SEATTLE – Let the downplaying begin.
From the time Tyrone Willingham was hired to coach the University of Washington football team, one game on the schedule stood out like a sumo wrestler at a gymnastics meet. Now, the Notre Dame game is upon the Huskies, and, as can be expected, both Willingham and new Irish coach Charlie Weis barely acknowledged it.
“We already talked about it,” Weis said about discussing the game with his team. “I talked about it yesterday in the locker room. We’re not going to make a big deal out of it. It won’t be a long conversation. It will be a very short conversation.”
Washington is coming off a 34-6 victory over Idaho on Saturday at Husky Stadium. Notre Dame rallied from a big deficit but lost to Michigan State 44-41 in overtime at South Bend. The win was the Huskies’ first of the season and the loss was the Irish’s first.
But wins and losses, star players, you know, most of the things that matter, will take a back seat this week. Whether Willingham wants to acknowledge it or not – and he doesn’t – all eyes will be focused on his first matchup against the players he recruited and the school that fired him after three seasons and two bowl games.
But Willingham and Weis both said it will not be hard to get their teams to focus on the game rather than the story this week in practice.
“It won’t be hard at all,” Willingham said. “Because at the end of the game, it’s going to say Washington, Notre Dame. Not Tyrone, Charlie.”
“We all know what the distractions are going to be, but I promise you they won’t be talking about the distractions and neither will I,” Weis said. “This week will not be a week of distractions. We’re going to be spending our time on fundamentals and techniques. If we don’t play with better fundamentals and techniques, (we) can lose to anybody.”
Admit it or not, though, this game will be bigger than just any old ballgame, and that fact isn’t lost on the players. Key for Washington will be being able to focus on preparing for Notre Dame and not getting caught up in the bigger story. To a man, the Huskies said last week was their best week of practice, and that’s why they played their best game of the year. They’ll need an even better week this week to beat an even better foe.
“We know it’s a big week for Coach Willingham,” linebacker Evan Benjamin said. “But we have to focus on playing Notre Dame. This week gives us confidence that we can play with anyone and we need to have another week of practice like we just had.”
“Any time you play Notre Dame, it’s a big deal,” quarterback Isaiah Stanback said. “And with Coach Willingham and all of that, there’s going to be a lot of focus on it.”
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