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Stovall’s status unknown for Washington game

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Coach Tyrone Willingham confirmed Tuesday that wide receiver Maurice Stovall has a boot cast on his foot.

“We do not know [if he will play Saturday],” Willingham said. “We’ll start to look at Maurice as he comes to practice today, but yes he was with a boot on his foot.” He also said that Stovall was unavailable at the end of the Michigan State game, which was one of the reasons Jeff Samardzija came in.

“Jeff [Samardzija] was primarily in the rotation, but we did not have Maurice available to us at that time,” Willingham said.

Samardzija caught four passes for 65 yards, all in the fourth quarter. Three of those passes were caught on third down and were good for first down conversions.

Two are better than one

Ryan Grant and Darius Walker split time in the backfield against Michigan State, with Grant carrying 11 times for 66 yards and one touchdown and Walker carrying 26 times for 98 yards.

The running back rotation gives defenses a different look, as they are two unique backs. Walker, a true freshman, is still developing, while Grant is a senior with more experience.

“Darius’ development is ongoing, but I think we’ve been very pleased with what we’ve seen to-date,” Willingham said. “He continues to learn more and grow within the system.”

Travis Thomas, a redshirt freshman, was inserted into the Michigan State game during the fourth quarter. He carried five times, fumbling once, but Willingham defended his decision to use him in that situation.

“I think Thomas is a good back and he stepped in and did some good things. It’s unfortunate that he fumbled,” Willingham said. “But Ryan Grant was not available to us at that time and I felt like we needed a runner that could take the ball down the field and that’s one of the strong areas for Travis.”

Coming up short

Irish kickoffs have had trouble getting into the end zone, falling just shy of the 10-yard line most times. Carl Gioia has been handling kickoff duties for the Irish, and Willingham said the team is focused on getting better on the kickoffs.

“That is something that we’re trying to improve because we think we can improve on our kicks, not just in distance and hang time, but also the location,” he said. “You have a tendency to improve your coverage, so we’re trying to look at that and see if we can improve distance, improve hang time and also direction.”