Willingham says No. 7 Irish won't stray from game plan

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- He's not going to criticize, he's not going to fret and he's not going to look too far ahead.

Nope, Tyrone Willingham is going to stick with the game plan that has No. 7 Notre Dame off to its best start in nine years.

The Irish offense and defense had their worst performances of the season in a 14-6 win over Pittsburgh, and now the team must play in the mile-high altitude at No. 18 Air Force at 10 p.m. EDT on Saturday.

Then there's the upcoming road game against No. 12 Florida State (5-2).

Still, Willingham refuses to call any game more crucial than the previous six.

"I would never look at the schedule and say this one is any more difficult than the other ones because I know sometimes the thought process that goes on with players," Willingham said. "It becomes extremely difficult to win any game at any time."

As an example, Willingham pointed to Michigan State's 46-22 loss to California one week before the Spartans faced the Irish.

"Somehow, some of their players might have thought that California was insignificant on that schedule, or maybe someone had told them that was an easy football game," Willingham said. "That did not turn out to be an easy football game."

Willingham shouldn't have to worry much about the Irish (6-0) thinking Air Force (6-0) will be an easy game. The unbeaten Falcons are 3-point favorites, and the Irish remember the Falcons scoring 18 fourth-quarter points two years ago to force overtime in a game the Irish eventually won 34-31.

He does have to worry about stopping Air Force's triple-threat option under quarterback Chance Harridge, who has more touchdowns (15) than the Irish offense (11). Harridge is averaging 102.5 a yards rushing, compared to the 142.7 yards the Irish are averaging.

The Irish are still struggling to learn the West Coast offense that Willingham brought with him from Stanford in an attempt to improve what had been the nation's sixth-worst offense, averaging 289.7 yards last year.

Midway through the season, the Irish have the nation's fifth-worst offense at 293 yards per game.

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