Run Through the Jungle

Coming into the 2008 season, one of the primary concerns surrounding the Notre Dame defense was the inability to stop the opposing rushing attack. Last Saturday, Michigan freshman Sam McGuffie gave the Irish unit headaches throughout the contest. Looking ahead to Michigan State, it's not going to get any easier for the Irish.

As Notre Dame heads into East Lansing, Mich. with a perfect 2-0 record, it will need to control star runningback Javon Ringer if it wants to remain undefeated. Defensive coordinator Corwin Brown is well aware with respect to the talent the senior Spartan possesses, and knows that he excels in most areas.

"Really, he likes to do everything," Brown said of Ringer. "He is a complete back. If this conversation was at the end of the year, we would probably be talking about him being up for the Heisman probably. He can run inside; he can run outside; he has really good balance; he can carry the ball going either way; a really good cut-back runner. I think he sees the hole very well. It will be a challenge for us, but it is a good one and one that we like. So we'll see."

Nickelback Sergio Brown also recognizes that Ringer is a potentially dangerous back and feels that physical and assertive play is necessary when going up against a rusher like the Dayton, Ohio native who has amassed nine touchdowns to go with 498 rushing yards thus far.

"You've got to man up," Sergio Brown said of playing against a more traditional offense. "Because you know they're going to run the ball. They're going to try and pound you. They're not just going to spread out and just throw it in the air so you have to man up and play your room and play strong and be ready for a strong runningback."

Senior defensive tackle Pat Kuntz has played against Ringer before, and as a result, he knows exactly how to prevent him from having an effective game.

"You've just got to drive your legs when you hit him," Kuntz said. "Arm tackles aren't going to bring him down. He's a very good runningback and he had 280 yards last week, but it doesn't matter who you're playing, if you can get 280 yards, you're doing something right and you've got some talent. So we're going to have to gang tackle, fly around and wrap up."

Knowing well that Ringer has racked up impressive rushing stats against Michigan State's opponents, sophomore inside linebacker Brian Smith and the rest of the defense have been game planning in preparation for the showdown come Saturday. The Irish, however, are sticking to fundamentals.

"It's been really simple, actually," Smith said of the game planning. "It's a simple game, when it comes to stopping the run. We just need to make sure that we do what we're supposed to do, and we'll be successful."

Coach Brown also acknowledged the need to return to basic concepts of tackling to improve on minimizing the effectiveness of the opposing rushing attack after the Irish win against Michigan. Fundamentals, and the recognition of the Spartan strengths within the halfbacks could lead to improvement in terms of stopping the run.

"You go back to fundamentals and your rules and also knowing the type of back you're playing against," Brown said. "Is it a cut-back type running back? Is he a guy that likes to stiff-arm? Is he a guy that likes to wait then bounce outside? All those factors come into play and the smarter you are and the more attention you pay to detail, then the better you will be when it comes to Saturday as opposed to just kind of winging it and then when you go out there you say, ‘Hey, where did that move come from?' Okay, so that's the same move that this guy has been doing."

Last week, Brown thinks that the Irish fared far better against the Wolverine rushing attack in the second half of the game, although the first part seemed to go in favor of the hated rivals. In the first two quarters, McGuffie had 84 of his 131 yards, in addition to his success at receiving the ball in the first half. Even then, there is still great room for improvement.

"We played better in the second half," Brown said. "At the same time there were runs in there that we thought as a staff and as a team that we should have gotten stopped but we didn't. The guys did rally and we solved some of those issues. You would like for those things to be fixed on the practice field."

With that said, Smith knows that after McGuffie got the better of the Irish run defense, there are many lessons to be learned from the 35-17 victory last Saturday — the main project being enhanced tackling.

"We can take a lot of things," Smith said of the match up against Michigan. "We didn't tackle. We missed 16 tackles against McGuffie, so we made tackling a big emphasis this week, because if we miss 16 tackles against Michigan State, it won't pan out well for us. So we need to wrap up and take them to the ground."

Smith wasn't the only one to take notice with respect to the struggle to tackle last Saturday, as his coach knew that taking proper angles towards the ball carrier would go a long way to progress.

"You come to balance and you realize what got you in trouble," coach Brown said. "So if I'm a linebacker and I overran a play, well, I know, ‘Hey, I've got to make sure I stay inside out.' If I'm a safety and I'm coming to fill the alley, I've got to push the ball to my help; those sort of things."

After facing the Wolverines, Kuntz feels right at home facing a squad like the Spartans because of their convential approach to offensive schemes.

"Oh, it's right up my alley," he said. "It's smash mouth, come-at-you-every-play. That's the kind of football I've been raised on and I play my best that way, and I'm pretty excited to be in one of these battles that we haven't been in the past couple of weeks."

Part of the reason as to why the Indianapolis, Ind. native is anticipating the encounter is because of Michigan State's desire to unhesitatingly attack its opponents — a style that mirrors Kuntz's own.

"That's why I'm looking forward to it," he said. "They're going to come at us. They're big, they're strong, they're physical and we've got to match it, and that's what I'm excited to play for."

Leading up to next Saturday, the Irish defense had heard it all. They know how Ringer rushed for 282 yards last week. They also know that he has nine scores on the year. One thing Kuntz didn't know, however, was a special talent that the runningback had. Apparently, Ringer can roundhouse kick people measuring up to 6-foot-6.

Kuntz, of course, wasn't fazed.

"Roundhouse kick?" he asked, bewildered.

"He can roundhouse kick me if he wants, but we'll see what happens," he said.


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