Eifert hoping for happy homecoming

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Tyler Eifert will find himself being covered by Joe Holland throughout this Saturday, and confusion will run through the families of each.

The son of a Purdue basketball player will be starring at tight end for Notre Dame, covered by a Purdue linebacker whose parents and grandfather graduated from Notre Dame.

Yet nostalgia will go out the door for Eifert when he takes the field of Ross-Ade Stadium, a place he grew up watching games in.

"When it all comes down to it, it's just a football field like anywhere else," Eifert said, "and that's how you have to approach it."

Still, some memories stick out more than others, particularly the Boilermakers' upset over Ohio State 11 years ago, a comeback keyed by Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees.

And, of course, there were a handful of the previous 83 meetings between the Fighting Irish and the Boilermakers that Eifert had a great view of.

"Notre Dame usually won," he recalled, "and that was annoying."

Eifert, whose father Greg played basketball at Purdue two decades ago, is hoping to annoy Purdue fans in similar fashion. Coming off game-highs of eight catches and 75 yards Saturday at Pitt, the junior from Fort Wayne finds himself second in the nation in catches (20) and receiving yards (244) among tight ends.

Eifert was thrust into the spotlight a year early, starting Notre Dame's final seven games last season after current Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph's year ended because of a right hamstring injury.

Tight ends coach Mike Denbrock called the situation a "baptism by fire."

"Compared to where he was a year ago at this time, he's light years ahead," Denbrock said. "We're not afraid to match him up physically, one-on-one with a defensive end, a linebacker or whatever. He does a nice job with that. It's kind of just the consistency that we're looking for where it's every single play you can lean on him if you need to. And he's getting the job done"

Eifert is already closing in on last year's totals of 27 catches and 352 yards, and he has turned into one of Tommy Rees' favorite targets. Only Michael Floyd has more receptions and receiving yards for the Irish.

Rees found Eifert four times during the Irish's go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter Saturday, including for a 6-yard touchdown pass and ensuing two-point conversion.

Two years ago, Rudolph made a game-winning touchdown catch in West Lafayette, propelling the Irish to a 24-21 win in primetime.

Eifert didn't play in that contest as a freshman, but he was there, happy for once to see Notre Dame walk out of Purdue with a victory.

"I remember I got to travel down to the last one my freshman year," he recalled, "and it was pretty rowdy, the night game. So that'll be a fun atmosphere and it'll be a good game."