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Defense couldn’t stop final drive

Joe Hettler | Tuesday, October 28, 2003

The mantra of the Notre Dame defense that always seemed to come up big in clutch situations last year was “bend, but don’t break.”

This year, it seems to be the exact opposite.

For the second time this season, the Notre Dame defense took the field needing only to stop the opponent’s final drive to lock up a win. The first time, against Washington State in the season opener, the Irish surrendered a touchdown but still won in overtime. Saturday, after Notre Dame had taken a 25-24 lead, the defense allowed the Eagles to drive 39 yards to kick a game-winning field goal.

“You go out there and get a chance to win the ballgame, and we couldn’t get off the field,” a disgusted Courtney Watson said Saturday. “It’s very disheartening.”

Some of Notre Dame’s defensive woes Saturday’s game stemmed from a multitude of injuries. Not only did safety Glenn Earl not travel to Boston because of an unexplained injury, but Darrell Campbell sat out the entire second half. And when safety Quentin Burrell hobbled off the field with an injury, Notre Dame was left trying to piece together a defense.

“We were scrambling, all right,” defensive coordinator Kent Baer muttered.

The Notre Dame defense, which is ranked 35th in the nation in yards allowed but 73rd in points allowed, has only held Pittsburgh to less than 20 points. Saturday, Boston College quarterback Quincy Porter seemed to pass at will through a Notre Dame secondary in the first half. The Irish cut down Porter’s completion percentage in the second half, mostly because they substituted linebacker Jerome Collins for a safety.

Still, Notre Dame used eight different defensive backs in Saturday’s game, including two players who didn’t play a defensive down until this year (Freddie Parrish and Quentin Burrell) and one more who has seen only limited action this year (Lionel Bolen). And while the players weren’t willing to pin the poor defensive performance on the mix-and-match secondary – “To stand back and say we had too many young guys playing in the secondary, I don’t think you’re going to see too many on this defense saying that,” Watson said – the coaches weren’t so forward.

“We had to create some plays and it pulls you out of your comfort zone,” Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said. “When you don’t have that, you have to come up with some designs and some things you normally don’t practice, things you have to patchwork and play through.”

“We made a couple of adjustments, tried to keep things as simple as we could,” Baer added later. “But a couple of those kids were put in a bad situation.”