Oct. 12, 2002
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The Notre Dame defensive line wants to score,too.
The linemen have seen Irish cornerbacks and an Irish linebacker return interceptions for touchdowns. Heading into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh (5-1), the linemen believe it is their turn.
“We’re mad because we haven’t gotten any interceptions and scored,” tackle Darrell Campbell said. “We’ll be ready to run it in if we get the opportunity.”
No. 8 Notre Dame (5-0) has scored four defensive touchdowns and set up three others, helping bail out an offense that has struggled frequently. Leading 10-7 last week against Stanford, the Irish defense scored twice late in the third quarter to put the game away.
“We believe we can score at any time,” nose guard Cedric Hilliard said. “That’s one of our goals – to go out there and take the other team’s heart from them.”
The Panthers have struggled in recent years with turnovers, although they have cut down this year.
“We’re making strides in that area,” Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris said. “I hope the emphasis helps us against Notre Dame.”
Playing the turnover-hungry Irish should be a good test for the Panthers to see how much they have improved from last year, when the Irish forced five turnovers in a 24-7 victory.
Pittsburgh quarterback Rod Rutherford said Notre Dame’s opportunistic style won’t change the way the Panthers play.
“We just need to play smart,” he said. “If we can play mistake free, or close to mistake free, and just let our defense play with a long field, I think we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
A chance is all the Irish linemen want. While they haven’t yet scored a touchdown, they have been factors. With the score tied 7-7 against Michigan, defensive end Justin Tuck rushed quarterback John Navarre in the end zone forcing a Wolverine lineman to hold him. A safety was called and helped ignite an Irish rally.
Against Stanford, with the Cardinal leading 7-3 in the third quarter, Campbell sacked Stanford quarterback Chris Lewis for an 11-yard loss, which sparked a three-touchdown scoring spree by the Irish.
Opposing coaches, like Michigan’s Lloyd Carr and Stanford’s Buddy Teevens, say the key to Notre Dame’s defense is the way the line does its job and frees up others to make tackles.
Their teammates have noticed.
“Our defensive line is a beast,” cornerback Shane Walton said. “They’re playing great. We’re not even blitzing and we’re getting sacks.”
The Irish, who had 25 sacks all of last year, already have 15 this season, including four by defensive end Ryan Roberts.
The Irish linemen say if they do get the ball, they plan to score.
“If somebody is on me, I’ll probably pitch it to one of the smaller guys,” Hilliard said. “I’m not going to be selfish about it.”
Reminded that the coaching staff probably wouldn’t want defensive linemen pitching the ball around, Hilliard said, “I guess it could be a bad idea to pitch it.
“But we have confidence we can score, and I know the rest of my teammates are going to be around me, so I’m sure nothing bad will come of it if I do pitch it.”