Lets Get Physical

As he tries to find the correct formula to get his football team clicking from the opening kickoff on, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis eliminated show teams at practice on Tuesday, and had his starting offense and starting defense giving each other the looks of Saturday's foe UCLA.

According to the third-year head coach, it was the hardest hitting and most physical practice the Irish have had in Weis' short time in South Bend.

The results were apparent on Wednesday.

Defensive end Trevor Laws was slightly limping with soreness as he walked into the Guglielmino Athletics Complex Auditorium for post-practice interviews. It will be well worth it for the fifth-year senior if Notre Dame (0-5) can get off to a fast start and notch its first win of the season on Saturday at UCLA (0-5).

"It was pretty physical," Laws stated. His 41 tackles with 4.5 coming for loss lead the team. "I'm a little sore from it. People were getting after it. It was a pretty good showing as far as physicality goes.

"It was a good day of work, a good day of practice."

The practice was so physical, Weis eased up for the first time in two weeks and gave the players a break on Wednesday, having his team practice in just shorts, knee braces, shells and helmets. As he tries to heal the aches and pains before the Irish make their first visit to the Rose Bowl since 1925, the work will be even less physical on Thursday.

"It was pretty physical," fifth-year senior linebacker Joe Brockington said. "Just a bunch of inside runs. They barely ran the ball outside. The offense was the look team for us, and we were the look team for the offense. We got a bunch of good work in yesterday."

And one good tongue lashing. Weis wants to see more emotion out of his group, and that's how they're going to have to play if they're going to beat UCLA. On a play in practice, senior linebacker Maurice Crum had a big hit on an unnamed Irish running back for a loss. Instead of celebrating, the defense walked back to the huddle with no expression.

"I stopped practice at that time and said, I don't get it," Weis began. "This guy just stoned someone at the line and pancaked him to the ground. You would think the guys in that group would be excited. Sometimes you have to make them aware of the perception that they're worrying more about the next play rather than the excitement of making a play by one of their teammates."

***All the talk has been about how the offense responded when Weis "let loose" on his players inside the visiting locker room at Ross-Ade Stadium last Saturday. But the defense played a whole lot better in the second half of the 33-19 loss to Purdue as well.

In the first half, the Boilermakers got points on 5-of-7 possessions, and took a 23-0 lead into intermission. After the break, the defense only allowed 108 of Purdue's 371 total yards, helping the team scratch back into the game.

"I think we played with more of a sense of urgency," sophomore cornerback Darrin Walls said. "We had to come out and stop Purdue on those drives. We came out with a more physical attitude. We came out knowing we had to come to play if we really wanted to win this game."

Junior nose tackle Pat Kuntz agreed.

"I think we played with a lot more emotion, a lot more heart," he said. "We were flying around. What really helped us is our offense started moving the ball really well. We feed off each other, and when we keep stopping them, the offense is going to start feeding off of us, and when they start moving it, we're going to feed off the offense."

***With the exception of the first half against Penn State in week two, the Notre Dame defense has been terrible against the run. In all five games this season, the opposition has had a running back go for over 100 yards. The Irish rank 107th nationally against the run, allowing 210 yards per game.

Obviously, one of the major reasons for the more physical workload in practice was to get better in stopping teams from running all over them.

"I think it's just fundamental mistakes that we've all made," Kuntz said. "With a lot of the running teams we played against, it's all about one person not doing their job. I think it's a combination of that with missed tackles, we just haven't been making tackles."

Defensive coordinator Corwin Brown and other players also mentioned missed tackles.

"I'd say probably a lot of missed tackles," Brockington said. "That and just guys not being in the position they need to be. I think that's the biggest thing."

"There is lots of different things," Laws said. "Just go out and play assignment football. Lots of different times there is little things here and there where people aren't doing things they need to be doing, myself included. We just have to be more assignment sound."

The Irish run defense will again have their work cut out for them trying to contain UCLA's Kahlil Bell and possibly Chris Markey. Bell leads the team with 98 carries for 522 yards (5.2 avg.) and four touchdowns. Markey is questionable for Saturday's game with turf toe, but has run for 404 yards on 79 carries (5.1 avg.) with three scores.

***UCLA's passing game isn't the most dangerous attack in the country, but they like to go downfield from time to time. Four receivers have a reception of over 50 yards.

"They take a lot of shots downfield," Walls said. "As a DB, that's a major concern for us. We're preparing for that. They have some talented receivers and they're going to take their shots."


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