While tonight’s game will go down as one of the more embarassing of the Weis Era, a few young and one old defender showed some heart and played really good games despite the lopsided loss. Robert Blanton, Darius Fleming, and Pat Kuntz played their hearts out as far as I could tell and did what they could to keep Notre Dame in the game early.
Blanton started the game off right for the defense with an interception on Mark Sanchez’s first pass attempts of the game. Blanton nearly intercepted another pass and made what should have been a tackle for loss on a reverse in the first quarter (the officials gave USC a ridiculous forward progress spot – not that it mattered much). The future certainly looks bright for Blanton who filled in for Terrail Lambert again this week. It is going to be very interesting to see what happens when Darrin Walls returns next year. Walls was clearly the best corner on the team before being dismissed this semester and Raeshon McNeil has become a pretty good starting corner himself this year. Throw in Gary Gray who got his second pick of the season tonight and corner will be one position where we have a lot of depth in 2009.
Fleming lost his helmet on one play in the second quarter but kept pursuing the play. He was all over the field before getting hurt and like Blanton, he appears to have a very bright future. It will be interesting to see where he ends up playing next year – whether it be at OLB or DE if the Irish play more 4-3 defense next season.
Kuntz meanwhile was a warrior yet again. He isn’t the most talented kid and probably wouldn’t start on most top defenses, but the kid flat out leaves everything on the field and plays with more heart than anyone else out on the field. He was disruptive early on and sniffed out a couple screens in the first half. Give me 11 defenders with the heart of Pat Kuntz and I’ll show you one heck of a defense.
A couple other young defenders played tough as well such as Kerry Neal and Ethan Johnson. Junior Toryan Smith also made another case for a starting role in next year’s defense once Maurice Crum graduates with a strong effort.