News and Notes: 9/25/2007

It hasn't been a banner season for the Notre Dame offense. The Irish have been one of the worst units in nation. The production has been effecting John Carlson. The fifth-year senior has been a non-factor in 2007, mainly because of the inefficiencies of the passing game and the offensive line's lack of blocking.

On the year, Carlson has seven grabs for 63 yards and zero touchdowns. Notre Dame doesn't have a score through the air. The fifth-year senior is averaging nine yards a reception, in contrast to last season's 13.5 average. In 2006, Carlson caught 47 passes for 634 yards and four touchdowns. The offense is first trying to establish the running game to get the production in a respectable state. Carlson won't catch 47 balls this year but head coach Charlie Weis said no one will hear complaining from the offensive captain.

"He knows the year's not over," Weis said. "All he wants to do is to do anything he can to give us the best chance of winning. He knows the season's got a lot of legs left in it yet. And there's still a lot of opportunities out there. Right now all we're trying to do is try to put ourselves in the best position to win this week. I think that he's such a high character guy that that's one thing that probably never will enter his mind."

***Special teams has not been a happy area for Notre Dame and Weis. Last week in the loss to Michigan State, the performance of the unit wasn't up to par. Geoff Price shanked a couple of punts and the kickoff coverage unit allowed the Spartans' Devin Thomas to rumble all the way into Irish territory on the opening kick of the second half. The good field position later turned into a touchdown to increase the Michigan State lead to 24-14.

The situation won't get any better on Saturday against Purdue. The Boilermakers are first in the nation in kickoff returns and 23rd in punt returns. Purdue is averaging 33.9 yards per kickoff return, a scary thought when coupled with the explosive Boilermakers offense.

It's not like Notre Dame can kick away from Dorien Bryant. The senior ranks fifth in the country with an average of 35.6 yards per return, including a 91-yard return for a touchdown in the opening win over Toledo. Bryant has got some help. Desmond Tardy is also back on kickoffs and returned one of his own 95 yards for a score in the victory against Minnesota last weekend. Notre Dame could lose the field position battle again if the problems aren't fixed in a hurry. Weis isn't not opposed to squibbing or pooching the ball on kickoffs.

"I'm willing to do all those things," Weis said. "It's interesting because what Minnesota did last week was what the logical coach in mode would do. You've got Dorien Bryant back there, opening kickoff, kick it to the other guy. He promptly takes it 95 to the house. So take your pick. It doesn't bode for restful nights."

***The biggest threat Bryant poses to Notre Dame is in the passing game. The senior wide receiver leads Purdue with 32 receptions for 368 yards and three touchdowns. Along with Bryant, tight end Dustin Keller has 15 catches for 283 yards and four scores while Greg Orton chips in with 15 receptions for 178 yards and two touchdowns.

Last season, the game plan for Notre Dame was to take away Bryant and the other top Boilermaker options in the passing game. While Bryant caught only three balls, it allowed Selwyn Lymon to have a career day in Purdue's 35-21 loss to the Irish in 2006. Lymon caught eight balls for 238 yards and two touchdowns, all career-highs. The 238 receiving yards are the most ever since head coach Joe Tiller took over in West Lafayette. Weis hopes there won't be a repeat of that performance this Saturday afternoon.

"I think because they have five guys that are all involved in the passing game, I don't think you can just try to shut one guy down," Weis said. "Because if you try to put all your attention on just funneling those two guys that are normally they're inside players (Bryant in the slot and Keller at tight end), then you leave your guys outside all day long one-on-one, which is where we were last year.

"So I think we're going to have to mix and match the things we do so they don't get a great feel for what we do. But we're really going to have to play a really solid game across the board, because if not they'll exploit you. Now, this quarterback, the one thing about him, he really makes good quick decisions. So if you make a mistake, he usually finds it."

***ESPN will broadcast the game on Saturday. Kickoff is at 12:02 PM in West Lafayette. Dave Pasch will handle the play-by-play duties while Andre Ware will provide the color commentary. Great news for the guys out there: Erin Andrews will be the sideline reporter for the contest.

***Linebacker Maurice Crum is just five tackles away from 200 for his career. The senior had a career-high 16 stops in last weekend's loss to Michigan State.

***Geoff Price, after finishing fifth in the country last season in punting with a 45-yard average, is currently 55th in 2007 with a 41-yard average.

***Notre Dame's offensive line outweighs Purdue's defensive line by an average of 301 pounds to 271 pounds. The Boilermakers offensive line averages 310 pounds in contrast to the Irish's 284-pound average along the defensive line.

***Purdue will be looking for the second 5-0 start under Tiller. The first came in 2004.

***Weis on whether or not recruits envision themselves playing early or not when they get to Notre Dame: "I think it's pretty evident to them. I mean when they sit there and watch and they say you starting off the year the way we're starting, they're looking at the team and they're saying, ‘Okay, there's opportunities for me.' And I'm never going to be disrespectful to our own kids, the kids that are on the team. They watch the games just the way you do or the way I do.

"And they make their own evaluations of how they see they fit. And they look at they're pretty objective when it comes to a lot of times when they're looking at schools, whether it's somebody who has already committed to us or somebody's considering us. A lot of times every one of these guys wants an opportunity where they can see themselves playing relatively early."


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