Sept. 9, 1999
By JR ROSS
Associated Press Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind.– Purdue quarterback Drew Brees is a nightmare for defensive coordinators. For Clifford Jefferson, he’s a dream come true.
The Notre Dame cornerback can’t wait to face Brees when the 16th-ranked Irish play No. 20 Purdue on Saturday. He’s counting on the Boilermakers quarterback to throw 50 or 60 times, to challenge him constantly.
And to lose a few of those battles.
“My goal is to get at least two interceptions,” Jefferson said with just a touch of brashness. “Maybe I can get more.”
Even though Jefferson knows Notre Dame’s secondary has a reputation for being shaky, he said not to expect any of his fellow defensive backs to be intimidated against pass-happy Purdue in West Lafayette on Saturday. While other defenses might shudder at the thought of Brees coming at them throwing, Jefferson sees this as a chance to finally earn some respect.
“We’re going to have to step up our game to show the whole NCAA that we’re a high-caliber team,” Jefferson said. “Some teams, they don’t respect our secondary.”
Brees has his own scores to settle. He still hasn’t forgotten the two interceptions he threw last year to hand Notre Dame a 31-30 victory. The more damaging came on third-and-long from deep in Purdue territory with less than two minutes to go.
Rather than take a sack, he threw across the middle, where Tony Driver intercepted the ball and returned it to the Purdue 5 to set up the game-winning field goal.
“There were some mistakes in that game that I made that cost us the game toward the end,” Brees said. “What I learned from that was don’t throw late across the middle ever again.”
Brees might not want to give up on the middle just yet. Though the Irish didn’t give up gaudy numbers to Michigan’s passing game (237 yards on 20 completions), quarterback Tom Brady had few problems throwing quick slants to his receivers or longer routes over the middle in the Wolverines’ 26-22 victory.
During Michigan’s final two scoring drives, Brady had five completions of 14 yards or more, including a 28-yarder over the middle to open the second half.
“We expect that we will probably see a little more nickel coverage out of Notre Dame than what Michigan saw,” Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. “We felt like, yes, Michigan made a couple of big plays against them, but they made some big plays against Michigan’s offense, too.”
Jefferson said Notre Dame will have to play more bump-and-run if it hopes to throw off Purdue’s four- and five-wideout scheme that largely relies on three-step quarterback drops and quick timing patterns. If the Irish can’t do that, then Brees will likely do what he always does – throw and throw and throw until a defense has a moment of weakness that turns into six points for the Boilermakers.
“He has got a good presence. He is one of those guys when he gets flushed out of there, he doesn’t panic,” Irish coach Bob Davie said of Brees. “He looks for open receivers on the run. You have got to contain him on those bootlegs.”