News and Notes: 9/29/2006

The Notre Dame running game has yet to hit its stride. Heck, it's barely even left the starting gate. The Irish rush attack ranks 108th in the nation with a 74-yards per game average. Darius Walker, who ran for just under 1,200 yards in 2005, has 227 yards in three games.

Whether it's because of the team being in a comeback/passing mode the past few games, the absence of fullback Asaph Schwapp or the offensive line not getting a consistent push, the ball is not being moved on the ground.

This week, head coach Charlie Weis responded to a question about the value of stats. Weis has repeatedly said the main determinant of how games will go is turnovers. The second most important number might surprise a few people.

"In the olden days everyone used to talk about rushing offense and rushing defense as the factors in teams that win or lose," Weis said on Wednesday. "To be honest with you, I haven't been in college long enough to really have this down yet, but we felt that after turnovers, rushing attempts was more important than rushing yards. The volume of runs was more important. Obviously you want to get over four yards a carry. They go together, but usually if you ran the ball a whole bunch of times you were on the winning end of it. That's why you get teams like San Diego with LaDainian (Tomlinson) who just keep on pounding it and pounding it and all of a sudden those two yard gains become 20 yard gains."

In going along with this stat, we've gone back nine years in the Purdue-Notre Dame rivalry. Nine years ago was when Boilermakers head coach Joe Tiller first came to West Lafayette with his "basketball on grass." Here's what we found.

*2005: Notre Dame 49 Purdue 28: Even though Brady Quinn lights it up with a 440-yard, three touchdown performance, the Irish run the ball 50 times for 153 yards. The Boilermakers have 24 attempts for 169 yards.

*2004: Purdue 41 Notre Dame 16: Kyle Orton shreds the Irish secondary in a blowout win. Notre Dame runs the ball 36 times for 76 yards while the Boilermakers total 99 yards on 28 carries.

*2003: Purdue 23 Notre Dame 10: In Quinn's first start, the then-freshman tosses four interceptions en route to a defeat. The Irish run the ball 25 times for just 49 yards while the Boilermakers pound the ball on 41 attempts for 96 yards.

*2002: Notre Dame 24 Purdue 17: Some fantastic Irish defense allows Notre Dame to somehow find a way to win. The Irish run the ball 45 times for 153 yards while the Boilermakers total 147 yards on 38 attempts.

*2001: Notre Dame 24 Purdue 18: In Bob Davie's last game, the Irish get a Vontez Duff 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to propel them to a victory. Notre Dame runs the ball 40 times for 131 yards while the Boilermakers carry it 33 times for 74 yards.

*2000: Notre Dame 23 Purdue 21: Gary Godsey drives the Irish down the field in the nick of time and Nick Setta's 38-yard field goal as time expires wins it. Notre Dame runs for 78 yards on 34 carries while the Boilermakers total 177 yards on 43 attempts.

*1999: Purdue 28 Notre Dame 23: On 2nd-and-Goal from the Boilermaker one-yard line, Jarious Jackson runs one play and everyone else runs their own as the Irish go down in West Lafayette. The Irish pound the ball 42 times for 128 yards while the Boilermakers carry it 27 times for 114 yards.

*1998: Notre Dame 31 Purdue 30: Tony Driver does his best Terrail Lambert impersonation by intercepting two late Drew Brees passes, one of them setting up the game-winning 17-yard field by Jim Sanson. The Irish run the ball 45 times for 183 yards while Purdue tallies 123 yards on 33 carries.

*1997: Purdue 28 Notre Dame 17: In Joe Tiller's first game vs. the Irish, the Boilermakers please the home crowd with the victory. The Irish run the ball 41 times for 164 yards while Purdue manages 133 yards on 34 attempts.

Conclusion: In the past nine meetings, the team who has carried the ball more has won five times out of nine. That's not a noticeable difference. But the telling tendency: Notre Dame has a 5-4 record vs. Joe Tiller. In four of those five wins, the Irish have had more carries than the Boilermakers. In Purdue's four victories, only in the 2003 game did the Boilermakers have more carries than Notre Dame. This is understandable because it was Quinn's first start and Purdue could eat clock and sit back and watch the freshman throw four interceptions. With respect to total rushing yards, the numbers work out the same: the team with the higher total has won five times and lost four. Also the same is the correlation with Irish wins: in four of the five victories over Tiller, Notre Dame has outrushed the Boilermakers.

*Here is the best comments from Weis this past week:

*On Joe Tiller: "Well, first of all, he brings stability to the program. I think in any program, when you have the stability of the head coach and a system in place and a mentality that he's brought there, I mean, the guy's a winner. That's the way they play.

"He's done a nice job consistently year in and year out. I think that's why you see him playing in so many bowl games. That's why you go to nine bowl games or eight bowl games in nine years. That's not by accident. Obviously from the day he walked in the door, things started to change."

*On the offense finally finding their groove at the end of the MSU game: "I think the jury is still out. I think we have to show a level of consistency that we have not shown at this point. I think that comes from coaching and players. I'm part of that problem. We've got to try to fix that. If you want to sit there and say from Brady coming out and throwing for a couple hundred or just under a couple hundred in the second half that everything is fixed, I think that would be a little presumptuous. I think we have a lot of work yet to do."

*On playing for 60 minutes: "Well, I've tried a couple of different ways and haven't done too well. 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 the course of the 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."

*On Purdue's wide receiver Dorien Bryant: "You could use a lot of slang or phrases. I always call it shake and bake. You go somewhere, if you think you have him, you better tackle him because he can make you miss, and he does. He makes everybody miss. So you have to really try to corral him because he's got very good quickness."

*On freshman running back James Aldridge: "He's looked a lot better. The thing we have to be concerned with James is the first few times he gets hit. In practice we don't take them to the ground. Some people do. We bang them around a lot, but we try at all cost not to take them to the ground. We don't cut guys on defense and try not to take them to the ground on offense. That is the one hurdle we are going to have to overcome yet."

*On the rivalry with Purdue: "I think it is a nice natural rivalry to play a team in state where you have fans from here who root for Purdue and fans there that root for Notre Dame. I think it is good for the copy machine coffee-room talk, going back and forth, but when it is all said and done I look at Purdue as another team I have a lot of respect for that is playing pretty well right now. I always think it is nice to play the natural geographic rivals. I think it is good for the fan-base especially."

***Prediction: Notre Dame 41 Purdue 21. I look at the Boilermakers stats and can't get past the 115th national ranking in pass defense. How do the Irish not exploit this weakness when Purdue has played Indiana State, Miami (OH), Ball State and Minnesota? I'll take Quinn and his weapons over those four teams any day. I also expect Notre Dame to have some success on the ground, not great but more so than the last two games. Weis wants the 50-50 balance. Will he strive for that or take advantage of the miserable Boilermaker secondary? Either way, this game should be gold for an Irish offense looking for consistency. Purdue will score but nearly not enough to keep up with Notre Dame. Boilermaker quarterback Curtis Painter has thrown five interceptions on the season and with this being the first road test of the year, expect a few more to be added to this total.


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