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Seniors lead turnover-happy ‘D’

Matt Lozar | Monday, November 17, 2003

The defense, appropriately led by its seniors, did some things Saturday it really hasn’t done all year.Early in the game, the defense set the tone on an interception by linebacker Courtney Watson off a Brigham Young screen pass. The interception was Watson’s first of the year and the coaches had let him know about that all week long.”It did feel good because all week the coaches were getting on me since I didn’t have a pick all year,” the fifth-year senior said. “Last year I had four of them, so it was good to get it early.”That turnover, which set the tone for the entire day, was the first of a season-high four for the Notre Dame defense.But the most impressive statistic for this defense Saturday was holding the BYU offense to three plays or less on seven consecutive drives. In the third quarter, the Cougars had zero yards of offense.Players don’t get caught up in streaks like that during the game, but they assuredly noticed it throughout that third quarter, as their bodies were full of energy. “I think our bodies told us because we did a lot of standing on the side,” Watson said. “I remember specifically in the third quarter just sitting there, and saying, ‘This is pretty fun, pretty cool.'”The easiest win of the season allowed the coaching staff to rest its players throughout the fourth quarter and give the seniors a chance to watch from the sidelines as the younger members of the defense were just as dominant as the old guys.When the youngsters made plays, the seniors were the first ones to congratulate them.”It’s a lot more like the defense that we know that we can play like. It’s beautiful to see, especially when you aren’t in there for a few series and you see everybody out there doing things,” defensive tackle Darrell Campbell said. “You just want to run out there and tackle the guy. I know when [safety] Quentin [Burrell] got that interception down by the end zone I ran 40 yards full sprint, knocking people out just to celebrate with them. “That’s the type of defense we have.”But Saturday obviously wasn’t a perfect effort, as seen by the 14 points given up by the Irish on two drives of a combined seven plays. But the defense stayed focused Saturday, determined to send the seniors playing their last game at Notre Dame Stadium out the right way.”I think we’ve had an up and down season but today we kind of had an up and down game, but we pulled it out,” defensive end Justin Tuck. “I think we are never going to come out of a game perfect. We never come out of a game and did everything the way we wanted to. “We really wanted to send our seniors out with a great game and I think we did that.”During the disappointing start to the season, this defense showed flashes of its 2002 form. Saturday, that defining characteristic from last year came back, after all the Senior Day emotions allowed the Irish to just play football.”I felt a little bit of relaxation after [the emotion] died down, but more importantly, I think we got our swagger back, our tenacious attitude back, [which is] something that has been missing for awhile. It showed up in spurts, but we were very persistent in this game,” Campbell said. “After all the emotion died down and we were able to focus a little bit more, we definitely were a lot more relaxed and were able to capitalize on all the mistakes they made.”