News and Notes: 10/5/2006

*The big play bug hit Notre Dame once again last week. This time, it was Purdue's Selwyn Lymon busting through the Irish secondary for an 88-yard touchdown just before halftime to cut the deficit to 28-14. For the game, Notre Dame allowed 398 yards through the air.

Irish head coach Charlie Weis tried to explain that the number one priority last Saturday was to shut down the Boilermakers' Dorien Bryant and Dustin Keller. These two combined for under 100 yards receiving. But Lymon's 238 yards was a big negative in the overall performance from Notre Dame.

"I think if you look at pretty much any one defense, a lot of times, people on the offense are going to make their plays," safety Tom Zbikowski said. "They're on scholarship. They're just as good players as us. But a lot of times when there's multiple big plays a lot of it has to do with communication. So I think that's been why there's been big plays but that's like that pretty much anywhere. We've got to keep cutting them down and keep playing good defense."

The Irish enter the game with the 91st ranked pass defense in the country, allowing 224 yards through the air every game. It's a slight improvement from last year when Notre Dame was 103rd in the same category. This week, they'll welcome in a Stanford team that is 58th nationally in passing offense. However, the Cardinal were without their top two targets last week in a 31-0 loss to UCLA. The go-to-guy, Mark Bradford, has torn ligaments in his foot which will keep him out of the game this Saturday. The second receiver, Evan Moore, has missed the past two contests because of injuries and is not listed on the two-deep depth chart this week. Zbikowski still expects Stanford's best shot.

"They're going to come out and try to prove a point that they can play," Zbikowski said. "And what better way than to come to our place and beat us. Our team is fully aware of that. Definitely when you have a veteran team, there's not much to be said with all the starters and all the experience on the team. We know people are going to give it their best shot and we've got to be ready to go. So there's nothing really special you've got to do."

*After a horrendous performance in the loss to Michigan, Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn has rebounded with two strong performances. In the win over Michigan State, the senior signal caller was 20-of-36 for 319 yards and five touchdowns. He followed that up with an efficient 29-of-38 for 316 yards and two touchdowns vs. Purdue. That's a combined 49-of-74 for 635 yards and seven touchdowns to one interception. The consistency and balance the offense was searching for was present last Saturday afternoon.

"I had a feeling as if things were obviously going smoothly," Quinn said about the Purdue victory. "You can kind of tell when have a sense of calmness about the entire game and have fun with it, too. If you noticed the sidelines there were probably a lot more guys smiling, especially on the offensive side of the ball, than maybe you've seen in past games."

*It hasn't been too golden of a year for Zbikowski on punt returns. Last season, the senior returned two for touchdowns and was usually giving the offense great field position with his 14 yard average per return. This year, Zbikowski has returned nine punts for an average of 7.2 yards with no touchdowns.

Not bad but not great. Zbikowski ranks 66th nationally in the category. The biggest no-no: he's fumbled a twice, including one that was lost in the Michigan State contest. Zbikowski seems to be pressing at times trying to make a play, sometimes catching a punt inside the five, not fair catching it when the situation calls for it or even running up on a short kick to catch it short handed. It's all part of his nature to make something happen.

"You want to make a play," Zbikowski said. "There's obviously certain opportunities that you get in the special teams game and in punt returns where you definitely want to make a big play. And anytime on special teams it's usually a game changing play when you make a big play on special teams. You've got to be smart with it. Starting to get a little anxious, when you're making a big play or big return, and you don't get too many opportunities for that."

*Last week, Curtis Painter dropped back 46 times. In those 46 attempts, Notre Dame did not register a sack. Weis has made it a point to better the pass rush. It's not all about the sack totals. Hurries lead to pressure and pressure leads to lower passing totals. But the 398 yards allowed last week showed that not enough pressure was applied to Painter. For the year, Notre Dame ranks 82nd in the nation in sacks, averaging 1.6 a contest. Through five games, the Irish have eight sacks with Victor Abiamiri and Trevor Laws sharing the lead at two apiece.

"We're not nearly good enough there," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said about the pass rush. "That's a concerned area. Finally, late in the game, he started to feel some heat. I don't totally register it with how many sacks you got if you were good. It flips flops. If you're not getting to him, are you hurrying him? And does that lead to 35 completions out of 46 balls? We need more hurries.

"I don't believe we need to sack the quarterback one out of every six plays or one out of every eight plays to be credible. We need to make him get rid of it on time so our coverage has a chance. The longer the quarterback has the ball, the more bad things that can happen in any defense. That's man and zone. Routes start to develop and there becomes space vertically. Balls become deeper and longer down the field. If we can get a hurry, the routes are disrupted and it usually leads to an incompletion. That's how it has to work."

*The daily bad stats for the Stanford football team: there's plenty to choose from. We all know by know how badly their defense has performed this season. The Cardinal allow 5.8 yards per rush, which should make Darius Walker happy. The least rushing yards they've allowed is the 166 in the UCLA contest. In the other four games, Stanford has surrendered 240 yards on the ground or more. For total offense, the least they've given up is the 389 yards to UCLA.

On the contrary, there is one good stat for the Cardinal: Stanford is the least penalized team in the Pac-10. They've committed just 16 penalties for 115 yards, which is good for second in the country. This should be a credit to head coach Walt Harris, whose job has been tough this year with all the various injuries they've sustained. To compare with Notre Dame, the Irish have committed 41 penalties for 322 yards. Big advantage in this category to the Cardinal.


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