"They are certainly a very good football team from a couple of standpoints," defensive backs coach Bill Lewis said. "Two things jump out at you. First of all is their speed. In watching all of their games, they have a lot of speed at different positions. The second thing that is so impressive about them is not only are their players good but they are coached extremely well. That combination of having good football players being coached well is a good package.
"One of the things I've been impressed by in our initial study is the way they use their guys and their personnel with Reggie Bush being a prime example. They move him around and you better know where number five is at all times. They are definitely one of the best offensive football teams I've seen in college football in a long time."
Sleepless nights might be in store for Lewis and the defensive backfield the next week and a half. The Notre Dame secondary is allowing over 300 yards per game through the air and has given up numerous big plays. It only gets tougher two Saturday's from now. Matt Leinart is the returning Heisman Trophy winner and has not skipped a beat in 2005. He is fifth in the nation in passing efficiency and has a plethora of options to throw the ball to. Pick your poison: Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, Dominique Byrd and, oh yeah, Mr. Do-It-All, Reggie Bush. Defensive coordinator Rick Minter pointed out the great job USC head coach Pete Carroll has done to acquire this wealth of offensive talent.
"It's a good offense," Minter said. "It is really is. The thing you have to keep in mind now is that Pete has the ability now to say every player on is team is his recruits. Early on, Carson Palmer wasn't his recruit but he won with him. Now of all a sudden, every recruit on that team has been recruited by Pete Carroll. That's why they are at the top of their game because they have done a nice job of recruiting and coaching the players they have."
*As mentioned above, the defense has given up the big play time and time again. Head coach Charlie Weis counted 10 plays allowed in the Purdue game that went for over 300 yards. This pattern has not reached high-pitched levels because of the red zone takeaways Notre Dame has generated in their 4-1 start. Through five games, the Irish defense has created five turnovers inside their own 20-yard line.
One player's effort in this area of the game has stood out. Cornerback Ambrose Wooden's hustle on two plays thwarted touchdowns by opposing teams and, in turn, shifted the momentum back to Notre Dame. He ran down Michigan wide receiver Jason Avant just before he broke the plain of the end zone. On the next play, Wolverine quarterback Chad Henne fumbled and the Irish recovered, preventing a Michigan rally for the time being. Wooden's second big hustle situation occurred last Saturday at Purdue when he stopped Boiler running back Korey Sheets at the one-yard line on a long running play. The next play, Jarod Void fumbled the ball and Notre Dame cornerback Mike Richardson recovered the ball. To further highlight the hustle, the Irish subsequently went on a 98-yard touchdown march to go up 14-0 in their rout over Purdue. The plays have made an impression upon Lewis.
"It represents work ethic," Lewis said. "It also represents a philosophy of our defense. No matter what happens with an offensive play, if you give yourself ground to stand on and make them snap it one or two more times, you always have an opportunity. In the case of the two plays you have pointed out, we have praised and pointed it out.
"What he did because of hustle and a proper pursuit angle, he gave us an opportunity for ground to stand on. It may not have been much but as long as you make them snap it one more time, good things can happen to you. In this case, it happened. If Ambrose, one, does not take a proper pursuit angle and, two, busts his tail to get there, those are two touchdowns."
Pursuit angles and good tackling are going to be vital against USC. Their offensive talent is fast and the Trojans can turn a three-yard gain into an 80-yard touchdown. Case in point: last week against Arizona State, of the five touchdowns scored in their 38-28 win, four of them were from 32 yards or longer. Down 28-24 in the fourth quarter, Reggie Bush went 34 yards for a score to make it 31-28 USC and then LenDale White scampered 46 yards for the clinching touchdown. Lewis said the defense worked on pursuit angles yesterday in practice and will continue to in order to minimize the big play potential of the Trojans.
"As you study the tape and the Arizona State game being a great example in the fourth quarter, they break the line of scrimmage and get long touchdown runs on back-to-back possessions," Lewis said. "The only way you have an opportunity to prevent that is with people giving great effort and then taking proper angles. Once those people break out, it's tough to catch them. It's going to be very important and we will continue to emphasize it from now up until game time."