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Secondary upset with play

Justin Schuver | Friday, October 29, 2004

Paul Peterson’s game-winning 30-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez with 54 seconds left in the game was a microcosm of how the Eagles victimized the Irish secondary in the second half of Notre Dame’s 24-23 loss to Boston College on Saturday.After intercepting Peterson twice in the first half and holding the Eagles’ quarterback to just 86 yards through the first two quarters, the Notre Dame defensive backfield fell apart in the second half – allowing 297 yards and two touchdowns.”I’m not going to take any credit away from their quarterback,” Irish cornerback Dwight Ellick said. “He found open receivers and he definitely hit them when they were open. At the same time I think some of those plays were because of us not doing our responsibility.”The Notre Dame secondary has been a bit of an anomaly this season. The team held Michigan and its vaunted receivers to just 240 yards through the air and one touchdown, but could not stop Heisman candidate Kyle Orton and Purdue, as the Boilermakers sliced through the team’s defense for 413 yards passing and four touchdowns. “Right now I don’t think we’re playing our best game,” Irish secondary coach Steven Wilks said. “We’re in position at times and not making plays; we’re not breaking on the ball as we should.”A lot of times we’re playing too far off on first down and giving up the hitch [route] and that’s just something that we can’t do; we’ve got to mix our coverages up, and one thing we’ve got to do for sure is make tackles.”Perhaps the most-noticeable miscue by the Notre Dame secondary Saturday came late in the fourth quarter in the middle of Boston College’s game-winning scoring drive. With 1:33 left in the game and facing fourth-and-13, Peterson had plenty of time to find a wide-open Larry Lester on the right sideline for a 17-yard pass, giving Boston College a much-needed first down and helping the Eagles gain some positive momentum in the hostile road environment.”We were really honing in on getting that play stopped and getting the defense on the field so we could win the game,” Irish safety Tom Zbikowski said. “When that happens you’ve just got to regroup – that’s football.”You know that eventually they’re going to complete a few passes, and you’ve got to step up after that.”The Irish pass defense – like the rest of the team – has a much needed bye week to work out its fundamental problems and get ready for Tennessee and its quick-strike passing offense led by talented freshman quarterback Erik Ainge. Further down the road is USC and another Heisman hopeful in quarterback Matt Leinart.”We’ve got to go back this week and work on our fundamentals – working on anticipating the hitch and the slant [routes],” Wilks said. “All that stuff is what we’re going to see against Tennessee – that quick passing game. “It gives you an opportunity to go back and work on the basics, and that’s really what we’ve been focusing on this week.”