News and Notes: 9/5/2006

*Sam Young has passed his first test. The starting right tackle was the first freshman in Notre Dame history to start their first game. The only major blip may have been a false start call. That play was the first one in the contest where a tight end was not covering him. Overall, though, the freshman did enough to impress the coaches.

"I thought he did a solid job," offensive line coach John Latina said. "When you throw everything involved in the mix, learning a new system, a complex system, an NFL system, playing on the road and in front of a hostile crowd, all those things considered, I thought he held his own. Obviously, he wasn't perfect. But I thought it was a good starting point for us to build on."

Some freshmen put into that spot wouldn't be able to handle the pressure. It was a night game on the road on national television for all the nation to watch. Surprisingly, Young handled the pressure quite well.

"I wanted to pay attention to that," Latina said. "He's a freshman and a young kid. He had a calmness about him. He had a confidence about it. I didn't sense any nervousness or jitterness about him. I think you can attribute that to his program in high school. It's a big-time program down in Florida. He's played in big games."

How did Young evaluate his performance?

"I think he was relieved," Latina said. "He was relieved to get his first start out of the way. I think it was a good experience for him. He was battling out there and he's going to grow and grow into a good player here at Notre Dame."

*Including Young, ten total freshmen made their college debuts on Saturday night. They include Young, Sergio Brown, Jashaad Gaines, Richard Jackson, Raeshon McNeil, Munir Prince, Morrice Richardson, Darrin Walls, George West and Will Yeatman.

"To some of them, it was a rude awakening," head coach Charlie Weis said. "You can't emphasize the speed of the game enough. But they have to live it and see it for the first time when they block someone and the guy runs right by them or they think they're fast and there's someone out there who faster or as fast as them. The biggest thing with the freshmen is the speed of the game. Not only the size of the players but the speed of the game."

*Running back Darius Walker had a night to remember. The junior ran for 99 yards on 22 carries, including the game-winning 13-yard touchdown in the third quarter. It was a sweet home coming for Walker, who grew up in Georgia. There was one bump: a hard hit from a Yellow Jacket defender that caused a stinger in the shoulder area. But he's 100 percent heading into the Penn State contest.

"Darius is fine," Weis said. "To be honest, as the game went on, he got better. Not that he was bad early but he just didn't get any touches early. With any good running back, the more touches he has the better flow they're in. When you get into a flow, good things start to happen."

"I don't think I can put a number on how many it actually takes before I get into a flow," Walker said. "But sometimes, it's just getting more comfortable with being out there. It was the first game. But naturally, the more you run the ball, the more you'll be able to be out there and the better you'll feel."

Walker and the running game pounded out 138 yards vs. Georgia Tech. On Saturday afternoon, they'll face a Penn State unit that surrendered just 33 rushing yards on 34 attempts last week to Akron. Everyone knows about how good the linebacker group is and Walker knows it'll be a physical challenge to best the Nittany Lion attack.

"Penn State is definitely the type of team who will just play you straight up," Walker said. They have this mentality of bend but don't break. Their major goal on defense is to stop you from having the big plays. I assume that after awhile, they'll try to tire you out and you won't be able to make any plays.

"Their starting linebackers are very physical. They are not the type of guys that'll try to shake you. They are going to come with a full head of steam and take your head off in a sense."

*Wide receiver Jeff Samardzija's stats on Saturday weren't eye-popping but solid: six grabs for 74 yards. For a team with high expectations, there's also going to be a lot of attention on its star players, including the All-American Samardzija. That's the territory one enters when a player puts up 77 receptions for 1,249 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"It was the first game," Samardzija said. "There's a lot of things to look at. It's not just passes to me but it's passes to everyone or runs there or o-linemen timing up. Everything was a little off. It was a good thing our defense came out and played the way they did. They played their tails off and got a lot of stops for us."

*These next two weeks just aren't big for this season. Recruits will be visiting the Notre Dame campus for the Penn State and Michigan contests. A potential prospect could be swayed by the performance on the field for the Irish. The in-season visits are now an integral part of the recruiting process.

"In the olden days, everyone would go to their official visits after the season is over," Weis said. "But now, people want to go to games. So we have a bunch of guys coming in the next two weeks."

*On the Nittany Lions media notes, there are three players listed as injured. The biggest name is starting defensive lineman Jim Shaw. The 6-3, 264-pound native of Spring Grove, PA hurt his ankle in last week's 34-16 win over Akron. Shaw plays on the right side of the line and totaled a tackle and half before leaving the contest. He's listed as a "possible" for Saturday's game. The other two players on the list, wide receiver Terrell Golden (ankle) and safety Mark Rubin (shoulder), are also "possible" to play.

*Nittany Lion linebacker Paul Posluszny needs just 80 tackles to become Penn State's career leader. Greg Buttle totaled 243 stops between 1973-75. Posluszny's seven stops last week against Akron pushed him up to 263 career tackles.

The senior linebacker from Aliquippa, PA needs no introduction. Posluszny won the 2005 Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player. He made 116 tackles last year, including 11 for losses to go along with three sacks. Posluszny might have tested the NFL waters a year early but injured his right knee in the Orange Bowl victory over Florida State. His return makes the Penn State linebacker group one of the best in the nation.

*There are just six players on the Penn State roster with more than 10 career starts. They are Posluszny, left tackle Levi Brown, left defensive tackle Jay Alford, running back Tony Hunt and linebackers Tim Shaw and Dan Connor. In contrast, Notre Dame has 16 players who have started 10 or more games.

*Penn State has won 44 of 54 non-conference games since 1993. That is good for 81. 5 percent.

*In response to a question on whether he could see himself coaching at a school as long as Joe Paterno has with the Nittany Lions, Weis joked: "I'll be dead by then."


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