Rhema McKnight Continues Comeback Tour

Notre Dame, IN (UHND.com) – After watching Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija have breakout seasons a year ago from the sidelines a year ago, Rhema McKnight was champing at the bit to get into the offense Charlie Weis was building for Notre Dame.  After five games, McKnight is the team’s leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns after a career best 10 catches for 120 yards and another two touchdowns Saturday.

The fifth year senior’s started off with a bang in Atlanta thanks to an eight catch, 108 yard performance against a stingy Georgia Tech defense and he has not slowed down since then.

Five games into his last year at Notre Dame, McKnight has amassed 32 receptions, 433 yards, and six touchdowns – all team highs.  At his current pace the California native would end the year with 77 receptions, 1,039 yards, and 14 touchdowns which would put him at the top or near the top of the career receiving records.

While his 2006 season thus far has been bookended by a pair of 100 yard receiving efforts, he has had a couple bumps on the way including numerous drops two weeks ago against Michigan.  Against the Wolverines, McKnight found the endzone but spent more time looking for flags instead of the ball and for the first time this season looked like he still had last year’s injury on his mind.

Since then all he has done is scored four touchdowns in two games and show the dependable hands Irish fans came to expect when he led Notre Dame in receiving in 2003 and 2004.

Last week in East Lansing, McKnight caught two touchdowns in the corner of the end zone including one in the fourth quarter which brought the Irish within one score of the Spartans during Notre Dame’s comeback.

McKnight is known for his quickness more than his speed and Saturday afternoon he caught everything thrown his way.  McKnight didn’t get many balls thrown his way on the run, but rather he got open on comeback routes and burned Purdue for multiple first downs.

Said Purdue head coach of McKnight’s ability to convert first downs on the comeback route, “I think McKnight is exceptional at that. I think that’s what he does the best, but yet he has the ability to run by you. So he’s a real handful.”

The one area we haven’t seen McKnight fully return to form is in the yards after catch department.  During his first three years McKnight showed the ability to gain yards after the catch and make defenders miss with his quickness.  Most of the balls he’s seen this year have been when he’s been still, but there is still time left for McKnight to show this ability this year.

Meanwhile, McKnight’s impressive numbers have been coming at the expense of fellow standout receiver Jeff Samrdzija’s.  With opposing defenses keying on Samrdzija most of the time, McKnight has found himself open while Samardzija numbers have taken a hit.  After having a breakout season in 2005, Samardzija has found himself as the third leading receiver on the team behind McKnight and tight end John Carlson.

Samardzija’s numbers have been good – 27 catches, 320 yards, 4 touchdowns – but they are well off the pace he set last year when he was a consensus All American.  After five games in 2005, Samardzija had 499 yards, 28 receptions, and 8 touchdowns.

No matter their numbers, both receivers pose serious threats to opposing defenses and as McKnight’s numbers continue to increase, Samardzija will start to see less and less attention because McKnight’s numbers are pretty hard to ignore.

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