News and Notes: 9/28/2006

*Freshman Darrin Walls saw his first huge chunk of playing time last weekend at Michigan State. The cornerback was filling in for injured starter Ambrose Wooden and did a fine job. Although not perfect, for most of the night he was slotted against the Spartans' number one target, Matt Trannon. Walls and company held him to two catches on the night.

The freshman from Pittsburgh, PA is behind Wooden on the depth chart at the cornerback position opposite Mike Richardson. If Wooden can't go again on Saturday vs. Purdue, Walls will once again get the call against a Boilermaker offense that averages 297 yards through the air. He expects to see action regardless of Wooden's health and now has established some confidence among the defensive coaches.

"In Darrin's situation, he played out of necessity with the injury to Ambrose," Lewis said. "He had been seeing some playing time. You would have liked to get freshmen some time and have an opportunity to get them on the field. Last week, we were forced into that opportunity. His opportunity came because of an unfortunate circumstance with Ambrose.

"He went out and took advantage of it. When that happens, you become more comfortable. The kid went out and played the whole game. Now, if you have to put him in there, he's been there and had some success. You would hope that continues."

As for the overall pass defense, the group has held up well. Notre Dame ranks 50th nationally in the category. It's not great but a vast improvement from last year's ranking of 103rd. Currently, Purdue is the only team left on the schedule that is in the top-30 in passing offense while USC sits at 31st. After this Saturday, the toughest stretch of the secondary's battles might be behind them. Overall, Lewis believes there is still time to get better.

"I think there's been improvement," Lewis said of his secondary group. "But there's such a long way to go. It's because of how good offensive teams are today in throwing the ball downfield. If you aren't good in the secondary, people will take advantage of you. I'm hoping that we can continue to move forward."

*The theme of the week is 60 minutes. That goes for offense and defense. In two straight games, Notre Dame has got down by double digits at the end of the first quarter. The Irish cannot survive a season and have hopes of a BCS bid by living on the edge. It's a big reason why head coach Charlie Weis has made this a top priority this week before they entertain Purdue on Saturday afternoon.

"It's hard to say what causes it, what's the effects of why we played so good in the second half but not in the first half," safety Tom Zbikowski said of the slow starts. "We just got to make everything just as important as the first 30 minutes just as important as the last 30 minutes.

"Just got to try and come out and make plays. Get the momentum in our favor early on."

"It's hard to put your finger on what it is that you need to do to get into a fast start," quarterback Brady Quinn said. "I think our offense really just needs to get into a rhythm, get into one early and everyone kind of be on the same page."

*Weis said at Tuesday's press conference that the practice schedule was going to change a bit. The individual drills are broken up into three parts and one of them this week was going to be Quinn working with the wide receivers, tight ends and running backs on trouble routes they've been having in games.

This approach looks to iron out the inconsistencies in the Irish offense. For the season, Quinn has 11 touchdowns to four interceptions with 58 percent of his passes completed. Not too bad of numbers for a 3-1 team but there still are high expectations for an offense that averaged 36 points per game in 2005 and the quarterback completed 64 percent of his passes for 32 touchdowns. The fourth quarter at Michigan State, that saw the offense score two of the three touchdowns late, is seemingly about to bust out and this practice routine hopes to cure the minor kinks.

"I think both myself and the wide receivers, everyone responded I think in a way that we needed to get on the same page and get things done," Quinn said. "Again, practices, that's what it's for. It's there to fix some of the things and get back into a groove with some of the things that you're not doing right now. Him (Weis) allowing us that extra period to do something like that, I think it's going to benefit us a lot."

*The win over Michigan State still has not quieted the critics. Although the Spartans contributed to the win with their sloppy and conservative play down the stretch, the Irish made the plays in the end to win the game. This week on SI.com, national college football writer Stewart Mandel had this to say about Notre Dame's remaining games:

"Notre Dame is headed to the Sugar Bowl. As flawed as that team is, you can pretty much script the rest of its season. The Irish are going to beat their next seven opponents fairly easily. And they're going to get crushed by USC. That puts them at 10-2; Sugar gets first choice of at-large teams this year. The only remaining mystery is how much they'll lose the bowl game by."

Fans can make their own judgments on whether Mandel is right or wrong. All predictions and questions on the Irish will be answered as the year goes on. Zbikowski uses the negative national vibes as fuel to show the pundits Notre Dame is one of the elite teams in the nation.

"We still got to prove people wrong week to week," Zbikowski said. "Every single game it seems like we can't win, we're not good enough to win.

"I think last year it was kind of a big picture of trying to prove that we can play. I think we've proven to the country that we are capable of playing week in and week out. Now we just have to do it.

"I think that's why the week to week approach is the best approach that we can take and not worrying about what's going to happen in the future. Just worry about having fun and playing the games that we got to play and winning them."

*Seventeen of the 22 sports teams at Notre Dame totaled 100 percent graduation rates. Of the five that didn't meet the perfect mark, none were below 90 percent. This information was released on Wednesday by the NCAA as part of their Graduation Success Rate measurements. The football team scored a 95 while the men's basketball team was right below with a 91. The 2006 GSR data is based on classes entering Notre Dame from 1996-99.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories