SEATTLE—Firing Tyrone Willingham isn't the only thing Washington and Notre Dame have in common.
The Huskies (2-2) and Fighting Irish (3-1), who play Saturday, are both struggling defensively and are coming off games where they had trouble tackling. Both depend heavily on junior quarterbacks to spark their offenses.
Both also are desperate to return to prominence and put memories of their recent struggles, including those Willingham years, behind them.
The coaches were asked this week about the talent Willingham left them when he was fired. Charlie Weis, who led the Irish to back-to-back Bowl Championship Series in his first two years after replacing Willingham, declined to answer, saying he would not "say anything derogatory about any coach that had been at Notre Dame."
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said Willingham had left some skilled offensive players, such as quarterback Jake Locker, tailback Chris Polk and several receivers.
"That's obviously a tribute to Ty and his ability to identify talent and bring those guys in here. But I also know that we've got a lot of work to do in finding depth up front in our O and D lines and in our linebacker position," he said.
Irish fans are hoping to get to see more of Notre Dame's linebacker future on Saturday. Both Weis and defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta said they expect to play highly touted freshman Manti Te'o a lot more starting this week. He has played a bit so far, making six tackles, including two for loss. One was a sack of
Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott on the final drive last week.
Weis said Irish coaches knew from the time that Te'o arrived on campus that he was athletic enough to get on the field. The challenge was him learning to recognize multiple formations and personnel groups and becoming comfortable with Notre Dame's defensive schemes.
"He's going to get plenty of opportunity this week to grow from that. Because it's kind of tough for that to evolve without being out there," Weis said.
Having a speedy linebacker on the field also won't hurt going against Locker, who is just as important to Washington as Jimmy Clausen is to Notre Dame.
They have faced similar expectations of being franchise players.
"When you anoint someone the second coming - 'Here's the program, now go take us to it' - that can be a lot of pressure," Sarkisian said. "It doesn't matter where these kids come from or what they do. At the end of the day, when they're playing as freshmen, when they're 18-, 19-year-old kids, it's a lot of pressure, especially when you put a lot on them from a schematic standpoint. I think it takes time to grow, it takes time to learn.
"You've got to learn from mistakes. I think they've both done that. Jimmy's done that, and I think Jake's doing that."
Clausen is fourth in the nation in pass efficiency while Locker is 64th. But Locker is much more of a running threat, especially with Clausen still recovering from a turf toe injury sustained two weeks ago.
"To be honest, I'm not very mobile as it is, whether I'm healthy or not healthy," Clausen joked.
Clausen said he doesn't think his toe will be 100 percent the rest of the season, but said he can move well enough that throwing isn't a problem.
The Irish are 7-0 all time against Washington, with six of the wins being by 19 points or more. The Irish, who have played three straight games decided in the final minute, would like to see the trend of easy wins over the Huskies continue.
But center Eric Olsen said the Irish know from watching film that these Huskies are a different team, one with a win over USC already this season.
"The thing that was consistent in all the games we watched and the scouting report is the guys play hard and they play with energy and they play with excitement," Olsen said. "That's something that is a good thing for them, bad thing for us."