Evans to get bigger role

Irish prepare after injuries to Floyd, Clausen

September 20, 2009, 3:42 PM

By: Eric Hansen

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The last time Shaquelle Evans had the ball thrown to him in a college game, the Notre Dame freshman wide receiver zigged when he was supposed to zag.

Michael Floyd

Matt Cashore/US Presswire

The next catch Michael Floyd will be able to celebrate would be in a bowl game after surgery Sunday on his collarbone.

And Irish sophomore quarterback Dayne Crist's most recent pass attempt was an end-of-the-half heave that resulted in the first interception of his fledgling college career.

Inauspicious growing pains for two players with supposedly very high ceilings and who may be shoved into the spotlight very soon.

Evans is more of a certainty for increased exposure, given the latest Irish football injury report.

ND standout wide receiver Michael Floyd underwent surgery Sunday morning for a broken collarbone and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season.

Charlie Weis did say Floyd might be able to play in a possible bowl game at the end of the season.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore suffered the injury late in the second quarter of ND's 33-30 victory over Michigan State on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

The news was murkier, but much more optimistic, regarding Irish junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen's foot injury. Clausen also suffered his injury in the second quarter Saturday, but was able to finish the game.

Weis said that Clausen would undergo an MRI on Sunday, and that on Tuesday he would have a much clearer idea of the No. 2 passer in the nation's availability for Saturday night's ESPN-televised matchup at Purdue, but he leaned toward expecting Clausen to play.

"I'm under the assumption he'll try to milk as much [practice] time out of me as he can," Weis said with a chuckle. "Will he be hobbled some? We'll have to wait and see how it goes. Jimmy is a tough guy. Unless there's a serious injury, he'll do all that he can to play. So we'll see where we are."

If Clausen can't go, Crist would start against the Boilermakers. The 6-4, 235-pound sophomore has attempted four collegiate passes -- all this season -- and completed three of them for 16 yards and the one interception Saturday.

"If Dayne were going to be the guy for the game, I think we'd go in with a good chance of being very productive on offense," Weis said. "I feel better about that every week, and I feel pretty good about that right now."

Crist brings a skill set similar to Clausen's to the position, with more mobility and a maturity in the huddle and as a leader beyond his years. Where there is a gap between the two options at this time is the understanding of defenses and being able to extend Weis' offensive adjustments to the line of scrimmage.

The two were middle school pals in southern California before heading off to different high schools. No one worked harder, besides Weis, at recruiting Crist than did Clausen.

Crist also has formed a bond with former Irish quarterback Brady Quinn, now with the Cleveland Browns. The two text regularly, and Crist at one point even asked Quinn's permission to wear his old No. 10.

"I understand the repercussions of wearing No. 10," Crist said. "At the same time, I kind of want to set my own legacy and, hopefully, live up to that level of play."

Replacing Floyd will be more of a "by committee" proposition, but expect Evans to be an important part of that committee. That's despite having just two college catches for 15 yards on his résumé and the memorable non-catch late in the fourth quarter of a Sept. 12 Irish loss at Michigan.

"With Michael's injury, that moves him up, and I think you'll see him on the field a bunch more this week," Weis said of the 6-1, 203-pound Evans, who is faster than Floyd but not as tall, strong or polished.

"Last night before I went to sleep, I already had a pretty good idea how we'd handle this. We talked about it as the offensive staff. You never really can replace Michael Floyd, a guy that is that caliber of player. But what you have to do is put other people in position to go ahead and pick up some of that responsibility."

Eric Hansen covers Notre Dame for ESPNChicago.com and the South Bend Tribune.

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Floyd injury will test mettle

Clausen, Tate pick up slack for starters

September 19, 2009, 11:04 PM

By: Eric Hansen

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- There was no easy medical remedy for Michael Floyd this time.

A week after crashing on a hard track beyond the end zone at Michigan Stadium, the Notre Dame standout wide receiver saw his season suspended indefinitely by a broken collarbone.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore suffered the injury late in the second quarter of Notre Dame's 33-30 survival of Michigan State on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. He came out of the game after landing hard on his left shoulder in the end zone on an incomplete pass.

Earlier in the game, Floyd had two catches for 38 yards and his 12th career touchdown catch, which ties him with Bobby Brown and former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown for ninth on Notre Dame's career list.

Floyd entered the game second in the nation in receiving yards per game (160.0) and No. 1 in yards per catch (29.1). He missed the final 6:22 of last week's 38-34 loss at Michigan after suffering a cut to his right knee that required 15 stitches to close.

"He's been playing great," ND quarterback Clausen said of Floyd. "Injuries just happen in football. Hopefully, everything's all right with Mike and he gets back out there as soon as he can."

Clausen may have problems of his own. The junior played most of the game with a right foot injury that's serious enough that he is scheduled for X-rays on Sunday.

The Irish did have plenty to celebrate, not the least of which was snapping the longest home win streak to an opponent at six games. But by Sunday it will be all about moving forward without Floyd.

"Guys got to step up," Clausen said. "They want to get on the field. This is their opportunity. They just got to make plays."

First a look back at the Michigan State game.

Player of the Game: Clausen and junior wide receiver Golden Tate share the honor. Clausen played most of the game on a gimpy foot and still posted his fourth straight game of 300 passing yards or more, dating back to last December's Hawaii Bowl. It's the first time a Notre Dame quarterback has done that ever. He was 22-of-31 for an even 300 Saturday, and remained interception-free for the season. Tate had a team-high seven catches for 127 yards, including the go-ahead 33-yard touchdown from Clausen with 5:18 left in the game.

Play of the Game: Irish safety Kyle McCarthy's interception at the Irish 4-yard line with 1:10 left in the game. The Irish were then able to run out the clock  yes, with running plays -- to secure the victory. McCarthy now has interceptions in five straight games, dating back to last season. Saturday, he also had a team-high nine tackles.

What we know more about the Irish: The defense continues to experience alarming flaws and leaks, but on the final two MSU drives, they forced a three-and-out and a turnover. We also know that whatever flaws this Notre Dame team has, a lack of toughness isn't one of them.

What Weis said: "It's a different team than I've had. In the past, what might have happened is when we went down in the second half, it might have been deflating, but not this team. This team just expects they're going to come back and make a play and win."

What he didn't say: How fast can a collarbone heal?

Players' perspective: "We need Michael, and obviously he's one of the best receivers in the nation. I think we have a chance to still be special." -- Irish wide receiver Golden Tate.

Spinning forward: The Irish won their must-win game, and showed they have the fortitude to reach the BCS, but can they get beyond the growing pains fast enough where they don't become fatal to their postseason aspirations? Next up is a Purdue team that lost at home Saturday at Northern Illinois, then an October showdown with & Washington? The Huskies upended USC Saturday.

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Countdown to kickoff

Clausen needs to show poise and consistency; Floyd is ready

September 18, 2009, 4:08 PM

By: Eric Hansen

Countdown to Notre Dame-Michigan State

Windell Middlebrooks

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Windell Middlebrooks will be on hand Saturday, hoping to deliver an ND victory.

6. Outside Influences: Windell Middlebrooks, the Miller High Life delivery man in the commercials, of all people, is in South Bend, Ind., this weekend to cheer on the Notre Dame football team in its quest to end a school-record, six-game home losing streak to Michigan State on Saturday.

If that magic fails, former ND Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown is in town, to be honored Saturday for his impending induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Brown's Heisman Trophy platform was built with a spectacular special-teams performance during a 31-8 rout of the Spartans early in 1987 season -- Sept. 19 to be exact.

That started a long win streak against MSU that was finally truncated in Bob Davie's first season as ND's head coach (1997). The Irish haven't won at home against MSU since. Also in town, the 1949 Irish team that squashed the 10th-ranked Spartans, 34-21, on its way to a national title.

5. Isn't That Special?: Whatever short-circuiting happened on offense and defense in the second half of last Saturday's 38-34 loss to Michigan, the Irish special teams being, well, ordinary, didn't help. There was a missed 28-yard field goal, a 94-yard kickoff return given up for a touchdown, and a 28-yard punt that allowed the Wolverines to start their go-ahead scoring drive on their own 43-yard line.

The Spartans had their own special-teams issues in a 29-27 loss at home to Central Michigan -- among them an offsides penalty on a missed Chippewas field goal, with the do-over providing the winning margin, and not being able to recover an admittedly textbook onside kick in the closing seconds of the game.

If the game is closer than the oddsmakers' 10-point spread, special teams could make the difference in the final outcome.

4. Better Focus: ND sophomore wide receiver Michael Floyd has proclaimed himself 100 percent recovered from a cut to his right knee, suffered at Michigan, that required 15 stitches to close. Fellow starting wideout Golden Tate vows to be recovered too -- from what he calls a lack of focus that caused him to drop several passes in the Michigan game.

"I thought I should have gotten a couple of calls, and I didn't," Tate said of what he interpreted as pass interference and defensive holding. "One thing I need to work on is getting defensive backs' hands off of me.

"I think I got frustrated, and I think my focus started to go elsewhere. So I think that's why I might have started to drop a few balls."

3. Notable Numbers: Michigan State's magic number is 24. Since 1990, the Spartans are 98-28-1 (.776) when scoring 24 points or more in a game, and 18-81-1 (.185) when scoring 23 or fewer. ... In all 22 of Charlie Weis' losses as head coach at Notre Dame, the Irish were outrushed by their opponents.

2. Beyond Numbers: Irish junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen reached 5,000 career passing yards faster than any other Notre Dame quarterback in history -- 25 games (Brady Quinn previously held that distinction at 27). And Clausen is on the brink of another couple of milestones: He needs 28 completions to move past Steve Beuerlein into third place on ND's all-time completion list and Clausen is three TD passes away from hopping over Rick Mirer into third place on that career list.

But most important from Clausen on Saturday will be his poise and consistency. His postgame locker room speech to his teammates Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich., was a great start.

1. Living In The Past: Those who know Irish defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta say there is no way ND's sluggish defensive numbers will hold up for the rest of the month, let alone the entire season.

History is on Tenuta's side. Of the previous eight teams he served as defensive coordinator for in this decade (at Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Ohio State), only once did his team rank lower than 27th in total defense and just once did it rank lower than 31st in rushing defense. And never did his defenses finish outside the top 50 in rushing, total or scoring defense.

Currently, the Irish aren't higher than No. 50 nationally in any of the four major defensive categories (rush, pass, total, scoring).

"People just need to be patient," former Ohio State coach John Cooper said. "His system has survived time, trends and, at times, young talent. It's going to work."

Eric Hansen covers Notre Dame for ESPNChicago.com and the South Bend Tribune.

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No doubt

Lake Forest's Tommy Rees impressed by Irish offense

September 17, 2009, 7:00 PM

By: Eric Hansen

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate found himself defending Irish head football coach Charlie Weis and his play-calling decisions several times this week to friends and dorm mates.

Charlie Weis

Matt Cashore/US Presswire

Charlie Weis' play calling against Michigan has been a heated subject of debate.

For ND linebacker Toryan Smith, the confrontations hit a little closer to home. Literally.

"My dad was the first in line," he said.

And then there's Irish recruit Tommy Rees, a quarterback from Lake Forest High near Chicago, who doesn't know what all the fuss is about.

"They're looking pretty good, especially on the offensive side of the ball," said Rees, who plans to be at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday to watch the Irish (1-1) in person against Michigan State (1-1).

"[Quarterback] Jimmy Clausen is throwing the ball well, and his receivers are making plays for him. I really like their explosive offense."

ND's 38-34 loss to Michigan and Weis' controversial decision to throw on second and third downs late in the game -- when the Irish were theoretically at least trying to kill clock -- didn't faze him at all.

Maybe that's because he's been too busy throwing the football himself to notice the uproar.

Two weeks ago, Rees threw for 526 yards and six touchdowns -- and his Lake Forest team still managed to lose, 58-48, to Bradford High of Kenosha, Wis. He completed 39 of 53 passes in that game, including his first 12 attempts.

The completions rank as the fourth-highest total in Illinois high school history. The passing yards rank fifth.

The 6-foot-3, 192-pound Rees followed that up with 346 yards and four touchdowns (31-of-44) in a 38-28 win over Libertyville last week. Lake Forest (1-2) plays Stevenson Thursday night.

"Don't ask about my first game," he said. "I didn't play very well."

Tommy Rees is the son of Bill Rees, a former director of scouting with the Chicago Bears, whose most recent career move has taken him back to Northwestern University -- where his coaching/personnel career took off. Rees' older brother, Danny, is a punter at UCLA, where Bill Rees spent 15 years as an assistant and recruiting coordinator (1979-93).

"All my dad wanted for me to do was find the place that was the best fit for me," Tommy Rees said. "At Notre Dame, I've found it."

Rees is one of two Chicago-area recruits in what, so far, is a 15-man recruiting class. Christian Lombard of Fremd High in Palatine, Ill., is the other. Lombard was one of the first in the class to commit and is still among the highest rated.

The Irish will try to expand the class this weekend. The following uncommitted players are taking official visits to ND:
• Defensive tackle Louis Nix (6-2, 315) of Raines High in Jacksonville, Fla.
• Safety David Amerson (6-2, 175) of Dudley High in Greensboro, N.C.
• Cornerback Toney Hurd (5-10, 184) of Marshall High in Sugar Land, Texas. Visiting unofficially is Matt James, a 6-8, 280-pound offensive tackle from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Previously committed wide receiver Bennett Jackson (6-1, 168) of Raritan High in Hazlet, N.J. will also be on hand.
Nix, a "soft" commit to Miami (Fla.), is the top target among this group.

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WR Floyd looks to leave his mark

Sophomore receiver's makeover fueling Irish offense

September 16, 2009, 4:29 PM

By: Eric Hansen

"I am the Lord's warrior. I am confident beyond conviction, a disciple beyond determination. I am confident beyond reason because my confidence lies in Christ. The results of my efforts must result in His glory."

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Long sleeves hid the message in the days following Michael Floyd's trip to the tattoo parlor this past spring.

Michael Floyd

Domenic Centofanti/Getty Image

Michael Floyd needed 15 stitches to close a cut just under his right knee, but he's 100 percent for Michigan State.

The whole notion of the tattoo, which runs from the Notre Dame sophomore wide receiver's right shoulder to his elbow, was to pay homage to his renewed spiritual strength, his seemingly unnecessary physical makeover, his commitment to leave all his Irish freshman receiving records in shambles.

"God is such a big thing in my life," he said.

Floyd wanted to show the whole world -- except one person.

His mom, Theresa Romero.

Romero isn't a big fan of the ink, but the St. Paul, Minn., single mom, who works at the Macy's department store at the Mall of America, has made peace with her youngest child's latest bout of self-expression.

It's part of a larger metamorphosis that has helped boost the 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore to the No. 2 spot nationally in receiving yards per game (160), No. 1 in yards per catch (29.1) and within two touchdown catches of overtaking 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown's spot on Notre Dame's all-time list for career touchdown receptions.

Floyd and the Irish (1-1) host Michigan State (1-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

The part Romero likes best about the makeover? Floyd, the only boy among Romero's five children, is eating vegetables. Up until two years ago, it was something she never could get him to do.

"If I don't like the smell of something or what it looks like, I don't eat it," Floyd said. "I'm kind of a picky eater."

Minneapolis-based trainer Ted Johnson changed that -- sort of. He helped Floyd reshape his body through intense workouts and better eating habits, even if it meant almost force-feeding him at times.

"The only thing I throw away is broccoli," Floyd said. "It just looks disgusting. I never tried it, [and I] never will."

He's not that much more enthusiastic about exhaustive film study, but he is warming up to it.

"Last year, I just kind of glanced at it," he said. "Now it's much more detailed. I can see what the defenses are trying to do."

Not that the defenses are having much success. Floyd has 11 receptions for 320 yards and four touchdowns in Notre Dame's first two games. The only thing that has slowed him down was the hard track surrounding the field at Michigan Stadium.

Floyd landed hard on the track chasing a Jimmy Clausen overthrow though the end zone. The cut just under his right knee cap required 15 stitches to close, but he's back to 100 percent -- except for a little stiffness and the constant teasing from his coaches and teammates.

"When it happened, I was like, 'Oh no, not now. We need him. We need him. We need him,'" junior receiver Golden Tate said of the injury, which caused Floyd to miss the last 6:22 of the 38-34 loss to Michigan. "But you've got to keep going. Injuries are part of the game.

"I'm just glad he's on our side. He's strong. He's smart. He's fast. Obviously, he's been worked with before he came here. From the first day he walked in here, you could just tell he was a special guy. And he's only going to get better."

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No seismic shift for Spartans

Floyd, Allen on track for MSU contest

September 15, 2009, 9:48 PM

By: Eric Hansen

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Charlie Weis hinted Tuesday that any depth-chart shuffling in the wake of Saturday's upset loss to Michigan would be more subtle in nature than seismic.

What pleased the Notre Dame football coach the most, though, were the moves he didn't have to make in preparation for Saturday's home game with similarly stinging Michigan State (1-1).

The Spartans, who haven't lost at Notre Dame Stadium since 1993, fell at home this past Saturday to Central Michigan, 29-27.

Weis said Notre Dame starting halfback Armando Allen and the second-leading receiver in the nation (by receiving yards), Michael Floyd, were both on a trajectory to be 100 percent by Saturday and certainly looked the part Tuesday afternoon.

Both players suffered injuries late in the fourth quarter in Ann Arbor -- Floyd, a cut under his right kneecap that required 15 stitches, Allen an aggravation of an old thigh injury that consigned him to the sideline when the Irish (1-1) were trying to kill clock, holding a 34-31 lead.

"I thought it was a lot worse than it was at first," said Floyd, who was teased by his teammates constantly in practice Tuesday. "I thought I saw white at first, and I thought that was bone. I'm doing fine now. I'm able to cut, bend, run -- do everything.

"Coach Weis tried to kid me about how hockey players in Minnesota go right back in after they get stitches. Well, I am from Minnesota, but I'm no hockey player. But I'm back, so that should make him happy."

In other personnel matters:

  • Senior fullback James Aldridge is likely to miss his second straight game with a sprained right shoulder, but he did participate in some noncontact drills Tuesday.
  • Weis said freshman linebacker Manti Te'o's push for a larger role hinges on how quickly he can absorb the nuances of the Irish defense -- given the 430 yards ND gave up Saturday, he apparently has plenty of company.

    Te'o, ND's top-rated defensive recruit since the end of the Lou Holtz era (1996), has played roughly one quarter in each of Notre Dame's first two games and has four tackles, including one tackle for loss.

    "It's just a matter of time," Weis said. "But the more confidence he has that he knows what to do all the time, then he'll be able to play a little bit less inhibited."

  • Michigan State presents the Irish defense with its first smashmouth-style opponent, which means ND will be spending more time in its base 4-3 defense, and perhaps there will be some personnel tweaks on the defensive line.

    One of them figures to be more playing time for offseason surprise Kapron Lewis-Moore, a sophomore defensive end who did not see action last season.

  • Allen is coming off a career-high 139 rushing yards, but his absence with an injury late in the Michigan game illustrates Weis' need to establish a solid No. 2 behind him.

    Sophomore Jonas Gray had elevated into that role, but a lost fumble in the Michigan game puts him back in "prove it" mode. Gray finished with zero net yards on three carries against the Wolverines.

    Weis increased Gray's reps Tuesday to try to help him get his confidence back.

    "I think that it's important to get somebody back in the flow right off the bat," Weis said. "What you don't want to do is to let this procrastinate and go on."

  • Senior punter Eric Maust averaged a respectable 40 yards per punt Saturday at Michigan, but his 28-yarder in the fourth quarter helped give the Wolverines great field position for the game-winning drive.

    Freshman Ben Turk has been pressing Maust in practice.

    "We actually revisit it every week," Weis said of flip-flopping the depth chart at punter. "Last week, we gave Ben half the punts, and he was behind the other guy. Just because he has not played doesn't mean we wouldn't punt him. We'll do it again this week like we did last week."

  • Backup center/guard Dan Wenger missed the media-viewed portion of practice Tuesday with an undisclosed injury but is expected back Wednesday.

Quick kicks

  • Weis is 7-9 versus Big Ten teams.
  • The Irish are one of seven teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision that haven't allowed a sack this season.
  • Irish wide receiver Golden Tate was unaware he had leaped over 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown into eighth place on ND's career TD reception list Saturday.

    "I've never seen him play, and I've never had a chance to meet him," Tate said. "But I know what he's accomplished, and that's quite an honor."

    Brown is being honored at Saturday's MSU-ND game for his impending induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

    Brown had 12 TD receptions, one more than Irish sophomore Michael Floyd. Tate has 13, with former ND All-America tight end Ken MacAfee next on the list (15). Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija holds the Notre Dame career record with 27.

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Keys to MSU game? Four guys

Floyd, Allen, Clausen and Tenuta on the spot

September 13, 2009, 8:46 PM

By: Eric Hansen

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Upon further review, Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis spent a good chunk of his Sunday press conference talking about officiating.

And because Notre Dame is still an independent in football, Weis was able to do so without lightening his wallet.

His least-favorite call by the Big Ten officiating crew that presided over Notre Dame's 38-34 upset loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor was the decision to overturn Armando Allen's 41-yard screen pass for a touchdown in the first quarter.

The final word was that Allen stepped out of bounds at the 22-yard line. The Irish ended up kicking a field goal on that possession.

"I watched that tape a hundred times this morning," Weis said. "Just like when I watched it when it happened. Just like the two [officials] that were standing right on top of the play when it happened. I still haven't heard anyone tell me there's any evidence of Armando stepping out of bounds. The way I thought the rule is supposed to be, it's supposed to be conclusive evidence. I'm perturbed at that call."

There was plenty to be perturbed about in Notre Dame's role in the loss, however. First, a defense that was carved up for 430 yards by an offense orchestrated by a freshman playing in his second college game, Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier.

If the Irish (1-1) are going to reverse their bad fortune Saturday at home against Michigan State, here are the four people likely to have a hand in it:

Michael Floyd: The sophomore wide receiver left the game with 6:22 left Saturday at Michigan after crashing hard on a track that surrounds the field while chasing a Jimmy Clausen overthrow. He did not return.

Instead Floyd received 15 stitches for a cut to his right knee.

"More than anything else, he's a little stiff and a little sore, but he doesn't have any damage to his knee," Weis said. "[At first] he thought that the bone was sticking out, a career-ending injury. By the time they brought him in and stitched him up, he had come back and told me when [the Wolverines] were on that last drive, if the game goes overtime, he's ready to go.

"We might have to ease him into the week, but [the trainer] doesn't anticipate there being any problems for him for game time this week."

Floyd finished with the most receiving yards ever by a Notre dame receiver in the 37-game history of the rivalry with the Wolverines (131 on seven receptions), recorded his 11th career touchdown catch in his 13th college game and collected 320 yards in his first two games of this season.

That's the most in a two-game stretch by an Irish receiver since Tim Brown amassed 360 in consecutive games 23 years ago -- one season before he would go on to win the Heisman Trophy.

Floyd is currently No. 2 in the nation in receiving yards per game (160) behind only Hawaii's Greg Salas.

Armando Allen: The Irish junior running back rushed for a career-high 139 yards on 21 carries with a TD and a two-point conversion on Saturday.

That has helped separate him from a deep Irish running back stable. His 211 yards, in fact, are 161 more than ND's second-leading rusher, Jonas Gray.

Allen also left the Michigan game early -- on the Irish's last sustained possession -- in part prompting Weis to pass rather than run as the Irish were trying to run out the clock with a 34-31 lead.

A thigh injury that had bothered Allen all week in practice resurfaced late in the fourth quarter. Weis will have more information Tuesday on Allen's availability for the Michigan State game.

The Spartans are the first of four Top-30 rush defenses the Irish will face this season (USC, UConn and Boston College are the others).

Jimmy Clausen: Weis is counting on the junior quarterback's words this week as much as his arm.

Clausen ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency -- behind only Arkansas' Ryan Mallett (a transfer from Michigan) and Florida's Tim Tebow. But Weis needs his leadership to put the Irish in the right frame of mind for Saturday's clash.

"Really the best way to have a quick, positive turnaround is by putting them in charge of it," Weis said of his team leaders, "because there comes a point when things don't go the way you want them to go, you can get on the players. But unless the players join in and jump on board, the turnaround takes a little too long."

Jon Tenuta: Notre Dame's defensive coordinator is on the defensive one week after his defense shut out Nevada and its vaunted pistol offense.

The problems the Irish dodged against the Wolf Pack came back to bite them in the loss to the Wolverines: Runs up the middle. Mid-range passes that funneled to the middle of the field. Quarterback scrambles up the gut of the Irish defense.

In an admittedly small sampling, the Irish are a troubling 88th in the nation in run defense. Only two of the 30 teams to play in a BCS bowl the past three seasons have had a run defense ranked lower than 25th.

One of them was the 2006 Irish (61st nationally), who got run over by LSU in the Sugar Bowl, prompting the purge of then-defensive coordinator Rick Minter.

This Irish defensive front is quicker and more athletic than that 2006 incarnation, yet seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time way too often.

"Schematically there's a couple things we're going to have to change that plays more into our personnel," Weis said.

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Weis questioning resurfaces

Loss to Michigan revisits concerns about Notre Dame coach

September 12, 2009, 10:48 PM

By: Eric Hansen

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis never expected this to be his mulligan in the 2009 season.

If he even had one to begin with.

Charlie Weis

Matt Cashore/US Presswire

Charlie Weis may have to face all the questions he did in the offseason.

Michigan's 38-34 out-clutching of the 18th-ranked Irish on Saturday at Michigan Stadium will not only expunge Notre Dame (1-1) from the national rankings, but restart the hard questions -- and perhaps inspire more unflattering billboards -- about the fifth-year coach and his future.

The Irish meet their disappointment peer, Michigan State, on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. The Spartans fell to Central Michigan at home, 29-27. The season will take a wide left turn for next weekend's loser.

First a look back at the Michigan game:

Player of the game: Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier. The freshman threw for 240 yards (23-of-33) and two touchdowns, ran for 70 yards and another score, and produced his first miracle -- a 57-yard scoring drive with just over two minutes left in the game.

Play of the game: Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen's behind-the-back handoff to Armando Allen for a two-point conversion that gave the Irish a 34-31 lead with 5:13 left. Allen finished with a career high in rushing (139 yards on 21 carries) and Clausen put his name all over the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry record book. It was the kind of play that alters the trajectory of a season, but Michigan had an answer for it.

What we know more about the Irish: That the offense is real, that Clausen is evolving but that the aspirations to land in a BCS bowl depend on Weis' ability to navigate this team back into national relevance with a new cloud of negativity enveloping him.

What Weis said: When asked what's next for his 1-1 team: "That's a very, very, very good question. It was the same question I raised in the locker room at the end of the game. I said, 'Are you going to sit there and pout and say we should have won the game? Is it going to be that kind of attitude or are you going to use this to not be feeling like this again?' I think the No. 1 thing they have to do if they don't want to be feeling like this again is do something about it."

What he didn't say: What he is going to do about it.

Players' perspective: "The biggest day is tomorrow. We have to move forward." -- Irish running back Armando Allen.

Spinning forward: Saturday was a huge step backward for the Irish, perceptually. People are going to connect the dots -- how can Rich Rodriguez have his program further along in Year 2 than Weis has in Year 5? Weis can't undo that in one week, perhaps not even in three weeks, but Michigan State does become a must game for all the wrong reasons.

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Countdown to Michigan-Notre Dame

Six factors to think about before the clash in the Big House

September 11, 2009, 6:18 PM

By: Eric Hansen

6. The X factor: It's difficult to choose which was more painful to witness: Greg Robinson's 10-37 record as head coach from 2005 to 2008 at Syracuse University -- including 3-25 in the Big East -- or the "Little Engine That Could" analogies he spewed at the time of his purging.

Make no mistake, though: Robinson's track record as a defensive coordinator is that of a "Big Engine That Does."

He coordinated two Super Bowl defenses with the Denver Broncos during a successful run in the NFL and helped Texas to an 11-1 mark in 2004 as its defensive coordinator.

Now in his first season as defensive coordinator at Michigan, Robinson will try to take the template he used in Syracuse's 24-23 upset at Notre Dame last November and apply it Saturday. That is, attempting to make the Irish offense one-dimensional. The Orange held the Irish to 41 yards on 28 carries -- a 1.6 average.

"He's not afraid to make changes from one week to the next week to put his team in the best position to win the game," Irish head coach Charlie Weis said of Robinson.

5. The surprise factor: Weis reiterated Thursday night that seldom-used senior Barry Gallup Jr. would fill in for the injured James Aldridge as a deep man on kickoff returns -- at least the first one.

Weis left the door open for wide receiver Golden Tate, or someone similarly electric, to replace Gallup on subsequent kickoff returns.

"Hopefully, there aren't a lot of kickoff returns for us," Weis concluded.

4. The non-surprise factor: Weis expects to see half of Michigan's freshman quarterback tag team -- namely Denard Robinson -- on the field with Tate Forcier at times Saturday, as a slot receiver. He also expects Michigan starting wide receiver Junior Hemingway -- listed as questionable (ankle) early in the week and downgraded to doubtful Thursday -- to play extensively.

3. The noise factor: Weis had Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen blaring at Thursday's practice, which at this point is probably more for his own enjoyment than to actually simulate decibel levels at Michigan Stadium. Poise is more critical for the Irish than noise anyway.

"I think the most important part of the game will be the early part of the game, to withstand the early flurry you get," Weis said. "Once you get through that initial rush, the game just kind of settles down."

2. Maize-and-Blue-and-Gray factor: Former Detroit Country Day star Jonas Gray is Notre Dame's second-string tailback and a close friend of a handful of Wolverine players.

Gray wasn't interested in getting into much trash-talking. He didn't see the point in that. He instead hoped to coax tangible information out of his friends, like injury reports.

"Hey, if I phrase it the right way, who knows?" he said.

1. The facade factor: This Notre Dame team is painted as the closest-knit group of Weis' five seasons in South Bend. On Michigan's side, the cracks inside that team that led to accusations of violating NCAA rules regarding the length of the work week seemed to be mended by the season-opening win against Western Michigan.

This rivalry has a way of exposing what's real and what's scripted.

Eric Hansen covers Notre Dame for ESPNChicago.com.

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Game face

Brown admits feeling something special facing his alma mater

September 10, 2009, 3:29 PM

By: Eric Hansen

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Corwin Brown doesn't have to turn off his cell phone anymore during Michigan-Notre Dame week, or buy insurance for it if -- for some reason -- it goes flying across the room.

"My first year here, I wasn't very mature, and I didn't handle it the right way," said Brown, a former University of Michigan football captain and current Notre Dame assistant football coach in his third season.

"I'm more mature now, and people have kind of backed down, so I'm a lot better about it."

But no less passionate.

Corwin Brown

Andy Altenburger/Icon SMI

Corwin Brown tried to portray Saturday's showdown against Michigan as just another game, but that pretense didn't last very long.

The Chicago Julian High product barely had the spin he had worked so hard to craft out of his mouth Wednesday night when he admitted his first take on Saturday's showdown in Ann Arbor, Mich. -- between 18th-ranked Notre Dame (1-0) and the Wolverines (1-0) -- was a mirage.

"I was trying," he said laughing at his monotone, monolithic approach. "Just another opponent? Absolutely not. "There's no doubt about it, it's definitely a special game -- because of the two schools, because of the tradition, because of the previous games.

"When I see [former Irish All-America running back] Reggie Brooks, we always talk about our confrontations. I texted with Jerome Bettis the other day. It's always something in your mind. These are the games that are special to you."

Yet Brown, ND's associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator, almost didn't get to taste the rivalry.

Notre Dame briefly was involved in Brown's college recruitment, and the star defensive back could very well have ended up in South Bend had the courtship lasted.

"Gerry Faust was the coach when my recruiting started," Brown said. "And I can remember when he came to Julian to see me [and some older prospects on Julian's team), it was the talk of the whole school."

So was the fact that Faust's car was stolen while he was inside the school. Lou Holtz took over at ND shortly thereafter, and the Irish lost interest. So did a lot of other schools. Brown was a hot commodity healthy, but he wasn't enough of a breathtaking athlete to keep them coming when he suffered a knee injury during his senior season.

Even Michigan slow-played him. "I remember assistant Les Miles [now LSU's head coach] telling me they weren't sure they had a scholarship for me."

So it came down to Illinois, Northwestern and Wisconsin -- and he almost scared off Wisconsin.

Brown's father, Al, a teacher at Julian when Brown was a student there, had gotten into an altercation with a female student the day a Wisconsin assistant coach named Lovie Smith first showed up at Julian.

In front of Lovie Smith.

"Lovie was real cool," Brown said of the current Chicago Bears head coach. "He was the reason I wanted to go to Wisconsin, and we still have a great relationship today. We never talk about X's and O's, though -- just life. I really liked Wisconsin, but my parents wanted me to go to Michigan."

At Michigan, Brown labored so hard to climb the depth chart, he worked himself into a heat stroke one day when temperatures in the high 90s conspired with soaring humidity for a near-fatal mix.

"All of us who were there were thinking we're going to watch a guy die," said former Michigan assistant coach and current Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

But Brown recovered and was a part of four ND-Michigan classics from 1989-92, including a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 confrontation won by the top-ranked Irish, 24-19 his freshman year. The teams, ranked no lower than seventh in any of the four games, ended up splitting, 2-1-1.

"When I was coming up, we all, for the most part, knew each other [from] recruiting," Brown said of the players on both sides. "We kind of hung out with each other, kind of knew who everybody was, and it was just a good competitive spirit. So you knew what you were going to be in for."

Brown's life beyond his playing days looks markedly different, though, than what he had expected. The English major was headed to law school before a longer-than-expected run -- eight years -- in the NFL changed the trajectory of his thinking and his mission.

"In my mind, I don't know what it is, but I feel like I have a purpose," said Brown, who came to ND following a three-year stint as an assistant coach with the New York Jets. "God made a plan, and he's using me. It sounds corny to a lot of people, but not to me. That's why it was a real good deal for me to come to Notre Dame. It's because I'm going to affect more people than I will in the league."

Including himself. Perhaps especially himself.

"You guys need to go look up the story of the pearl," Brown told the media when asked about his growth curve in the profession. "A pearl is this great gem, but it was created through pain and adversity and all this other stuff. It fought through it, and then you've got this great creation.

"I'm not a pearl, but, trust me, I've taken my lumps. The good part about it is I've learned, and that's something I try to transfer to my kids."

Eric Hansen covers Notre Dame for ESPNChicago.com.

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