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Fooball: Irish look to slow down Purdue RB Sheets

Dan Murphy | Friday, September 26, 2008

Last Saturday Purdue trailed Central Michigan 25-24 with just over a minute left of the clock. A loss would drop the Boilermakers to 1-2 with two consecutive losses.

That’s when they handed the ball to Kory Sheets. Sheets broke through the line, juked past a linebacker and ran the rest of the 46 yards to victory.

“He definitely has some moves. I think we all saw that last week,” Irish defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said.

The juke, which was shown on virtually every sports highlight reel last weekend, left the Central Michigan linebacker scratching his head and looking for his jock strap.

“Kory has done a heck of a job being the full-time guy,” Irish head coach Charlie Weis said. “The guy’s got good speed, he’s got good quicks. He likes to run north and south, which is the sign of a good runner.”

Sheets has rushed for 352 yards and six touchdowns in three games this season. He averages about 20 carries a game, but his biggest threat is the ability to change the game every time he touches the ball.

Two weeks ago against then-No. 17 Oregon, Sheets took the second play of the game 80 yards to put his team up 7-0 right out of the gates.

“If you give him a hole he can hit it and he can take it all the way,” Brown said. “He’s been around, he’s not a rookie.”

The fifth-year senior certainly isn’t lacking in experience. Sheets ranks in the top ten in Purdue’s history in attempts, yards per rush, all-purpose yards and rushing yards. He is also tied for second all-time with 37 career touchdowns.

Even before getting to Purdue, Sheets was no stranger to the record books. He was named the Hartford Courant’s Player of the Year in his final year at Bloomfield High School in Connecticut. He rushed for over 250 yards in a game four times his senior year including a 400-yard effort in three quarters of the state semifinal game.

Sheets red-shirted his freshman year, but since then he has played in every single game in the past four years for the Boilermakers.

Notre Dame has faced some impressive backs so far in 2008, but none have the experience that Sheets brings to the table.

“We’re expecting to stop him as much as we can; he’s a good athlete,” senior defensive tackle Pat Kuntz said.

In its past two games Notre Dame has struggled stopping the run, giving up 131 yards to Michigan’s Sam McGuffie and 201 yards to Michigan State’s Javon Ringer. The defense believes that they know how to keep Sheets from running wild this Saturday.

“We just have to make tackles,” defensive end Justin Brown said. “If we make tackles, sometimes they won’t make those big plays.”

Making sure tackles has been easier said than done for the Irish against premier backs. There were 16 missed tackles against the Wolverines and 17 more last week in East Lansing. The team has spent a good deal of practice this week working on their technique.

“I think we just have to take what we’ve learned in the past two weeks and apply it on the field this time,” said Irish safety and leading tackler Kyle McCarthy.

Kuntz said that the best way to avoid missed tackles is to get as many gold helmets to the ball as possible.

“Definitely wrapping up and gang tackling. It’s going to take a lot of running to the football,” he said.

Last year in Purdue’s 33-19 win over Notre Dame in West Lafayette, Ind., the defense had some problems getting Sheets to the ground. He racked up 141 yards and a touchdown on his 27 carries.

Corwin Brown said Sheets is so dangerous because of the great balance that the Purdue offense shows. With fellow fifth-year senior Curtis Painter at quarterback, the Boilermakers are able to keep defenses guessing by spreading the ball around the field and then making sure Sheets gets the touches he needs.

“First and foremost in our defense we have to stop the run. That’s what we prepare for every week,” McCarthy said.

The Irish said they aren’t out for revenge after giving up the 141 yards last season, but they could make a statement by playing a complete game on defense this week.