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FOOTBALL: Aggression can be a team strength

Ken Fowler | Friday, October 5, 2007

Nobody wants to see a team of thugs.

Avoiding fights is a good thing, but red-blooded Americans are more than willing to support a team that shows some aggression and its fair share of confidence.

And for good reason.

That’s the kind of personalities, by and large, we have.

The balance between confidence and cockiness – and between aggression and stupidity – however, is tough to measure.

Against Purdue, freshman Brian Smith was flagged for a late hit on Boilermakers quarterback Curtis Painter. Painter, 10 yards away from the first-down marker on third-and-long, was angling himself toward the boundary. Smith expedited his visit to the sidelines with something more than a push but less than a walloping, and the referees called a personal foul, extending Purdue’s drive, which ended with a Curtis Summers field goal to put the Boilermakers up 26-6.

Even though Smith hit Painter inbounds – and the call was, well, bogus – the play was stupid. There are certainly times to make that hit, even if you’re going to get a penalty, but not when you’re down 20 and about to force a much-needed punt.

But there’s something refreshing about Smith’s play. He was showing a little passion, a little emotion. It was an unusual sight out of the Notre Dame defense, which hadn’t seen that type of play since the rain was coming down in East Lansing, Mich.

It was something of a good sight, but Brian Smith’s aggression needs to be harnessed.

Certainly, seeing a freshman make an impact on defense with a high-energy playing style is a positive. But that needs to be corralled into a positive, not a negative.

So there’s room for hope.

A bigger reason for hope is what happened in practice Tuesday.

Charlie Weis explained the situation this way:

“We had one of our defensive players stone one of our offensive players right at the line of scrimmage, or even for a minus-one. And everyone walked back to the huddle. I stopped practice at that time and say, ‘I don’t get it.’ I go, ‘This guy just … stoned a guy at the line of scrimmage, pancakes him to the ground. You would think as a guy on that group, you’d be excited. …’

“I think that sometimes you just have to make them aware of the perception that they’re worrying more.”

Having a head coach instill in the team a desire for emotion is something Notre Dame hasn’t seen since Lou Holtz was grabbing facemasks and worrying about the University of Navy.

And it’s even more important for Weis because he’s been adamant about his skepticism for emotion-toying gimmicks before games. Weis still believes that uniform changes and pre-game ploys last at most a quarter, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a fan of emotion.

“It doesn’t matter what level it’s on – pro, college, it doesn’t make a difference. What happens is, that stuff lasts for the start of the game,” Weis said. “Then, early in the game, whether it’s pro or college, if you withstand the flurry that happens at the start of the game, then it’s just a game.”

And, as Weis knows, if you don’t play with emotion, it doesn’t matter – college or pro.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Ken Fowler at [email protected]