Irish Defense Confident Heading into Saturday

The Irish defense would like to forget about the last time they were out on the field. The Irish ended their 2003 season with a miserable 38-12 loss at the hands of 6-6 Syracuse. It's no secret this Irish defense can't wait to go out and play a game, and give Irish fans something else to talk about.

"We're definitely ready," said Irish defensive end Victor Abiamiri after Wednesday's practice. "We've got a good game plan going into the game, so we'll definitely be ready come Saturday."

The Irish defense certainly has a lot of confidence heading into this game. Abiamiri says the team is confident because of the sacrifices they made during the off-season.

"I think we put in a lot of work," the sophomore said. "We haven't shown anything, yet, so it's definitely a bridled confidence. We know we put in a lot of work for the season, and we expect big things out of ourselves."

The Baltimore, Md. native won't be starting on Saturday, but he says he's been practicing as a starter in practice.

"Kyle (Budinscak) and I are both getting reps with the first team. He might go two and I go two. We rotate with the first group."

The former first-team USA Today All-American says he's hoping to improve on his performance of last year that included 22 tackles and his first sack of his Irish career.

"The game is a lot slower to me," said Abiamiri. "I think I'm a lot better physically and mentally. So I'm just ready to roll and have a good season."

Defensive coordinator Kent Baer told Irish Eyes yesterday that he hoped the Irish defensive line could put a lot of pressure on BYU quarterback John Beck to lessen the load on the untested Irish secondary.

Abiamiri says the defensive staff has stressed getting a good pass rush all of fall practice.

"I think we are all working together as a unit," he said. "I think our d-line has the potential to terrorize any quarterback we go up against. That's one of our main goals, to get after that quarterback and helps our DBs out."

Senior strong safety Lionel Bolen has seemingly come out of nowhere to land the starting spot for Saturday. The speculation had been that sophomores Freddie Parish and Chinedum Ndukwe were fighting for the starting spot before Bolen was seen lining up with the first team this week in practice.

"Yes," was Bolen's response when asked if he would be starting on Saturday. He also said "being consistent in the fall, working hard in the summer, and just making plays" was the reason he'll be starting on Saturday.

Also in Bolen's corner, was the experience of starting a game against Florida State last season, and an extra year in the system. Bolen believes that also helped his case for playing time.

"It just gave me the ability to recognize things faster," the Westhampton N.J. native said. "I've seen a lot of things before that maybe the younger guys haven't."

Despite reports that Parish received most of the first-team reps through fall camp, Bolen said he never lost confidence in himself.

"I knew it was going to be a competitive task for me to win," the 6-0, 210-pound senior said. "I was confident and just worked hard, and kept my head up."

"It came down to the last scrimmage," said Bolen when asked when he was informed he would be the starter for Saturday's game. "After that, that next day, we kind of had our lineups set."

Also starting in the secondary is senior Dwight Ellick. The Tampa, Fla. native will man one of the corner positions and expects BYU to throw everything they have in the playbook at the unproven Irish secondary.

"They're going to come at us with a lot of trick plays," said Ellick, who also stars for the Irish track team. "They're going to try to confuse us with a lot of formations, shifts and a lot of different routes. It's definitely going be a challenge because we know they're going to come ready to play."

While most people are suggesting the Irish secondary is young, Ellick doesn't see youth or inexperience when he looks at his teammates in the secondary.

"I think people are ready to respond," the senior said. "Quentin Burrell got a lot of playing time last year. Preston Jackson got a lot of playing time last year, myself, I got a lot of playing time. We do have a few guys that will be getting a lot of reps in the rotation. As far as being a young secondary, we're not young, we're ready to play."

"We will" was Ellick's response when asked if the secondary will surprise on Saturday. "You'll have to wait and see" was his response when asked what the surprise would be.

The competition for a starting corner spot this fall was fierce according to Ellick, and he believes it's made all of the cornerbacks better players.

"It was definitely that close, I'll admit it," the former Florida state champion sprinter said. "Carlos (Campbell), Mike (Richardson), everybody, we were all pushing each other to the limit. It got to the point where we were all looking at each other like ‘man, who's going to start.' None of us let up and to this day, none of us have let up."

Starting free safety Quentin Burell also believes the Irish secondary will surprise people in 2004.

"There's supposedly a cloud around the secondary," the 6-0, 195-pound senior said. "People say we have young guys, but I don't look at it like that. I will say people will be surprised. I don't know if they are expecting the worst, but what we know what we can do and we're going to prove it Saturday."

One area that Irish secondary coach Steve Wilks has stressed this fall has been playing physical as a defensive back. Burrell said he's going to be bringing the lumber this year from his safety spot.

"I was a fierce hitter last year, too," the Decatur, Ga. native said. "Glenn (Earl)just kind of took the spotlight more. That was stressed all across the board, not just in the defensive backfield. That's stressed with the defense."

Some good news for Irish fans—it appears returning starting linebacker Brandon Hoyte will likely be on the field Saturday.

"I've been practicing the last couple of days" Hoyte said. "(My shoulder) feels great, and I'm more than willing to go this weekend."

Hoyte might be ready, but what about the trainers and the coaching staff?

"All the feedback I've gotten has been positive," said the Parlin, N.J. native. "No one has said no now so I'm not thinking no."

The 5-11, 231-pound senior says he and his defensive teammates can't wait to get back on the field Saturday.

"We're definitely excited about this weekend. Everyone is flying around to the football, and I think that's the most important thing," the two-time monogram winner said.

"I think we're very focused on what we need to do. There's no doubt in our mind what needs to get done this Saturday. I think the energy on the field, that's what's going to help propel us to get to that level."

A good showing by the defense on Saturday could set the table for another classic battle against rival Michigan. The Irish appear focused for this game, but we saw a lot of confidence last season as well. We just won't really know what to expect until they strap on the helmet Saturday night.


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