SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -A quick score. A fumble recovery. A big play on special teams. Notre Dame is looking for any confidence booster as it tries to avoid becoming the first Irish squad to start a season 0-4.
A fast start is second on coach Charlie Weis' list of 10 things the Irish need to do Saturday to beat Michigan State (3-0). It's right behind No. 1: playing more physically.
``I think it would be advantageous to everyone's psyche - the players, the coaches and the fans - if good things happen early in the game,'' Weis said.
The challenge there, though, is the Irish have been outscored 23-7 in the first quarter, while the Spartans have outscored opponents 28-0.
Weis balked at answering whether his team was emotionally fragile heading into the game. But there's no doubt the Irish have to be questioning themselves. They haven't just lost three straight, they've been blown out three straight - five straight dating back to last season.
Little has gone right offensively. The past three games each have been the worst three rushing games at the school in 42 years, totaling minus-14 yards. They have no offensive touchdowns, more than half their possessions have been three-and-outs and their longest drive of the season is 65 yards against Penn State backups.
While the defense showed some skill in the first two games, the Irish played miserably against the Wolverines.
Weis admits he's worried that a miscue early on - like the snap from center over tailback Armando Allen's head to start the game against Michigan last week - could spell trouble.
``But there are things you can do to work on ball protection, which is one of the things we've been doing this week,'' he said.
He's also walked a fine line in practice this week with the Irish taking the unusual step of practicing starting offense vs. starting defense in full contact for three days. He has been hard on the players while at the same time trying to rebuild their confidence.
``It's easy at this point for people to be questioning themselves when things aren't going well,'' Weis said. ``Being out there at practice really helps. Because now you have camaraderie and now it's not what everyone else is saying. It's just us.''
Left tackle Sam Young said the Irish can't look at the big picture.
``You have to look at, OK, I have this play, I'm going to do my best on this play. I'm going to do what it takes to be great,'' he said.
Players concede, though, that it's hard to escape the criticism. It's not just in the sportscasts and sports pages. Notre Dame's struggles have become the fodder for late night talk shows. Jay Leno joked about a Nebraska lawmaker suing God for disasters.
``If God had the power to stop disasters, wouldn't he do something about the Notre Dame football team?'' Leno quipped.
Linebacker Anthony Vernaglia said it's impossible to avoid.
``We have access to the Internet, we have TVs. We can hear and see and take in all the fun stuff you guys say about us,'' he said.
Nose tackle Pat Kuntz uses it as motivation. But the best solution, he said, is a win.
``I think we need to get a win before we can be fully confident to where we can win every single game,'' he said. ``People try to believe, but at the same time, once we get a win our confidence level is going to go way up.''

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