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Fisher and Co. heap praise on Irish defense

Ken Fowler | Sunday, December 31, 2006

NEW ORLEANS – Think Notre Dame’s defense is porous and vulnerable? Don’t tell that to LSU.

The common refrain Saturday was that the Irish have “good schemes” and “good coaching,” despite Notre Dame’s blowout losses in its biggest games of the year.

“I think they have an outstanding defense,” LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said. “When you win 10 games against the schedule they play and two games to two outstanding football teams I think they are a heck of a defense.”

Notre Dame ranks No. 50 in both rushing and passing defense, allowing 127.8 yards on the ground and 192.67 passing yards a game. The Irish rank slightly lower in scoring defense, surrendering 22.4 yards per game.

LSU averaged 159.17 rushing yards (No. 37 nationally) and 245 passing (No. 22), but stopping the Tigers efficiency will be Notre Dame’s top priority.

Tigers quarterback JaMarcus Russell completed 68.5 percent of his passes in the regular season and finished third nationally with a passer rating of 168.1. On the ground, LSU failed to average 4.0 yards per rush just twice in 12 contests.

But the Tigers aren’t expressing unbounded confidence when it comes to the matchup.

“They play very well on defense and do a lot of good things,” Russell said. “They do what you would expect as far as blitz-wise and coverage-wise. You can’t really compare them until you play them. That’s how you get a good feel for them, when you go up against them, to compare them to another defense. I think they have a very good game plan though.”

Tigers running back Jacob Hester, who averaged 4.6 yards per rush on 91 carries this season, said the constant chorus of analysts questioning Notre Dame’s team speed after the 44-24 Irish loss to USC Nov. 25 is misguided.

“They have speed in the secondary,” Hester said. “[Irish strong safety Tom] Zbikowski is one of the fastest players in the country. They definitely have some speed. Their linebackers move around real good and the defense really well together. They’ll do a lot of things that confuse us. It’ll be a tough job for us.”

Fisher, who in 1999 served as offensive coordinator for Cincinnati when current Irish defensive coordinator Rick Minter was head coach there, said commentators use the speed argument poorly.

“I have never heard of a slow small team getting to the Sugar Bowl,” he said. “The two games they lost when you watch it on film the other team’s defense held the Notre Dame offense back a lot and in turn put their defense with their backs against the wall.”

Notre Dame trailed Michigan 34-7 with 2:30 remaining in the second quarter and was behind 21-3 at USC just four minutes into the second period.

But the company line of praising Notre Dame wasn’t universal. At least, the heavy praise eased at times. Unlike his teammates and coaches, Tigers wide out Dwayne Bowe expressed a more confident tone in LSU’s speed advantage.

“I won’t say they’re slow,” Bowe said of the Irish defense. “But welcome to the SEC. We’re much faster. They’re a good group of guys. They’re very sound, very fundamental, we just have to go out there and execute like we do on the practice field.”

Notes:

Fisher addressed questions about Florida State’s rumored interest in him to replace Jeff Bowden as offensive coordinator in Tallahassee. Fisher said he would not consider any opportunities until after the Sugar Bowl.

“We’re winning, we’re being successful and people want to know why they are winning and being successful at LSU,” Fisher said. “For my situation I told everyone if there is an opportunity for me, ‘Talk to me after the bowl game.'”

Having served as offensive coordinator at LSU since leaving Cincinnati, Fisher said he would like to serve as a head coach at some point in his career.

“I have been very comfortable here for seven years,” he said. “I have had a lot of opportunities and I haven’t moved. I want to be a head coach, but I am looking for an opportunity at the right kind of school where I think they can win.”

Check back regularly for mid-day and nightly updates from New Orleans through game day.

Contact Ken Fowler at kfowler1@nd.edu