Irish Defense Will Be Key To Win Over FSU

The Irish defense hasn't played their best football the last two games against USC and Boston College. They've allowed 897 total yards and 72 points in just two games. We talked to some Irish defensive assistant coaches after Tuesday's practice to get their thoughts on the Florida State game, and what might be troubling the Irish defense.

Defensive backs coach Trent Walters has had to prepare an inexperienced defensive backfield for a treacherous run of passing teams. Washington State, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Pittsburgh, USC, and Boston College all throw the ball very well, and had success against his secondary. Walters has had the frustration of dealing with inexperience, and injuries all season—not usually a formula for success.

Strong safety Glenn Earl went down to injury in the USC game. Walters says he's out for the season. "We don't expect him back," said Walters of Earl. "That's a huge loss, not only as a player, but also as a leader. He's one of our better players. As a group, we've got to rally, and somebody's got to step up and play. We've been talking all season about (how) you've got to prepare yourself because you're one play away."

The Irish have only three interceptions on the year this year—a number far below the standard set last year. Walters was asked if the scheme has made it difficult to get interceptions. "We just think about the best strategy for what the team is trying to do, the offense is trying to attack us. We try to take the best plan, it might call for more man coverage, like Purdue, we played more man. B.C., we played zone and a lot of man. It just depends on the team."

Walter's says getting interceptions is all about being in the right position at the right time. "I think the key thing is these guys getting into position to make plays. A lot of times, when you are out of position, and you allow completions, you usually find that if you'd been in position, you had a chance to make the interception."

"There was probably three or four situations (against Boston College), where if we'd played the coverage properly, we had a chance to make an interception," Walters continued. "When you don't, your out of position, and instead of the interception, it might be a touchdown or a completion. We've got to be better this week."

Defensive line coach, Greg Mattison, has also had to battle the injury bug. Cedric Hilliard and Darrell Campbell have been battling the injury bug all season. The Irish were able to shut down the Seminole rushing attack last year by penetrating the line of scrimmage with guys from the front four. Mattison says he expects both Hilliard and Campbell to be ready for this game.

"I expect both of them to be able to play," said Mattison of Campbell and Hilliard. "I expect both to be 100 percent going into that football game. Both of them probably are moving as well as they moved all year right now. I'm looking forward to both of them being in there, healthy, and going."

The Irish defensive lineman will have to find a pass rush to rattle Chris Rix—much like they did last year. Mattison says they have to also keep an eye on Rix because he will take off and run with the football.

"You've got to be in a position when you're rushing the passer to get off blocks. Once he takes off and starts running, you can't continue to run by him, you've got to get your pads low, and run to the football. That's going to be a real big key to us."

Defensive coordinator, Kent Baer, is also impressed with Rix, and the whole Seminole offense. "He's improved so much from a year ago," said Baer of Rix. "He's got a strong arm. His ability to scramble is something that always frightens a defense. It's third and long, and he has the ability to scramble and get a first down, its puts some pressure on the defense. I've seen him mature a great deal from a year ago."

Seminole running back, Greg Jones, was on the charge for seat at the Heisman banquet last year before this game. The Irish held Jones to just 34 yards rushing, but Baer says he's still a great back even after his knee injury. "He's big, that is the first thing I think about. He don't look any slower to me. He's every bit of the back he was before. What you're worried about is him getting in the open field, and then you get a mismatch with a guy who's not as big as him."

Lorenzo Booker is another player the Irish are very aware of. Booker spurned the Irish at the last minute on signing day, and he seems very focused on having a big game this week.

We asked Baer if he thought the Seminoles would try to use Booker in many of the same ways USC's Reggie Bush hurt the Irish two weeks ago. "I could see them trying to get him into positions where they try to get him the ball as many times as they want. Obviously, we're very aware of when he comes into the game because he is more of a speed factor than some of the other kids."

Baer has also been impressed with the Seminole receivers. "They all look fast. Every time I see those three kids line up, they all look so fast. It's definitely the fastest group, as a group, as we've seen. I just know we're going to have to match up with them."

The Irish defense seems to have lost that fire that they had last year heading into this game. There just doesn't seem to be a lot of emotion on the defense from what we have seen lately. We asked Baer if he has been pleased with the senior leadership shown by his defensive leaders.

"I've been, for the most part, fairly pleased with our senior leadership. It's been unfortunate that a lot of our seniors have been beat up, and they haven't played. For the most part, I've been fairly pleased with them. It's very important that they step up to play, and I saw some of that today. I was very pleased with our practice today, our seniors, and their attitude going into today. It was very upbeat."

Baer was asked his thoughts on the long career of Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden. "What a legend. Look at how many games he's won, and you look at it say ‘I don't know if I've coached that many in my career.' To be a head coach and win that many games is mind-boggling to me."

The Irish will need both Hilliard and Campbell to be healthy for this game. The good news, according to Mattison, they will be. We fell the entire team will have to play their best games of the year to beat the Seminoles. We expect to see a lot of Lorenzo Booker, and passes to the wide receivers in this game. Hopefully the Irish defense will be ready for that.


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