It's come to this for Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis: He needs a victory to have a merry Christmas — and a winning record.
HONOLULU — It's come to this for Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis: He needs a victory to have a merry Christmas — and a winning record.
"When I'm sitting here on Christmas Eve after the game with my wife and kid, waiting for Santa and the sleigh to pull up, I want to have a smile on my face," he said. "And I won't be the happiest camper if it goes the other way."
Weis hasn't had much to smile about this season, so a win over Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl on Wednesday night would certainly be welcome. Yes, the Fighting Irish are in the postseason, but with a 6-6 record and losses in four of their last five games.
To make matters worse, Notre Dame has an NCAA-record nine-game bowl losing streak. The Fighting Irish haven't hoisted a postseason trophy since Jerome Bettis and Rick Mirer led them over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl after the 1993 season.
"Breaking our bowl streak, that's very, very important," tailback Armondo Allen said. "That's something we always talk about, starting a new trend. And we can start it right here in Hawaii."
Since Notre Dame's last bowl win, 89 of 119 schools have won in the postseason. Hawaii (7-6) even has four postseason victories in that period — all in the Aloha State.
Notre Dame also is trying avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the third time in 120 seasons. The first was in 1887 (0-1) and 1888 (1-2), and Gerry Faust's final season in 1985 (5-6) and Lou Holtz's first season in 1986 (5-6).
The Warriors, meanwhile, are simply trying to show they can beat a big-name program, something they hasn't done all year.
Linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who has a school-record 425 career tackles, said the game is not about Notre Dame, or its bowl losing streak.
"It's about us," he said. "It's about this season. It's about what we're trying to accomplish here. It's about us being a great team on national TV. This is our opportunity to show the world what UH football is all about."
The Warriors had that chance last season but were pounded by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and finished 12-1. Within days, coach June Jones left for SMU, the athletic director was fired and players left early for the NFL.
"For a second, the team was in disarray," Elimimian said. "Nobody knew what was going on."
Coach Greg McMackin was able to restore stability and confidence.
With a rebuilt offense, Hawaii struggled to a 1-3 start prompting McMackin to angrily declare that the team would make it to the postseason.
"We're playing our best football right now," he said. "We're playing more of the type of football that we want to be known for. This is a period or exclamation point for the season."
Notre Dame opened the year 4-1 with high expectations. But the Irish faltered, going 2-5 the rest of the way, plagued by turnovers. The Irish averaged nearly 30 points a game in South Bend, compared with almost half that on the road.
Weis, who will be calling the offensive plays, said quarterback Jimmy Clausen and the receivers got "out of sync" about two-thirds into the season. Clausen had just 41 yards passing against USC in the regular-season finale.
Notre Dame's ground attack could prove key.
In its six wins, the Irish rushed for at least 100 yards in every game except Stanford and averaged 164 yards. In its six losses, the only time the Irish broke 100 yards was in overtime against Pittsburgh and the Irish averaged 62.8 yards.
On defense, the Irish are bolstered by the return of linebacker Brian Smith and will be looking to pressure Warriors quarterback Greg Alexander. Hawaii has allowed an NCAA-leading 48 sacks.
Since taking over as the starter six games ago, Alexander has thrown for 1,533 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Irish linebacker Maurice Crum said the defense will need to disrupt Alexander's timing and rhythm. Hawaii is 7-1 when scoring 20 or more points.
This is Notre Dame's second bowl appearance in the islands. The Irish lost 27-20 to SMU in the 1984 Aloha Bowl.
The Warriors are making their fifth appearance in seven years at its hometown bowl. They are seeking their fourth straight Hawaii Bowl.
"Everybody likes to play against Notre Dame and they want to take their shots and do what they can to beat us," Allen said. "That's day in and day out for us. Our main goal is to stay focused and execute what we got."