News and Notes: 9/19/2006

*Senior cornerback Ambrose Wooden knocked two people out of the Michigan game last week. A big hit by him on a Wolverine wide receiver sent both players to the bench with their bells rung. Wooden did re-enter the game but was taken out again for good.

Head coach Charlie Weis wanted to error on the side of caution, especially when it deals with an injury to the head. The Notre Dame head coach said on Tuesday that he expects Wooden to play vs. Michigan State, although he was not at practice today. If some reason he wasn't 100 percent, freshman Darrin Walls is listed as Wooden's backup on the depth chart.

"I think he's a little limited right now," Weis said. "This isn't like Asaph (Schwapp) last week where we knew it would be right to a game time decision. This is one where in his case it's good we're not playing today because he'd be out there, but he just wouldn't be full go right now. When you're a defensive back, you can't be limping around because people run right by you. We'll just see how it goes this week."

*One of the bad stats from Saturday, and there were plenty of them, was the 2-for-14 conversion rate on third down. For the season, Notre Dame ranks 96th nationally in the category at a measly 31 percent. That's just 23 spots from the bottom of Division 1A when last season the Irish were 7th in the nation at 48.9 percent. Weis attributed it to the struggles on first down and not gaining enough yards to be in manageable situations to move the chains.

"We have been in an exorbitant number of third and longs where we are converting just over ten percent," Weis said. "Want to go to third and six and nine where we are converting at 33%? How about third, two to five, we're only converting at 44%? If you want me to start, there's one area for you."

"If you don't have good first down production, you're not going to have good third down conversions," offensive line coach John Latina said. "We've been in a lot of third-and-longs and when you are in third-and-longs, obviously you are going to have a lower percentage to convert. It always goes back to how you do on first downs."

*Four returning starters on the offensive line should have translated into solid production. Through three games, there are major questions to be answered. Notre Dame is 102nd in the nation in rushing yards, averaging just 84 yards a game. Strike one. Strike two is being 88th nationally in sacks allowed by surrendering 2.67 a contest. The offensive line was supposed to be a strength for the Irish but they haven't got the job done on a consistent basis.

"We're having some struggles," Latina said. "It's always surprising. You always expect to go out there and play well to win the games. Obviously, at times we have and other times we haven't. Consistency is the most important thing. If you're not consistent, it's hard to sustain drives. We've had too many penalties and missed assignments. You have to eliminate the things you have total control over, such as missed assignments and penalties, especially line of scrimmage penalties if you want to have a chance."

*There is plenty of blame to go around from the Michigan defeat. Some times when teams lose, there are changes in the lineup. A wide receiver drops a few balls and the coaches decide another player should get more reps. An offensive lineman misses a block and allows a sack and there could be calls for the backups to see more time. That's not going to happen in Notre Dame's case.

"I'm not into sacrificial lambs," Weis said. "I'm not into making scapegoats out of players. If people end up getting pulled, they're going to get pulled by something that happens in practice. They're not going to get pulled because we lost a game. I'm going to sit there and say, ‘You didn't block very well, so I'm pulling you out.' Then the whole free world says, ‘Weis pulled so and so out, must be his fault.' I know where I'll blame first. I'm not going to fire myself. So I'm certainly not going to fire them."

*This season is the 40th anniversary of the 1966 "Game of the Century." This might have been the first contest dubbed with this moniker as numerous other games have been awarded the same status throughout the years. As one might remember, Notre Dame and Michigan State battled to a famous 10-10 tie in East Lansing. The Irish got the final laugh when they went on that year to win the national title.

To mark the occasion, the Spartans are pulling out all the stops. They are retiring two-time All-American Charles "Bubba" Smith's number in a pre-game ceremony. Smith will be just the third Michigan State player ever to have his jersey retired. To go along with this, the Spartans are bringing back around 45 members from that 1966 team and have a private reception for them on Friday night.

There's more. Throughout pre-game warm-ups, the scoreboard will display the final score from the 1966 contest. Both teams will wear a commemorative patch on the front of their jerseys. Last but not least, Michigan State will wear throwback Spartan decals on their helmets that replicate the 1966 version. Quite a weekend for Michigan State football.

*It's hard for anyone to resemble Spartan quarterback Drew Stanton, let alone a freshman. But that's what is going to happen this week. Weis said on Tuesday that Demetrius Jones probably will be the scout team quarterback with the job of shadowing Stanton. It's the dual threat ability of Jones that makes him an obvious choice for the position.

*Notre Dame punter Geoff Price has been lights out through three games. The senior has booted the ball 15 times for an average of 49.8 yards per kick. That would smash Craig Hentrich's old record of 44.9 yards per punt back in 1990. Price has a long of 62 yards and has settled five punts inside the 20. He's second in the nation to Oklahoma State's Matt Fodge in average, who has a 52-yard per punt average.

Price might have met his match. Michigan State punter Brandon Fields leads the nation in net punting, booting six balls for a net average of 45 yards. Price and Notre Dame are 10th nationally with a 40 yard net average. Fields's top ranking speaks not only of his quality punting but the coverage skills of the Spartans. Also note that Michigan State has punted just six times in three games.

*The winner of Saturday's game earns quite a prize. The Irish and Spartans are battling not only for bragging rights but the Megaphone Trophy. It's sponsored by the Notre Dame and Michigan State alumni clubs based out of Detroit.

*This will be the 70th time that the Irish and Spartans have played each other. It's the second most of any Big Ten program. Only Purdue's 77 all-time games rank higher. For the record, Notre Dame holds a 43-25-1 mark against Michigan State.


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