News and Notes 9/27/2005

*A 3-1 start to the season by the Notre Dame football team has given fans a reason to cheer. The fast start also has had its detours. Offensive lineman Bob Morton went down with an injury during last Saturday's 36-17 win over Washington. At his Tuesday press conference, Charlie Weis said the senior has not been ruled out of this week's Purdue game.

"Bob isn't necessarily out this week," Weis said. "It came out better than we thought it was going to be. Now I don't know whether he's questionable or doubtful but he's not out.

"But Bobby, I thought when it happened, whatever it was, not knowing medically whatever it was that he would definitely be out, but I'm very encouraged meeting with the trainer and the doctors and they said that he has a chance of playing this week."

Morton was part of a four-man rotation for the three inside spots on the offensive line. If he can't go on Saturday, John Sullivan, who has been alternating with Morton at the position, is expected to assume full duties at center with Dan Santucci and Dan Stevenson at the guard spots.

The offensive line is an area where depth concerns lingered during pre-season camp. The team has avoided a rash of injuries that can hamper a season but Morton's injury brings the topic back into discussion. Notre Dame uses six players for the five spots on the line. If Morton cannot go this weekend, expect the depth issues to arise once again.

"We thought all along that those four guys were starters," offensive line coach John Latina said. "It is a luxury to have another guy who you feel is equal to the other guys. We've been playing them a lot and hope there isn't a problem.

"Now where it hurts you is your depth. That's been more of a concern that anyone of those guys playing."

Another injured Irish starter has been Rhema McKnight. The senior wide receiver was hurt after his leg was bended awkwardly after being hit by a defender in the Michigan game. McKnight has sat out the last two games and Weis said he's getting closer to being back on the field.

"I don't know if he'll be able to go this week but it's going to be pretty soon," Weis said. "He's a lot closer."

Jeff Samardzija has done a fantastic job of filling in for McKnight. The junior had a career day against Washington with eight catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. Both Maurice Stovall and Anthony Fasano have also stepped up their reception production. Fasano is tied with Samardzija for the team lead in catches with 21 and Stovall had a career day versus Michigan State. When McKnight comes back, Weis said he'll have no problem rotating his receiving corps accordingly.

"You can never have too many good players," Weis said. "Just as I've been able to rotate guys at different positions, i.e., my inside guys on the offensive line I think I'll have no problem getting Rhema into the mix right off the bat."

*Darius Walker has taken off under Weis's new offense and the increased touches that comes with being the starter. The sophomore has four straight 100-yard rushing games to start the season, an achievement never accomplished in Notre Dame history. His 128 yards last Saturday was a career high.

At times, though, Walker appears to head out of bound near the sidelines instead of lowering his shoulder for a few extra yards to avoid taking the huge hit by multiple defenders. This was apparent a few times last weekend against Washington because of the high amount of sweeps the Irish ran. Weis was asked a question about this topic on Tuesday and related it back to his coaching days with the New England Patriots.

"I can tell you what I used to tell Deion Branch after watching a big research study on (Marvin) Harrison a few years ago when Deion was a second year there and I noticed that Marvin with all of his production, any time the hits were coming, he was going down," Weis said. "So after I thought about it for a while, I thought, this isn't the stupidest thing in the whole world to have your best guy when he's about ready to get crunched to go ahead and make sure that doesn't happen. When you look at the duration of the whole thing, I think that first of all, the depth of running back is pretty good to tell you the truth. I have a lot of confidence in the other guys, but there are times to take the hit and there are times not to take the hit."

Walker just wants to avoid those big defensive linemen barreling his way and keep his head on straight.

"Avoiding the big hit is not something I really think about," Walker said. "At the same time, when you see a guy who is 350 pounds running full speed at you, your best bet would be just to go down. When I get out there, I try to find my holes and play my game and not worry so much about getting injured."

*Could this be another shootout for Notre Dame? A few weeks back, Michigan State and the Irish combined for over 1000 total yards in offense and 82 points scored. The statistics show this game could have a similar feel. Both Purdue and Notre Dame have had below average passing defenses through the first part of the year. The Boilermakers allow 305 yards per game through the air (113th in the nation) while the Irish aren't much better, surrendering 294, including 408 to an average Washington offense.

Add this to the fact that both offenses have been successful in putting up points on the board. Notre Dame is averaging 34 PPG and 475 yards in total offense. Purdue puts up more points per game (38) but fewer total yards (427).

Didn't pundits (myself included) also predict the Notre Dame and Michigan would be a high-scoring affair?

*Can Boilermaker coach Joe Tiller win the big one? Despite eight straight bowl appearances, most Purdue fans had dreams of a BCS bowl game this season until being upended by the upstart Minnesota Gophers last weekend 42-35 in double overtime.

Tiller has had reasonable success against Notre Dame, going 4-4 in meetings with their northern Indiana rivals. But against ranked opponents, Tiller is much worse. Purdue is 12-26 (.462) against ranked opponents in the Tiller era, including 7-16 (.438) versus top-15 teams. Notre Dame is ranked in the top 15 and this stat will be put to the test Saturday night.

*Get ready Irish fans: Bob Davie has returned. The former Notre Dame coach is scheduled to be the analyst for ESPN's telecast of the game on Saturday evening, which starts at 6:45 p.m at Ross-Ade Stadium. Davie was moved to the number one announcing team this year, replacing Mike Gottfried. He is teamed with Ron Franklin, a mainstay for years as the network's number one announcer. Top Stories