60 Minutes, Purdue High Priorities

Michigan State's John L. Smith brought out his own instant replay system on Monday to review the skirmish on the sideline in last Saturday's Notre Dame game. Irish head coach Charlie Weis said he was slapped during the incident. Smith didn't go as far as calling Weis a liar but the intent was there. On Tuesday, with a chance to respond, the Notre Dame head coach did not take the bait.

"Is the question about Purdue?" Weis asked. "Is it about Purdue? Then I'm not going to answer it."

Weis and the team don't reflect on the past. They're focused on Saturday's contest when 4-0 Purdue heads north to South Bend. Kickoff is scheduled at 2:43 p.m. in Notre Dame Stadium and NBC will have the national television coverage. The No. 12 Irish escaped East Lansing with a heart-stopping 40-37 come-from-behind victory over the Spartans from help by Terrail Lambert's two late interceptions, one of which was returned for the winning score. With a victory over the Boilermakers, Notre Dame will enter a favorable part of their schedule at 4-1 and could coast until their final contest of the year at No. 3 Southern California. Despite the comeback win, there were plenty of mistakes for Weis to harp on with his players.

"Sunday was a big constructive criticism day," Weis said. "We got back to earth in a hurry."

The top priority might be to prevent the opponents from steam rolling the Irish in the first quarter. In four games, Notre Dame has been outscored 44-10 in the first quarter. Michigan was too good of a team to allow the Irish back in. Notre Dame got some breaks from the Spartans and made a few critical defensive plays in the fourth quarter to win the ballgame. But playing the entire contest, not just the last three quarters, is near the top of Weis's list.

"I've tried a couple of different ways and haven't done too well," Weis said about getting his team to perform better early in games. "Sometimes it's by play calling. Sometimes by play calling you up the tempo. Sometimes it's aggressiveness where you come out and throw a whole bunch of times in a row. There's different ways of trying to do it. Like on defense, sometimes you can bring heavy pressure early in the game to try to set a mentality.

"But when it's all said and done over a course of a season, the best way of doing it is by having a good plan and executing and executing on a more consistent basis. I think that's one of the big points of emphasis, in addition to the 60 minutes, which is definitely going to be high on the hit list, is going to be a higher level of consistency on every play."

The balance for the Notre Dame offense has not been there. Although in the past two games, the Irish have had to throw the ball to get themselves out of early hole deficits, Notre Dame is still a lowly 108th nationally in rush offense. Darius Walker hasn't had a chance to get going. On the year, the Irish have passed the ball 159 times and run it 110. This week, the possible return of fullback Asaph Schwapp from a knee injury and the debut of freshman James Aldridge could give the attack a much needed boost. A half and half mix is usually the goal for a Weis offense.

"I think I have always been a coach who likes to have balance," Weis said. "In the last couple games we have not had balance. I don't like coaching like that.

"Sometimes games get up and down. Like if you get up in the game, you'll be a lot heavier run. If you're down in the game, it will be a lot heavier pass. At the end of the year, when your proportion is about 50/50, you know that you kind of called it the way I like calling it. Some people don't look for that time type of balance but I would like to think towards the end of the year it's pretty close to 50/50.

There's been some years it's been 60/40. It's been that drastic of a percentage difference. I'd say usually when your team is pretty good on offense, usually it's about a 50/50 ratio over the course of a season."

This week, Notre Dame will try to find that consistency and balance against a Purdue group that ranks 99th in scoring defense, 105th in total defense and an eye-popping 115th in pass defense, allowing over 284 yards per game through the air. While Brady Quinn and the Irish receivers might be licking their chops, it's on offense that head coach Joe Tiller has truly left his mark. This season, Purdue ranks 5th nationally in scoring offense, 7th in passing and 10th in total. In 2005, it was the first year that Tiller has not led his team to a bowl game. But the Boilermakers appear back on track with their 4-0 record.

"He brings stability to the program," Weis said of Tiller, who ranks 17th in wins among active Division 1A head coaches. "Any program, where you have the stability of the head coach and a system in place and a mentality that he's brought in there…the guy is a winner. That's the way they play. He's done a nice job consistently, year in and year out. That's why you go to eight bowl games in nine years. That's not by accident. That's been the case since he's walked through the door. Things started to change."

After scanning the Purdue stat sheet, the player that pops out is Kory Sheets. The junior running back has eight rushing touchdowns on the year through four games. Sheets can hurt the opposition in other ways, catching 11 balls out of the backfield for another two scores. That's 10 total touchdowns for him, which ranks Sheets tied for 1st in the NCAA in scoring. To put it in perspective, Notre Dame as a team has 14 touchdowns on offense in 2006. Weis knows Purdue has a lot of weapons to stop.

"If you're going to try avoid them throwing for 300 yards, then do you give more attention to this tight end (Dustin Keller) that we talked about so much?" Weis asked. "How about that No. 9 (Dorien Bryant) over there? We going to try to shut him down? What are we going to do about all these wide receivers that are all over the place? Now all of a sudden you have this guy (Sheets) tearing it up inside because they're rushing for 160 a game.

"I mean, it's another one of those things where even though statistically they have a lot more yards passing, they got plenty of yards rushing. He's (Sheets) the leader. He's the lead dog."


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