Irish Secondary Will Be Tested

The Notre Dame Football players have been tested all week by mid-terms but will receive another test Saturday as they square off against a Southern Cal team that is averaging 51 points a game. The leader of this powerful offense is veteran quarterback, Matt Leinart. Through the first five games, Leinart is completing 65 percent of his passes and has thrown for 12 touchdowns with only three interceptions.

Irish secondary coach, Bill Lewis, has the responsibility of preparing his troops for the Trojan passing game, and he is impressed by what he has seen of Leinart and his receivers on tape.

"When you turn on their tape, there are two things that impressed me, and I think the whole staff," Lewis said. "Number one, as a football team, there is a lot of speed. And when you look at their receiving corps, that's kind of the first thing, is they all run well. The next thing in relation to that is they are big physical people. There is a physical presence about their receiving corps. And the third thing is that I probably appreciate as much as anything is that they are a well-coached football team. They really are--every single aspect of their offensive football team.

"We kind of talked so much about that as a staff as we watched and studied the tapes that these are good football players, and they are extremely well coached. And that becomes very obvious with every game tape you that watch."

The Irish have their own star quarterback in Brady Quinn, but Lewis is not interested in comparing Quinn to Matt Leinart and feels that should be left up to others.

"I have not studied Brady because when we work against Brady, I'm worried about coaching my people and I'm not evaluating our offense or our quarterback," the veteran coach stated. "I do know that Matt Leinart is a good quarterback. He is a big physical presence, very confident, and here again very well schooled - tremendously, tremendously accurate.

"He has a great belief that he can get the ball in a spot and for the most part, he gets that ball in the spot. They have been extremely productive and when you look at quarterbacks, quarterbacks have a tendency sometimes to get maybe a little too much credit and a little too much blame, but in his case, he has produced. His record as a starting quarterback is phenomenal and so each week he has managed to do what it takes to win."

Coach Lewis believes the only fair way to compare Leinart to any other quarterback is to "compare Leinart to Leinart. Because I don't think it is right to say he's this or he's that or he's like this guy. I think when you look at him, you see a quarterback with very few flaws in his game. Here again, they have schooled him very well and they have taken his talents and the talents of the people around him and put together a great concept and a great scheme of things.

"So not only is he a good football player and a good athlete, they have put him in a situation where he can succeed because they are utilizing his abilities so well. He is a very classic pocket quarterback - drop back quarterback - that will scramble when he has to, but he is not looking to do that like some quarterbacks do. He is accurate with the football. He gets the ball out on time and he anticipates and gets the ball to the right spot."

The Irish secondary will have to be at the top of their game on Saturday as they will certainly be challenged by the passing game, but will also be called upon to give great run support against the swift and hard-charging Trojan running game.

"I think the most difficult thing on any defensive team, any part of the defensive team, not just the secondary, is that team that can do both and has the balance and SC has managed to do that," Lewis said of the Trojan running game challenging his secondary. "They have great balance when you look at just the pure numbers of the run-pass and then they have gotten great production. You know you have got the Bush's [Reggie] and the White's [LenDale] and then you have the Leinart's and that corps of receivers so they have managed to achieve that balance.

"From the defensive standpoint, I have always felt, and I know Rick [Minter] and our defensive staff feels like you've got to stop the run first. It all starts - great defense all starts - with stopping the run first and trying to force a team into being one-dimensional. Force them into long yardage situations where they've got to throw the ball. SC is one of those teams that has achieved that balance and puts a lot of pressure on you to stop the run, and then that is where Leinart has had some of his big moments as teams have had to load up the box to stop the run and then the play action passes have been so effective."


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