News and Notes: 12/31/2006

NEW ORLEANS- The stats don't lie on this topic. LSU likes to come out of the gate fast. The Tigers have outscored opponents 122-20 in the first quarter. As Notre Dame prepares for the January 3rd Sugar Bowl, this has to be in the back of their minds. If the Irish fall behind early, the odds of digging themselves out of the hole aren't in their favor.

The reason why? The Louisiana Superdome is expected to be a pro-LSU crowd. Baton Rogue is a short car trip from New Orleans. The dome should be loud with Tiger fans hooting and hollering on every play. Also, with LSU's great defense, playing catch-up is not desirable. The Tigers are No. 2 nationally in total defense and if they get a lead and force the Irish to pass exclusively, the talented defensive line can tee off on Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn.

"Their M.O. all season long has been to get out to a fast start," tight end John Carlson said. "They're outscoring teams 122-20 in the first quarter. Obviously, that's something we need to counteract. It's been a focus all season long and it's real important for this game."

Notre Dame has fallen prey to this trend. In the two losses to Michigan and Southern California, the Irish have been behind by double digits in the first quarter. At halftime, the Wolverines were up 34-14. The Trojans led 21-10. The players don't want a repeat and it's been a focus in their preparation.

"That's important in general," wide receiver Jeff Samardzija said about a fast start. "When you mix in the turnovers, that's a part of starting slow. I can remember the Michigan game, we had that pick six right at the beginning of the game. I couldn't imagine a worse way to slap yourself in the face. Things like that you have to avoid. We have to be efficient on offense."

*LSU is the betting line favorite in the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers are giving Notre Dame nine points. The feeling is the speed and athleticism will overwhelm the Irish players. Apparently, a member of the LSU team feels the same way. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who leads the Tigers with 11 touchdown receptions, had this to say when questioned if Notre Dame's defense is small:

"I won't say they're slow. They're big up front. But welcome to the SEC. We're much faster."

This didn't sit well with a veteran member of the Irish team.

"At the top of my head, that's a pretty disrespectful comment," offensive lineman Ryan Harris said. "If that's what been said that we don't know the speed of the SEC, I seem to recall a couple of games we've played against the SEC and came out on top. They have great athletes. They are some of the best athletes we've seen all year. But to say we don't know a league in college football is a stretch."

Running back Darius Walker isn't going to lose any sleep over the comment.

"People's opinions are always going to be heard and evident," Walker said. "They are going to say what the feel. We don't look into that too much. They are at liberty to say what they want to say. We have to get ready to play the game."

*John Carlson has been practicing at full speed the past few weeks. The senior tight end injured his knee in the win over Air Force and sat out the last two contests of the season. Carlson was on pace to break Ken MacAfee's single season reception and yardage mark for a tight end. For the year, he has 46 grabs for 621 yards and four touchdowns. But painfully, he had to sit on the sideline and miss Senior Day against Army and the loss in Los Angeles to USC.

"It was really hard," Carlson said. "It was frustrating. I don't if I would have made a difference. Marcus (Freeman) caught a touchdown pass and some other big catches. But it's real hard not to be able to contribute, even the week before the USC game. I didn't get to play on Senior Day or wear the green jersey."

Carlson, a senior with the option for a fifth-year, said he feels faster than anticipated. This is positive news for the Notre Dame offense, which relies on Carlson for key catches over the middle and on third and fourth down. His stopped thinking about the knee when he made a trip home back to Minnesota.

"When I went home, I got the flu and that might have been a good thing because I wasn't thinking about my knee anymore," Carlson said. "I was thinking, ‘Man, I hope I don't get sick today.'"

*The two big media stars of the week come from the glamour position in football. Quarterbacks Brady Quinn and JaMarcus Russell were both mobbed by the media during their interview sessions. Quinn is all but guaranteed to be a top-3 pick in next April's NFL Draft. Russell's 68.5 completion percentage and 26 touchdowns have professional scouts drooling over his potential if he decides to leave LSU a year early. Quinn thinks the media should be focusing on the real matchups in the contest, not who'll be drafted first.

"Everyone keeps talking about this matchup," Quinn said. "But the only matchup is him versus our defense and me against LSU's defense. We don't have a throw off at midfield at halftime. You keep talking about that but it's not going to happen. It's not like he's watching me on film. I just watch the defense. But he's a great quarterback and he's got great size."

*This will be the last game in a Notre Dame uniform for Jeff Samardzija. In the last two years, the senior wideout has put up some impressive numbers and rewrote part of the Irish record book. This season, Samardzija has a team-high 70 receptions for 958 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Samardzija also the baseball career to worry about. The two-sport star was drafted as a pitcher by the Chicago Cubs and signed a multi million dollar contract. It's still unknown as to what sport he'll eventually choose. In several NFL mock drafts, Samardzija is slated to go somewhere in the middle-to-late first round. The decision process will be a thorough and careful one.

"I got some people around me to help me with my schedule," Samardzija said. "I'll just pull back and look at it from afar. It's sort of a rough schedule. There's the combine, the Senior Bowl and spring training is in March. We'll see. I'm not making any decisions yet. We'll take it day-by-day."

And how is the free spirit Samardzija enjoying the Big Easy?

"Fun usually tends to find me," a smiling Samardzija said. "I don't know what that is. I try to stay away from it."


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