Eric Olsen said the Irish know from watching filmthat these Huskies are a different team, one with a win over USCalready this season.
"The thing that was consistent in all the games we watched andthe scouting report is the guys play hard and they play with energyand they play with excitement," Olsen said. "That's somethingthat is a good thing for them, bad thing for us."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times