Notre Dame, Ind – Greg Mattison and his defense turned in an excellent performance against Nebraska. Despite some sloppy tackling, the defense kept this game from being a blowout because the offense was invisible out there at times. While the offense only put ten points on the board, the return teams added another 14 and returned the ball well all day long.
The Nebraska offense is a machine. It wears down its opponents and is capable of posting 40+ points on anyone. The Notre Dame defense, however, held its own and shut the Huskers down in the fourth quarter. When they were supposed to be worn out and unable to stop the juggernaut, Notre Dame’s defense was its strongest.
Rocky Boiman played the game of his life. Many people say he is not good and is a weak link. These people are so off base its not even funny. Boiman is the most solid tackling linebacker that Notre Dame has. He was also laying Eric Crouch out. He missed him on Crouch’s 62-yard touchdown run, but other than that, he was hitting him at every available opportunity. Boiman ended the day with two sacks.
Anthony Denman also came up huge for the Irish. He showed why he is an All American candidate and a preseason Butkus candidate. The senior captain from Texas was all over the field. He was stuffing the run and getting at Eric Crouch. He and Tony Driver both were laying people out all day long. The defense was a big question mark heading into the year, but it looks like it is a nasty one!
The return teams single handily put Notre Dame back in the game. The defense was holding on, which kept Notre Dame in the game, but it was the return teams that got the Irish into the game. Notre Dame had great success returning kicks all day. From the opening kickoff, Notre Dame’s return teams had their way with the Huskers.
Julius Jones showed once again how explosive he is. His third-quarter 100-yard kickoff return put Notre Dame back into the game after they had just gone down 21-7. Things were looking pretty bleak until Julius took the kickoff all the way for the touchdown. Joey Getherall followed Jones later in the game in the fourth quarter when he took a punt 83 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
All of Notre Dame’s kickoffs seemed to be one tackler away from a touchdown. Jones also had a 45-yard return while Tony Driver and David Givens also both had excellent returns. The lanes were huge, and it appears as if special teams might be a strength of this Irish team. Nick Setta was once again 4-4 on his kicks (3-3 on PATs, and 1-1 on FGs). He is now 6-6 on PAT’s and 2-2 on FG’s – when was the last time an Irish kicker did that?
One disturbing note on special teams was Matt McNew. He had an excellent game last week, but put two kickoffs out of bounds and failed to get a touchback this week. He will need to improve on that next week since Purdue has faster return men than Nebraska.
It was also very encouraging to see Notre Dame get pressure on Crouch. Nebraska’s offensive line is one of, if not the best in the nation, and Notre Dame registered three sacks on Eric Crouch, which is pretty good since he only threw 15 passes. If Notre Dame can get a similar pass rush next week against Purdue, they will limit Drew Brees’ big plays and help the corners out greatly.
Notre Dame has not played a full game in a while. This week the defense and special teams were hitting on all cylinders while the offense stumbled all day long. If Notre Dame can put together a full 60 minutes of football on both sides of the ball, a rematch with Nebraska is not out of the question (at 10-1, the Irish could very well play for a title – Florida State did it in ’98 and ’93).
Next week is a different kind of challenge for the defense. Can the front seven get enough pressure on Brees to rattle him and force him to make bad throws? If Notre Dame does not get after Drew Brees, he will pick Notre Dame’s secondary apart. Brock Williams and Shane Walton seem to be an improvement from ’99, so if the front seven helps them, Notre Dame can very well stop Purdue next week.
Will the defense be able to get up next week against the Boilermakers, though? They have to beat Purdue after two hard-fought games, but as long as Notre Dame comes to play next week, Notre Dame will win.