Oct. 10, 2003
by Brendan Lynch
This Saturday the Fighting Irish will be traveling to Pittsburgh, Pa., to play on the new Heinz Field. However the Irish will be facing an old challenge in Panther wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Catching 12 touchdown passes and gaining 1,005 receiving yards last year, Fitzgerald is well on his way to improving those numbers after only four games this season. He has already caught nine touchdown passes and holds 583 receiving yards on 32 receptions.
Adding to the challenge will be the accurate arm of Rod Rutherford, the Panther quarterback who is second in the nation with a quarterback rating of 182.6. Rutherford has 1,171 yards passing, roughly half of which have gone to Fitzgerald.
Irish secondary coach Trent Walters commented on the threat posed by the Panther passing game.
“It’s an extreme concern. Rutherford is having a great year, and part of the reason is that he has a wealth of receivers to throw to, Fitzgerald being just one of them.”
Walters has seen his fair share of quality receivers from his time spent coaching the linebackers for the Minnesota Vikings from 1994-2001. He is well aware of what it takes to get the job done.
“We have to play the best we have played all year to have a chance. We have to play the coverage we have been playing and try to execute a little better,” Walters says of his secondary.
He added that when it is game time, the defensive backs will need to be able to do everything they work on in practice and do them well in order to succeed against Fitzgerald and the Panther receivers.
One key that led to an Irish victory against Pittsburgh last year was the pass rush provided by the defensive front that recorded eight sacks against Rutherford. Walters hopes the same will happen this year.
“The best defense is the pass rush and quarterback sacks. We hope to be able to put pressure on Rutherford again,” he commented.
One noticeable difference in the defense this year is the fact that they have yet to score for the Irish despite their solid effort. This is most likely caused by the opportunities created from turnovers, or lack thereof.
“We were hot last year, and sometimes success begets success. When you create turnovers you get into a flow where they keep coming. We haven’t gotten to the point where we consistently make turnovers,” Walters said.
But the Irish defense, especially the secondary, is very confident and looks to turn things around by playing its best against the Panthers on Saturday.