Defensive Captains Notebook

Senior linebacker Maurice Crum tried to battle through an injury last weekend in the 27-14 loss to Boston College. But it took just one series for Crum to realize he wouldn't see the second defensive series of the contest. The senior was kicked in the shin in the victory over UCLA and still posted two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown. Crum has been at practice this week.

"I'm feeling fine," Crum said on Thursday. "I practiced yesterday. It's just one of those crazy things. But it's been getting better every day."

Crum said it's tough to push off and go when out on the field. Despite sitting out the vast majority of the Eagles contest, the senior captain still ranks third on the team in tackles with 48, including 3.5 for losses. It wasn't easy for Crum to be out of the action last Saturday afternoon.

"It's very aggravating for me not being out there on the field, the game being somewhere close," Crum said. "I just wanted to be out there to help. It's always tough being a competitor."

***USC head coach Pete Carroll is trying to keep a tight lid on who'll start for the Trojans this weekend in South Bend. John David Booty, who started the first five games of the year, sat out last week with a broken finger. In his spot, Mark Sanchez took his place and threw the fourth quarter go-ahead touchdown pass to tight end Fred Davis in the 20-13 win over Arizona.

On the year, Booty is 113-of-175 for 1,239 yards with 12 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Sanchez is completing 61 percent of his passes and has throw one touchdown to three interceptions. Sanchez got most of the reps in practice this week but Carroll declined to name a starter before departing for the South Bend. It won't be too much of difference for the Notre Dame defense because of the similar styles of the signal callers.

"It's not too bad," fifth-year senior Tom Zbikowski said about preparing for two quarterbacks. "It's not like one's like a scrambling quarterback or something. They both fit into the system pretty well. They both have their targets that they're going to try and hit. It's not too difficult, but you definitely look at both of them and see what they struggle with, if it's man to man, if it's disguising coverages, if it's Cover Two or something like that, you have to try and look at what they struggle with."

***Fans who have attended games or watched on television can see the enthusiasm and passion of Corwin Brown on the sidelines. The defensive coordinator is a high-energy coach in practices and on game days. Head coach Charlie Weis said before the year that he needed Brown's enthusiasm on the sidelines and for the young defense to feed off of the defensive coordinator's energy. Brown is also not afraid to let his players know when they've made a mistake, which the two defensive captains like to see.

"For me, I always enjoy somebody getting in my face every once in a while," Zbikowski said. "It just helps you as a player and gets you to refocus. As a player, you need it every once in a while. I think for the most part pretty much everyone has responded well. It's nothing personal. He's trying to make us the best player that he can possibly make us."

"We don't take it to heart," Crum said. "We let it go once it's over because he wants to win. If he can't play, he plays through us. He wants us to do the best that we can."

***Weis said on Wednesday that he believed the defense was on an uptick since the second half of the Purdue contest. The group stiffened against the Boilermakers, letting Notre Dame get a chance to be in the game before surrendering a late fourth quarter touchdown pass to give Purdue the victory.

The following week, the defense forced numerous turnovers and sacks to propel the Irish to the win against UCLA. Last weekend, there were highs (Brian Smith's interception return for a touchdown) and lows (over 450 yards allowed) in the loss to Boston College. The captains know its been a trying season, battling through a few injuries, transfers and in the process trying to improve while the struggling offense tries to keep up.

"It's definitely been a rough year for us, up and down," Crum said. "But the most important thing is that the guys who are here are here, and everybody is trying, coming to work. As long as we have that, we can't complain. We just ask that guys don't quit."

"The team has gone through a lot," Zbikowski said. "I think it's made us closer as a team. I think it's almost helped us that we've been playing better and better week in and week out, working to win and playing hard every single week. I definitely think we've become closer as a team." Top Stories