SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -Notre Dame is winless, not hopeless.
Coach Charlie Weis sees reason for optimism even though the Fighting Irish (0-4) are off to their worst start ever. He saw reason to believe in the way the Irish played in a 31-14 loss to Michigan State on Saturday. He saw even more reason to believe after seeing the way his players reacted following the loss.
``It's probably the first time this year that I saw so many players that were moved by the game,'' Weis said Sunday. ``That is more than anything else the one thing people don't get a chance to see and that's probably the greatest reason for optimism - how much they care.''
Weis has been watching closely for players who might be ready to give up. After all, they are facing a lot of adversity. The Irish have dropped six straight going back to last season, giving up at least 30 points in each defeat, and the 17-point loss to the Spartans was the least-lopsided loss in the streak.
Weis conceded it's impossible after the game to read the emotion of every player. So he had a message in the locker room for anyone who might be ready to give up on the season.
``I said, 'Fellas, you're either all in or all out. It's got to be one or the other''' he said. ``I said, 'The boat is going to sail with you or without you. It's OK if you want to be out. But you're either all in or all out.''
Linebacker Maurice Crum said it would be easy at this point for some players to give up.
``But for us, that's not Notre Dame football, regardless of our situation,'' he said. ``We feel like we're going to come to work every day and just try to build and get better. That's who we are.''
The Irish showed no sign of giving up against the Spartans. But they also showed no sign of being a team capable of beating anyone any time soon, especially with their next four games against Purdue (4-0), UCLA (3-1), No. 12 Boston College (4-0) and top-ranked USC (3-0).
The Irish had their best rushing game and their best offensive game overall, amassing 203 yards and scoring the first two offensive touchdowns of the season. They gave up their fewest sacks and for the first time looked like an offense that at least occasionally knew what it was doing.
The defense came up with a fumble recovery and an interception, although it also gave up 219 yards rushing. The Irish had a season-low four penalties for a loss of 35 yards.
``For the first time in a while there are several things I can walk out of the game feeling good about,'' Weis said.
But there's still a lot of work to do. Because of that, for the second week in a row the Irish practiced on Sunday rather than lift weights and run. But unlike after the 38-0 loss to Michigan a week earlier, on Sunday the Irish watched tape of the loss to the Spartans because there were things to build on.
The offensive line was able to open some holes. Heading into the game, Notre Dame's longest run from scrimmage was 13 yards by Travis Thomas against Michigan. Against the Spartans, James Aldridge had runs of 43 and 18 , and Robert Hughes had a 17-yard run. Aldridge finished for 104 yards on 18 carries.
``We were pretty good at the point of attack with the straight on, physical stuff,'' Weis said.
The Irish continued to have trouble when Michigan State had more movement along the defensive line. Weis said the Irish will continue to keep the game plan simple as they continue to try to improve.
``I'm not trying to go overboard in anything we're doing,'' he said. ``I'm trying to grow this.''

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