Minter Looks for Defense to Finish Strong

The win last weekend over BYU righted the Notre Dame football ship. It put the team in excellent shape for a possible BCS bowl berth by winning the four remaining games on the schedule.

Not everything was rosy. The Irish committed 11 penalties for 77 yards. On defense, head coach Charlie Weis was not happy with the missed tackles and said it would be a point of emphasis during the off week. Defensive coordinator Rick Minter shared Weis's concerns.

"I didn't think we tackled crisply or sharply," Minter said. "One thing is that the back weighed 245 pounds. It was a little bit harder for us to get him down since he weighed more than most of our defensive players.

"It's just one of those games where kids are trying so hard to play well that occasionally you get yourself out of balance and out of a football position. It's more about confidence. It's not like we don't work on it everyday because we do. A point of emphasis tries to isolate some things and recreate similar scenarios. Maybe a few more minutes extended on just points of emphasis like ball security and tackling and the same thing we did with jumping off sides."

Minter, along with his defensive coordinator duties, coaches the linebacker group as well. This unit is headed by senior captain Brandon Hoyte, who is having a lights out season in his last year with the Irish. Hoyte has already registered 56 tackles (33 solo, 23 assist) and a career-high 11.5 tackles for loss, including four sacks.

Helping Hoyte spearhead the defensive front seven is middle linebacker Corey Mays. The fifth-year senior is taking advantage of his first full year as a starter with the Irish. Mays is the fifth on the team with 32 tackles and is second on the team in fumble recoveries.

The young guy of the bunch is Apache linebacker Maurice Crum, Jr. The sophomore from Riverview, Florida did not see the field as a freshman but has turned heads with his speed and athletic ability. Crum has notched 29 tackles on the year and has forced a fumble in 2005. Crum has started every game for Notre Dame this season and is no longer considered a rookie by the coaching staff.

"They're all veterans," Minter said. "Crum has done everything we asked him to do and fairly well for most of the year but as have most of the guys who have grown up on the spot. Our corners have become more veteran corners. Our linebackers, of course we have a fifth-year senior who's starting to play all the time. They're all progressing at their own little rate. The learning curve and the upside is greater for the younger player, in this case Mo Crum vs. a Corey Mays who is a senior and been there and done that but hasn't been able to do it in ballgames. He's playing real well. That maturity has to keep coming our way and the more we evolve as a unit, the more we can adjust mentally from game to game."

The Notre Dame defense has allowed 119 yards per game on the ground. This is up from the 88 rushing yards the 2004 team allowed. Last week against BYU, the Cougars 75 total rushing yards was the second best effort of the year by the Irish (surrendered 41 vs. Washington). Minter knows there is still room for improvement for the last four games of the year.

"We all have to keep getting better in what we do," Minter said. "I mentioned tackling and just playing our gap responsibility and pass defense. Our line backing core is part of the whole unit that's got to continue to improve in all areas of defense, run, pass, pressure, coverage, all those things."

Tennessee comes to South Bend two Saturday's from now. The Volunteers are currently 3-3 heading into this weekend's game at home versus Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks. Tennessee has been hit by the injury bug hard, especially at running back. Starting tailback Gerald Riggs, Jr. is out for the year with an ankle injury and reserve running back Montario Hardesty (knee) is also gone for the season. Minter believes the usually tough Volunteer offense that will try to run the ball down Notre Dame's throats. Tennessee is only averaging 100 yards a game on the ground. Minter has high confidence in his linebackers and defensive unit to shut down any opponent's ground attack.

"Our belief is we're going to or have the ability to stop anyone's run if we play technique and tackle well," Minter said. "That's all got to happen for us to stop their running game. But we count on that every week.

"Ironically, some of our missed tackles occurred in the running game coming off the line of scrimmage. But so many of our missed tackles came in open spaces when the ball was caught in front of us. It's still YAC yards and yards after run or yards after contact. We gave up in the neighborhood of plus-80 yards of offense after somebody on our team swung and missed. That's too many yards that we're giving up that we don't need to give up. Those things add up. Those things keep drives going and the clock going. We made it a point of emphasis but you can't spend your whole practice tackling.

"But in essence, this is a blocking and tackling game. So why not spend some considerable time on it if you're not doing it as good as you want to do it? The team that blocks the best and tackles the best, as old Woody Hayes used to say, generally win. We won last week because we did that better than our opponent did. But we didn't do it up to our standard that you're going to need to do particularly if you get caught in a close game. We have to be better in those fundamentals."


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