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Football: Internal assessment

Ken Fowler | Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Charlie Weis is happy to have a bye week.

In his weekly press conference Tuesday, Weis said he will use the week off to continue recruiting, rest injured players and look deeper into position and personnel battles.

But, of course, it all started with statistics for the number-crunching coach.

Weis went through nearly every major statistic and compared it to Notre Dame’s performance up to this point of the 2005 season. And what he saw were generally close correlations.

Weis noted that Irish quarterback Brady Quinn’s completion percentage through six games in 2006 (63.5) is “almost identical” to his percentage in 2005 (63.6). Quinn has thrown for two more touchdowns (16) this season but 45 yards a game (273) and one interception (4) less.

“He’s statistically done a little bit better job because of the 16-to-4 touchdown interception versus a 14-to-5 touchdown interception at the same time last year,” Weis said.

Weis noted that running back Darius Walker, who is averaging 88 rushing yards per game this season compared to 100 a year ago, has far more receiving yardage than he did in 2005. Walker has 38 catches for 258 yards in 2006. He had 21 receptions for 159 yards at this point last season.

“The combination of his receptions, the number of his receptions and touches at carrying the ball are almost identical,” Weis said. “The yards are by a slight margin a little bit more per game than where he was at this stage last year.”

At wide receiver, Jeff Samardzija has the same number of catches through six games he did in 2005, but his yards per catch has fallen from 17.6 to 10.9. Weis said Samardzija’s individual statistics are not as important as the overall statistics of the top two receivers in the core.

“I think you really have to group the two receivers together,” Weis said. “Group Jeff and Rhema [McKnight] together compared to Jeff and [2005 Irish starting receiver Maurice Stovall].”

With McKnight’s seven touchdown receptions and Samardzija’s five, compared to Samardzija’s nine and Stovall’s one last season, Weis said he is content with the production.

On defense, Weis said one of the biggest surprises he saw going over the statistics was the play of middle linebacker Maurice Crum. Playing strong-side linebacker in 2005, Crum had 24 tackles through six games. This season, he has 43 tackles, compared to the 30 tackles 2005 starting middle linebacker Corey Mays had through six games.

But Weis said the combined statistics of Travis Thomas and Joe Brockington at weak-side linebacker was not as good as the play of 2005 starter Brandon Hoyte.

“We have had a drop-off statistically at the Will position,” Weis said, using the team’s pseudonym for the position. “Brandon had a lot more tackles at the Will position, tackles for loss and sacks at this time, than we have right now. … Brandon would have a significant edge at that Will position from where we are.”

Overall, though, Weis saw defensive improvement.

“I’d say the biggest improvement on the entire team is our pass defense,” Weis said. “Last year at this time we were giving up over 300 yards a game. It was 304.8, okay. Now it’s 212.8, which is by far the most significant stat on the positive vein by far.”

Weis noted that the defense has surrendered eight more rushing yards per game this season, but yards per carry is actually down.

Weis highlighted Chinedum Ndukwe’s production in the secondary and the play of Trevor Laws and Derek Landri at defensive tackle. Laws had nine tackles in the first six games of 2005 compared to 32 now. Landri went from 16 to 24. Ndukwe also has compiled far more tackles in 2006, going from 24 to 43 through six contests.

“As I’ve talked about people who have played better, it’s pretty obvious when you looked at [Ndukwe],” Weis said.


uWeis said Notre Dame coaches will use four of their allotted six in-season days off campus over the next two weeks for recruiting purposes. According to Weis, two of those days will be Thursday and Friday.

“Now, some of [the coaches] will get to see a game on Thursday and a game on Friday,” Weis said. “Some of the guys will just go to schools on Thursday and go to schools on Friday and see a game. Some of those guys will see two games on Friday where there’s an afternoon game on Friday and there’s a night game on Friday. But the coaching staff will be out.”

NCAA regulations allow only seven of 10 coaches on a coaching staff to be off campus recruiting at any one point. To maximize efficiency, Weis said he will employ a technique known as “tag-teaming” to connect recruits with specific coaches.

“I need [defensive coordinator] Rick [Minter] here on Thursday,” Weis said. “He’ll go on the road for Friday, [and] [defensive line coach Jappy] Oliver will come off the road on Friday so that Coach Minter can get into his area for a full day.”

uWeis said he is experimenting with the possibility of freshmen kickers Ryan Burkhart or Nate Whitaker taking Notre Dame’s field goal attempts of more than 40 yards. Senior kicker Carl Gioia is 0-of-2 from that distance.

“We’re going to take a look at Burkhart; we’re going to take a look at Whitaker,” Weis said. “Let those guys kick from 40 to 50, see what it looks like.”

uWeis said a group of students tried to steal his golf cart during the weekend of the Notre Dame-Purdue game.

“The most interesting [experience] I’ve had so far were guys on reunion weekend trying to steal my golf cart at 4:30 in the morning coming back from the bars,” Weis said. “I looked at them and I said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ [They said,] ‘We’re trying to steal the golf cart.’ I said, ‘It’s mine.'”

“I actually put them on my golf cart and drove them over to the dorm and piled them into a garbage can, got them back there.”