Washington Better Than They Appear

The Notre Dame football team returned to the practice field on Tuesday to prepare for their game with Washington (0-2) on Saturday. The Irish (2-1) are coming off two straight victories, and now have three straight home games. The Irish appear to be righting the ship after a disappointing loss in Provo. We spoke with defensive coordinator Kent Baer and offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick to get their thoughts on Michigan State and Washington.

Defensive coordinator Kent Baer does not believe that the Irish will see what many believe will be a weak Washington team on Saturday. The third-year Irish defensive coordinator said he thinks they have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball to defeat the Irish.

"I think they're pretty good," Baer said of the Huskies. "They scored 31 points against UCLA. (They) rush for 200 yards a game, pass for 200 yards a game—this is the most balanced offense we've seen. May be the best offensive we've seen. They don't play like a 0-2 team. I think it's the biggest challenge we've had this year."

A lot of Irish fans are expecting a blowout in this game against a struggling Washington team. However, the Irish had their chances to put away a tired Michigan State team and couldn't do that last week. Baer said the fact has kind of soured the win for him.

"I'm disappointed in how we finished that game," said Baer. "It still bothers me. It's hard to enjoy a win when I think we need to finish better. I don't know what it was, but we're going to learn how to finish."

With the Irish having two straight wins under their belt, the fear is they might become overconfident and maybe look ahead to some big games on their schedule. Baer says he likes the attitude of his team, and doesn't foresee that happening.

"Sometimes you have to get their attention and maybe sometimes they read too much about themselves," he said. "I like their attitude. They have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. They're out to prove something, and I like that. As long as we can keep that attitude then I think we have a chance to keep getting better."

The Irish defense has been on fire lately creating turnovers. In three games, the Irish have recorded 11 turnovers. Baer says creating turnovers is something they place a high priority on every day in practice.

"It's amazing how many people call me wanting to know how we do turnovers," Baer said. "The only thing I can say is we emphasize it a lot. We work on it—we're always trying to strip the ball, always trying to catch the ball, always trying to scoop and score. Those turnovers are big.

"There's going to be a game where we don't get any. So it goes back to playing great fundamental football. You can't count on those all the time.

"We always talk about tackling first. Some of those turnovers were on tackles—just good, solid hits on tackles, and not really trying to strip the ball. The thing that I always chart is how many times the ball is on the ground and fumbles you get. We're getting a lot of them."

The Irish defensive coordinator says they scout potential turnover targets on film every week.

"We talk about it all the time. ‘This guy carries the ball loose, he changes hands.' We talk about it with almost every guy we see on film so that's always a point of emphasis," Baer said.

Cornerback Mike Richardson saw a lot of action in the Michigan State game. Baer was asked how he thought Richardson performed.

"I thought he did great," Baer said of Richardson. "The thing that I liked is that I thought he played really physical. That's what he is, a big, strong, physical corner that's got good instincts to the run. I thought he played pretty well for us."

"Carlos is a little banged up," said Baer when asked why Richardson replaced the usual third corner, Carlos Campbell. "You just got to go to your next and Mike's played a lot for us. I kind of look at him as a starter."

Irish offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick also said he believes the Huskies are quite a bit better than most people give credit.

"I think you look them, and the two games that they've played, they've played very well against Fresno State and against UCLA," said Diedrick. "They gave up a number of big plays, and it was two different defenses.

"I think that all and all, when you look at them personnel-wise, they're very athletic and they've got good team speed. They've got a veteran secondary and that probably speaks for why they're No. 4 in passing defense."

The Irish have found a solid running game in their last two wins and Diedrick was asked why he felt the Irish were able to run the football the last two games.

"I think that you've got a couple of runners that are hitting the hole and hitting it down hill," said Diedrick. :I think you've also got a group up front that are creating some seams. When you get that, and you get a guy running hard, the two kind of mesh."

Diedrick also said he's perfectly happy with the run-to-pass ratio the Irish have been having the last two weeks.

"When you are able to run the football it opens up so many more things that you're able to do," Diedrick said. "As long as the running game goes, I think it really allows you to do the things that you want to do.

"You take the first game for example when you're not able to run the ball. When you're dropping back 55-60 times, that's not good, it's not good for anybody."

Diedrick said he was also very pleased with the seven-play drive that included all running plays that put the Irish up 28-7 in the third quarter against Michigan State.

"That was a super drive because it was, I think, 21-7 at the time," said Diedrick. "It took some time off the clock, but it was seven plays that we're pounding right at them that I think your team really appreciates. It kind of is able to maybe take the heart out of them."

The Irish could use many more drives like that drive against Washington on Saturday. With three straight home games, the Irish have a golden opportunity to climb into the top 25 with some impressive wins.

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