Passing the test
Matt Lozar | Wednesday, September 10, 2003
The thinnest position on the Notre Dame defense was tested against Washington State, going past the traditional two-deep depth chart.
Starting right cornerback Jason Beckstrom, who missed 2002 with an arm injury, was hurt on the Cougars’ first quarter touchdown drive. Dwight Ellick, who was listed as a potential co-starter on the right side, replaced Beckstrom and later left with an injury in the first quarter. Preston Jackson, listed as the backup to Vontez Duff at left cornerback, shifted over to the right side.
Insert true freshman Freddie Parrish into the picture.
Parrish moved into the nickel back role, vacated by Jackson, and saw significant playing time throughout the rest of the game.
“Coach Walters told me [Friday night] to be ready regardless. We went to our hotel, went through the notebook and he told me to be ready since you never know when your number is going to be called,” Parish said. “When the opportunity presented itself, I just tried to do the best I could.
“I thought I might play a little bit, if we were blowing them out or something. I had no idea it was going to be in for crunch time.”
Parrish only had the past summer to really learn the defensive schemes and adjust from the high school to the college game. Therefore, Parrish relied on the knowledge of his willing teammates to make sure he had the correct assignments.
“They were all willing to help me, whenever we went to the sideline, Preston was always going over this and that,” Parish said. “When we were on the field, Glenn [Earl] would talk to me and Garron [Bible]. Same thing as Vontez [Duff] when I was on his side he let me know.”
Parrish wasn’t the only unexpected player to get into the game. When Duff went to the sidelines with an injury later in the game, Mike Richardson stepped onto the field for his first collegiate action.
Being able to call on players like Parrish and Richardson in important situations says a lot about the Irish secondary.
“Our depth came in and played a great game,” Duff said. “They came in and stepped up. Just coming in and getting that experience on defense really helps our defense in the long run of the season.”
Besides the Irish having to go nine players deep into their secondary, some of the roles from 2002 were reversed against the Cougars.
Earl earned the reputation of always making the big hit. Duff picked up fumbles or made interceptions and used his playmaking ability to make something happen. Saturday, Duff got the big hit that turned around the game in the fourth quarter and Earl was there to jump on the loose ball.
Duff isn’t ready to switch roles just yet.
“I’m not too much of a hitter, I’m going to leave that to Earl. It’s kind of weird making those big hits and Earl getting the fumble,” Duff said. “Usually it’s the other way around. If it happens that way, it’s great for our team. If it gives us that burst, then I’m glad to have that role.”
The one disappointment for this secondary was its inability to directly contribute on the scoreboard. The whole defense, namely the defensive backfield, takes a lot of pride in making the big play to turn the game around and help out what has been an inconsistent offense.
Saturday at Michigan, Duff and company are ready to get back to their old habits.
“It’s not just making those big plays and making those turnovers, but we need to score off those turnovers. That’s what we really talk about as a defense,” Duff said. “We help the offense a little bit more if we’re scoring on defense. It helps the team out in the end. We always look forward to [not only] creating turnovers but also scoring off those turnovers.”