"We're still looking to play a full football game, a complete football game from start to finish, all four quarters," defensive end Victor Abiamiri said following practice on Thursday.
Well, Abiamiri and company, Saturday is a great opportunity for the defense to play a complete ballgame. The 10th-ranked Irish (5-1) welcome UCLA (4-2) and its very mediocre offense to town. Notre Dame matches up real well with this bland offense, and has had two weeks to prepare for the Bruins.
On top of that, the Irish were given extra incentive when UCLA running back Chris Markey guaranteed a victory following the team's loss to Oregon last Saturday. Though Markey's comment appears to be taken out of context a bit, there is no doubt it made its way to South Bend.
The Irish players of course didn't offer up any bulletin-board material to the Bruins.
"They're a very athletic offense, they have a lot of talent at the skill positions," cornerback Mike Richardson said. "Their receivers have a lot of speed."
"They are definitely a group that you have to respect, they're not a group that you can just look at as a weak link or a weak part of the team," linebacker Maurice Crum said. "You definitely have to look at them and respect them, they have great speed, those guy can catch and they have a quarterback that can get them the ball.
"They have the potential to break out at any given moment. They have tight ends that can do what receivers can do, running backs that can do it, their quarterback can get them the ball, their quarterback moves well, the offensive line can block. It can come from anywhere at anytime, they've shown flashes of that, if they put it all together it's scary.
Crum is one of the few people not calling the Bruin offense the weak link and they have yet to break out halfway through the season. The offense is ranked 66th nationally in total yards (333.5) while the defense is ranked ninth (252 yards per game).
They are a middle of the pack unit, much like the Irish defense statistically, yet ND has played a much tougher schedule.
Making matters worse for UCLA is the loss of starting quarterback Ben Olson. Pat Cowan has filled in admirably the last two games but there is a drop off. Then there is Cowan's problem. The mobile quarterback was hit in the throat in the Oregon game last week and is having trouble speaking. It's unknown if Cowan will be able to call the signals, if the Bruins will use a silent snap count or if the center Robert Chai will make the calls.
"It kind of puts the defense and offense on an even playing field a little more because they don't have the snap count to their advantage," Abiamiri said of the potential situation. Though all indications are that Cowan will start, the Irish prepared to see third-stringer Osaar Rasshan.
"They both bring the same dimensions to the game," Crum said.
UCLA will be bringing scholarship receivers to the game, unlike Stanford did two weeks ago and its two starting walk-ons. Though their numbers aren't eye popping, Brandon Breazell (17 receptions, 211 yards 1 TD), Junior Taylor (15-140-1), Marcus Everett (11-105-0) and Matt Willis (14-104-2) all have decent speed and can get open.
"It's just going out and practicing hard and not comparing speed with different opponents," Richardson said. "It's about going out and playing as hard as you can against every opponent."
Like every opponent, there is no doubt UCLA is preparing to limit Abiamiri, whether it's double team, roll away or what have you, like every other team has done so far.
"It's tough practicing trying to simulate how it goes in practice from different protection schemes you might go up against and face, but the truly great ones try to find their way to the quarterback no matter what the blocking scheme is," said Abiamiri, who leads the team with five sacks and nine tackles for loss.
Markey (589 yards rushing and one touchdown) is a similar runner to Darius Walker but he isn't the pass catcher the Irish back is. Backup Kahlil Bell also likes to hit the line, so Irish tackles Derek Landri and Trevor Laws will have to play well Saturday.