The confusion - the hesitation - was detectable in Notre Dame star quarterback Jimmy Clausen's voice when he was asked about the University of Washington defense.
Good or bad?
Not sure, Clausen admitted.
“It’s tough to say which team you’re going to get this week,” Clausen said, trying to come up with a definitive answer. “We just have to prepare like we’re going to get the team that just beat USC, obviously. We don’t want to underestimate them or anything like that.”
When the Huskies take the field today at Notre Dame Stadium for their non-conference showdown against the Fighting Irish, the UW defense will start its fifth game under new coordinator Nick Holt, who, in recent weeks, has not minced his words about the lack of talent on that side of the ball.
But Clausen is correct – even though the then-No. 3 Trojans amassed 250 rushing yards against the UW on Sept. 19, they could not convert any of their 11 third-down opportunities, and were turned away on three red-zone drives on two fumbles and an interception in the 16-13 loss.
Last week, the Huskies allowed 321 rushing yards to Stanford, and got blasted, 34-14.
Maybe that’s going to be the recipe for the remainder of the season – bend on the yardage, don’t break in the red zone.
“That’s the problem with going up against things ... when you don’t have a lot of depth, or a lot of older guys,” Holt said.
For as much recognition Clausen has been getting – he’s on the fringe of serious Heisman Trophy consideration as a junior – the Notre Dame offense has been a chew-you-up, spit-you-out rushing attack:
• The Irish are 18-0 when they outrush opponents under coach Charlie Weis.
• Notre Dame has held the ball longer in all four games this season, by an average of seven minutes in time of possession.
“Regardless of whether you start off throwing or start off running,” Weis said, “when you run the ball effectively, it makes it easier for everything else you are doing.”
Now, it’s up to the Huskies to try and slow down the Irish. And they have obstacles, starting on the defensive line where, aside from senior Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, nobody has been reliable in making plays.
It’s a line that will continue to feature newcomers, notably true freshmen Talia Crichton and Andru Pulu, and sophomore Alameda Ta’amu, who had their worst games last week against the Cardinal.
“I told Andru Pulu and Talia, just going through the season, you can be a no-tackle-, one-tackle-per-game guy at the start, and be a really good player at the end of the season,” Te’o-Nesheim said. “I told them not to get down on themselves if they have a bad game, because every game is a new chance.”
Te’o-Nesheim echoed the same point UW coach Steve Sarkisian made earlier this week about tackling: Don’t be a hero by yourself, be part of a group of defenders who stop plays.
“We’re a team that has wrapped up extremely well,” Sarkisian said. “That’s why we’ve been able to play so successful in the red zone against teams that have moved the ball.”
The Huskies know what’s coming today – power running by tailback Armando Allen, a sprinkle of the “Wildcat” offense and more of both varieties if they can’t get a hold of either of them.
“People should run it at us until we prove we can stop it,” Sarkisian said. “And I believe we will.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442