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Football: Smith delivers INT for touchdown for defense

Bill Brink | Monday, April 21, 2008

In a spring game with an abridged scoring system and a running game clock, 176 yards allowed isn’t a bragging point for a defense. The play of Harrison Smith, however, was.

Smith, the Blue-Gold game’s defensive Most Valuable Player, returned an interception for a touchdown and made five tackles in the game.

“Last year you obviously try and help your team with practice and doing show team and all that stuff,” he said. “But getting out there with the big boys is a lot of fun.”

Smith picked off a Jimmy Clausen pass intended for tight end Mike Ragone on the Blue Team’s 15-yard line and ran the ball in for the touchdown, flipping over the goal line to celebrate.

“Ragone ran an out route, and I just waited on the ball. I got set up for it and just took advantage of it,” Smith said.

Smith surprised himself with the amount of times he heard his name during the game.

“I didn’t think I would hear my name that much,” he said. “I think a couple of times they [the tackles] actually belonged to [safety Kyle] McCarthy.”

Smith is part of Irish coach Charlie Weis’ plan to counter three-wide receiver sets. Smith, a safety, will line up with rising senior safeties McCarthy and David Bruton. This formation, Weis said, gives the Irish the versatility to cover three-wide receiver pass plays as well as single-back runs out of similar sets.

“We’re trying to get interchangeable parts so that we can play the same defense with what we call ‘base people’ with linebackers with a big body like Scott Smith,” Weis said. “Then play it with a smaller body that is more of a safety type like a Harrison Smith.

“The reason why you do that is so when you’re matched up with all these teams that use multiple wide receivers, if you have a three safety defense out there, and they go ahead and spread you out, you’re already in position to play them. But all of a sudden, if you put a three wide receiver and they pack it in, now you don’t have to give up a lot of one back runs which we gave up last year.”

Smith will go to defensive coordinator Corwin Brown, he said, to learn about the safety position, and to assistant head coach (defense) Jon Tenuta to study being a linebacker. He said he also studies his assignments often.

The offense will not scheme to allow the defense to perfect the system in practice, Smith said. Rather, the defense will react to the offensive package.

“The offense just does what they do. If they think it might be more of a pass tendency, and we might want to blitz or something, they might throw me out there,” he said. “If it’s maybe more of a run situation, they might put Scott out there to get a bigger look on the field.”

Fifth-year senior linebacker Maurice Crum, Jr., said the implementation of the system has gone fairly well.

“Harrison’s a great athlete and anytime you have a guy like him, you just kind of have to find a way to get him on the field,” Crum said. “Since I’ve been here it’s just been about getting the guys on the field. The guys who make plays and the guys who show up to practice get on the field, and Harrison has been one of those guys.”

There are no easy fixes for a defense that allowed 195.3 rushing yards per game last season, but Smith is a part of what appears to be a step in the right direction.

“I gained some confidence,” he said. “I can see what I did wrong and correct that, and see what I did right and keep it going into next season.”