Captains Notebook 11/21

Four of the five Notre Dame football captains will be putting on the Irish uniform for the last time on Saturday. Notre Dame will go on the road to face Stanford (3-7) on Saturday. Kickoff in Palo Alto is at 3:30 PM and ESPN will be televising the contest. One of these four, though, is doubtful for the game. Fifth-year senior John Sullivan might miss his last chance to play for Notre Dame.

Sullivan went down with an injury in the loss to Air Force. The fifth-year center had to sit out the win over Duke, breaking a 31-game streak of consecutive starts. Head coach Charlie Weis said on Tuesday that Sullivan is less than likely to play, although the fifth-year senior was out on the practice fields on Tuesday testing out the injury by doing running sprints.

"I'm feeling pretty good," Sullivan said on Wednesday. "There's been no decision made as of now for this weekend. Just going to see how things go the next few days and we'll see on Saturday."

In Sullivan's place, Dan Wenger started at center. The sophomore is slated to start at this position next season full-time and Weis said on Sunday that Wenger played pretty solid against the Blue Devils. In practice, because of the injury, Sullivan has taken on the role of another assistant coach helping the offensive line with questions and technique. This especially applies to tutoring Wenger.

"Basically everything I see I'm just pointing out to him," Sullivan said about Wenger. "If I notice certain things with the defensive linemen, I'm trying help him with that. Certain ways that people are lined up. Let him know possibly if line stunts are coming.

"Dan has done a great job with everything, especially with Mike IDs, determining what front is out there in front of the entire offense. The whole offense relies on him. He's done a great job with that. If there are any nuances that possibly my experience allows me to know, I make sure I share them with him, technique things, just everything that goes on in the game."

Deep down, though, Sullivan doesn't want to spend his last game with the Irish on the sidelines.

"I'm still focused on this season and the fact I'm a football player here at Notre Dame," Sullivan said. "I got to tell you, I'm dying to play. Hopefully I'll be able to do so on Saturday."

***As for the other three captains playing their last game, this group will be in uniform. Travis Thomas, John Carlson and Tommy Zbikowski got a chance to cap their home careers at Notre Dame Stadium in style in helping the Irish beat Duke 28-7. All have contributed this season. Thomas has scored a team-high four rushing touchdowns, Carlson has caught 37 balls for 343 yards and three touchdowns while Zbikowski has totaled 71 tackles and two fumble recoveries. After Saturday's contest against Stanford, though, that'll be it for the three as Notre Dame football players.

"I just want to go out and play well in my last game," Thomas said. "Not only play well but get a win. You always want to go out with a good taste in your mouth. We found out that in the last 15 years we haven't won two games in a row. That's obviously something that we would like to accomplish and help to move this program forward because we still have a duty to do so."

"I think obviously we want to go out and play well," Carlson said. "We want to go and win the game. I think if we do those things, we're going to have a lot of fun. It might sound stupid, but we haven't had much fun this year. It would be nice to go out, play well, just have a lot of fun in our last opportunity to compete as a team."

"I'm going to miss locker rooms after wins, just celebrating with the guys on the team, stuff like that," Zbikowski said. "I mean, that's probably going to be the most missed thing."

***Freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen's play has improved dramatically since taking over the starting duties before the Air Force game. Before this time, Clausen didn't put up the greatest stats in the world and was usually running for his life because of Notre Dame's inability to protect the quarterback.

But the freshman has been on the past two contests. Clausen has tossed six touchdowns to zero interceptions against Air Force and Duke. More importantly, in the Blue Devils game, the freshman added a stat to a category that quarterbacks are most judged on: a victory. One player who has benefited from the improved play is Carlson, who has caught seven passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns in the past two games.

"I'll say that even though we've got some fifth-year guys on this team that serve us in leadership roles, the quarterback ultimately is the leader of the offense," Carlson said. "It starts with him. If the quarterback goes out there and makes plays, he's confident in his ability, it's kind of a trickle-down effect. People are going to feed off that. Like I said, he's the leader of the offense. When he plays well, most likely the offense is going to play well."

***Senior linebacker Maurice Crum, who has another year of eligibility left if he wants it, reiterated on Wednesday that he'll make a decision on his future after the Stanford game. Crum is third on the team in tackles with 78 and is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two.


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