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Another week, another top receiver for Duff

Chris Federico | Friday, October 17, 2003

There is no rest for the weary.

Nobody knows that better than Notre Dame cornerback Vontez Duff.

Last week, Duff matched up nearly all game with one of the nation’s best receivers in Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald. The undersized Duff, who gave up two inches and 31 pounds to Fitzgerald, more than held his own, preventing the Panther receiver from getting even a single reception in the second half of Notre Dame’s 20-14 win.

This week, the task doesn’t get any easier against Southern California’s Mike Williams, who brings speed and size in his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame.

“I think Vontez has done a great job all year,” Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said. “We’ve matched him up against some of the better players in the country to date, and he’s stood the test very well.”

Like Fitzgerald, Williams is one of the best in the business. Last year, he burned the Irish – and Duff – for 10 catches and 169 yards with two touchdowns. But for Duff, guarding such a talented receiver is nothing new, having defended players like Fitzgerald, Washington State’s Devard Darling or Michigan’s Braylon Edwards.

“Whether it’s Michigan or Michigan State or Washington State, whoever it is, I just have to play my game and have confidence in myself and our team that we’ll get the job done,” Duff said.

“It’s just another No. 1 to me,” he added, commenting on the fact that almost every great receiver he’s seen this year – including Fitzgerald, Williams and Michigan’s Braylon Edwards – has worn the number one.

But according to Irish defensive coordinator Kent Baer, the number on their jerseys is where the similarity ends for Fitzgerald and Williams. While both are big, physical receivers, the two have different styles of play and operate in vastly different offenses.

“It’s a whole different offense,” Baer said. “They’re still different guys. About the only similarity is they wear number one.”

One thing Williams has that Fitzgerald did not is many other weapons on offense.

For instance, Williams has the benefit of a speedy and dangerous receiver on the other side of the field in senior Keary Colbert to take some of the defensive pressure off the sophomore.

The Trojans also have three running backs in Hershel Dennis, LenDale White and Reggie Bush that each average over four yards a carry and have 11 touchdowns between them.

“They have great receivers,” Baer said. “Keary Colbert is as good as there is. He’s fast, and he’s really their go-to guy as much as No. 1 [Williams]. That’s their offense – good speed, and they spread the field. It’s what they do.”

Like last week, Willingham believes that the onus of stopping the Trojan passing game lies not just on Duff and his coverage of the big receiver, but on the entire defense.

“It’s not just a test of one individual, because if any offense has all day to throw the ball, then their receivers are going to get open regardless of how good your coverage is,” Willingham said. “So it has to be a total team effort, and I think we’ve done a good job of playing good team defense so far.”