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Football: Crum Jr. has a night to remember

Ken Fowler | Monday, October 8, 2007

LOS ANGELES – When Maurice Crum Jr. came to Notre Dame, his dad, a former All-American linebacker at Miami, told his son the two couldn’t even compare achievements until the younger Crum returned an interception for a touchdown.

It might be time to revise those standards.

The senior middle linebacker had a game for the ages Saturday, leading Notre Dame to its first win of the season. Crum forced four turnovers, had 80 return yards, made seven tackles, and scored the first touchdown of his career. The Walter Camp Football Foundation named him national defensive player of the week, but Crum’s score was on his second forced fumble and subsequent recovery – not an interception.

So can Crum finally argue with his dad about who played better?

“Definitely,” Crum said after the game. “I’m most happy because I haven’t had a chance to talk to my dad yet, but I want to talk to him to tell him I finally scored and he can get off my back.

“… I don’t care if he’s asleep. I will call him until he answers the phone.”

While Crum was hoping to impress his father, Irish coach Charlie Weis didn’t need many words to describe Crum’s game.

“He had a bunch of big plays,” Weis said.

For a while, it looked as if Crum’s night would end early. He got kicked in the shins in the second quarter and left the field for the locker room with about six minutes left in the first half.

Weis figured Crum just needed a little rest and treatment.

“I said, ‘Let’s send him in now. We’ll get through the rest of the second quarter. Let’s see if we can have him for the third quarter,'” Weis said. “And I think that turned out to be a pretty good decision.”

A week after playing below his own expectations, Crum called his performance the best game he had ever had – on any level.

Crum had only one solo tackle and an assist in Notre Dame’s 33-19 loss to Purdue on Sept. 29. That irked the senior from Riverview, Fla.

“I got a message board on my door in my room, and I wrote, ‘You owe them.’ I pride myself to be a leader [of] the defense, and any time I don’t show up, I don’t think it bodes well for the team,” Crum said. “So I felt like I definitely had to come back and bounce back – not necessarily for myself, but I put a lot of pressure on myself for my teammates.”

What a difference a week makes.

Crum officially had one forced fumble, had a hand in forcing another, recovered both and returned one 34 yards for a touchdown; intercepted two passes, had five solo tackles, added two assists and threw in an eight-yard sack for good measure.

But for Crum, it wasn’t without a little bit of a fall. Quite literally.

On his second interception, Crum returned the ball 33 yards – until he ran into the back of cornerback Ambrose Wooden, who was trying to block for him.

“He did look like me on the last interception,” Weis said. “I said to him, ‘Thanks for making me feel a little bit better physically after falling on your face on the last one.’ He told me he wanted to waste the clock, that he didn’t want to score too soon.”

Crum admitted to the fib with a one-word description of himself.

“Clumsy,” he said. “I bumped into Ambrose [Wooden] trying to let him get in front of me. … I just, I bumped into Ambrose and I was being clumsy. I’m kicking myself for that now.”

He might be clumsy, but he has Weis’ trust. With the game tied at 6-6 midway through the third quarter, referees initially ruled Crum’s first forced fumble down on contact. Weis wasn’t sure what to do – so he asked Crum.

“I trusted him on that challenge,” Weis said. “I didn’t know whether or not there was going to be a review. … He told me, ‘Coach, I had the ball out,’ and that’s why I challenged it. It’s good when you have a senior captain that can tell you to go ahead and use up your one challenge.”

Crum ended the night leading the Notre Dame Victory March in the locker room with the rest of the team following along – an Irish post-victory tradition.

“We sung it twice, actually,” Crum said. “It’s been a long time.”