Irish promise better defense

It was comatose last week. Players say they see signs that it is coming around.

Posted: September 07, 2007

One positive sign out of Notre Dame's practices this week has been linebacker Maurice Crum Jr.'s bloody nose.

"I think the last couple practices on the defensive side have been pretty physical," safety Tom Zbikowski said. "I know Mo had a bloody nose trying to hit people. It's been one of the more physical weeks since I've been here."

The Irish are already battle-scarred heading into tomorrow's hyped meeting at No. 14 Penn State. After losing their opener to Georgia Tech, 33-3, the Irish are hoping to deliver the beating and avoid taking another severe lump this weekend.

Notre Dame's defensive players aren't speaking with a lump in their throats this week, however.

"We saw a lot of plays and a lot of things that are evidence that we're going to be a pretty good defense this week and the following weeks," Zbikowski said. "You've got to take the positives from the game and work on the negatives."

The Yellow Jackets' statistics make Notre Dame's defense look as if it were made of crepe paper. Running back Tashard Choice averaged 7.5 yards per carry, gaining 196 of Georgia Tech's 265 rushing yards and scoring two touchdowns. Georgia Tech gained 386 total yards. It scored on seven of 12 drives.

While the Irish are not proud of those numbers, they said some of those statistics are deceiving.

Coach Charlie Weis said he was concerned about the defense's ability to stop outside runs, where the Yellow Jackets picked up many yards and where Penn State's Austin Scott and Rodney Kinlaw, who shared running back duties last week, could be dangerous.

The part Weis liked was how the Irish defense played early in the first half. It held Georgia Tech to four field-goal attempts - three of which were converted - on the first four drives. The Irish also kept quarterback Taylor Bennett from converting a third down in the first half.

"You lose, 33-3, there's no good stat," Weis said. "But that would be the one stat, looking back and reviewing, you would say, 'Hey, like in the first half, they had shut [Georgia Tech] down on third down. He's 0 for 6 on third down,' and you look at that, and you look at the red-zone stops, and you're encouraged in certain aspects by what we did on defense."

The Nittany Lions are a more cohesive team than the one Notre Dame beat last season.

"They're very good, and [Anthony Morelli is] a completely different quarterback from the last time we saw him last season," Crum said. "He's got big arm strength and a lot of receivers who can make the big catches. [They] have what it takes to be successful."

Contact staff writer Shannon Ryan at 215-854-5503 or

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