The Notre Dame defense had a relatively solid showing in its season-opening win over San Diego State, but David Bruton and Maurice Crum still think it can be better and that it will help the team as a whole be better.
Crum said that he liked the energy that the unit played with in the opener.
"I think the number one thing is just our attitude, the way we played for one another. Everyone was always calm. Everyone was pretty much on the same page. For me, I think that was probably the biggest thing that I liked about Saturday," he said. "The second thing is probably just the way we flew around, just ran to the ball and stuff. I was really pleased with that."
For Bruton one of the most important things that he took away from game one was the way the team responded in the end.
"Two things. Our confidence on the defensive side of the ball. And, two, just how we overcame adversity, especially being down, being able to make a play, get the ball rolling, be able to shut them out the rest of the game," he said.
Now the Irish defense will have a chance to prove that it can do it against a big-name team, while Notre Dame as a team has an opportunity to really show how much it has improved.
"What we show on Saturday will basically showcase what we can do what we can be," said Bruton. "Hopefully it'll be for the best."
Crum said that it comes down to executing what Charlie Weis has been talking about.
"Personally, I think it's just a matter of getting off to a fast start and doing the things that we know we can do well on a consistent basis," he said. "When we do that consistently then that will show what kind of team we are."
Fortunately – or maybe unfortunately depending on how Saturday turns out – Notre Dame will get a chance to disprove any doubts that people have about the team right away with a showdown game against Michigan.
"The first thought that comes to mind is just Notre Dame-Michigan," said Crum. "Nothing else needs to be said."
Still, Bruton did offer some more thoughts on the rivalry.
"It's Notre Dame-Michigan, it's one of the biggest rivalries out there. If you don't get excited for it, something is wrong with you obviously. It's big," he said. "You've got maize and blue and the blue and gold going at it and trying to win. The guys on the team they all know about the rivalry, everyone is excited for it. You don't really have to try to give them a ‘Rah-Rah' speech because they know what this game is about."
Crum or Bruton both said that they remembered little about the 38-0 loss in 2007 other than Bruton recalling ‘a sick feeling." The last time that the Wolverines beat Notre Dame 38-0 was in 2003 and the following year the Irish won 28-20 when Crum was a true freshman.
"I think that was what opened my eyes to this rivalry being in that situation and trying to continue the tradition," he said.
The Irish defense displayed its new more aggressive style against the Aztecs and Crum believes that as long as they follow their rules they can be just as hostile this weekend.
"The first thing we got to do is make sure we all do our individual responsibilities first, and then secondly get to the ball, which is what we preach," he said. "You check your responsibility and then no matter where the ball is, you got to get there."
Crum did say that as a playmaker playing within the rules of a system has to be learned, but is what is best for the team.
"Everyone wants to try to make a play. What you don't realize is trying to make that play can put someone else out of position. Now we have multiple people out of position, allowing the offense a chance to make a play now just because you're trying to make a play when in all actuality, what you have to do, if you do your job, you'll make your plays," he said. "I think especially for a lot of guys who are inexperienced, they just get so excited being in the game, being in the game situation, you kind of lose focus. You need to make sure you stay in your responsibility."
Bruton talked about how defensive coordinator Corwin Brown tries to teach that concept.
"Rules govern us. He always preaches us, always tell us that," Bruton said. "You can't just go around the field just trying to make every single play. You've got to let the opportunity come to you. When it presents itself, you've got to seize the moment. You can't be a deep middle safety, abandon to the flat because you think the ball's going there. Next thing you know, the band is striking up for the opposing team. You got to take care of your responsibility. When your responsibility's taken care of, everything will be all right."
Weis and Brown have said that they expect to see Michigan use three different quarterbacks on Saturday. According to Bruton, it is not that difficult to prepare for three different guys as long as you understand their strengths.
"You've just got to know what each guy can do. One guy might be a better passer; one guy might be able to run the ball a little bit more. One guy might be thrown in on specific situations, you've just got to be aware of what's going on in the game," he said. "One guy in particular just usually runs because he's the real athlete of the bunch, the other two quarterbacks are generally throwers. We'll have a beat on what they're doing."
Presumably Bruton was referring to running back Carlos Brown, who is a running back that played quarterback in high school. Brown has been limited by an injury in the first few weeks of the game, but Rich Rodriguez has said that he should be a full go on Saturday and could bring Michigan the running threat that Rodriguez would love to have at quarterback.