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THE IRISH DEFENSE IS IFFY. BUT WITH THE WAY THE OFFENSE CAN PUT UP POINTS, IFFY WILL BE GOOD ENOUGH
2005 RECORD 9-3
RETURNING STARTERS 16
KEY RETURNEES WR Jeff Samardzija (Sr.) Went from unknown to first-team All-America in '05, with 77 receptions and 15 TDs LB Maurice Crum Jr. (Soph.) Defensive linchpin had 57 tackles WR Rhema McKnight (Sr.) Coming back from right knee injury that forced him to miss the last 10 games, he had a team-high 42 catches for 610 yards in '04
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS Coach Charlie Weis has promised to use his " New Jersey rhetoric" to keep star quarterback Brady Quinn from buying into the Heisman hype surrounding him. But seriously, with the 6'4", 227-pound senior back for a second season under his offensive guru, how many mistakes will there be for Weis to correct? The answer: not many.
Robert Bell's first mistake was taking the fight with Tom Zbikowski. His second was entering the ring at Madison Square Garden in an Ohio State football jersey. In June, in his first pro bout, Zbikowski, the Fighting Irish strong safety, dismantled Bell, a tomato can from Akron, knocking him out 49 seconds into the first round.
That heavyweight smackdown was, in a way, a role reversal for Notre Dame, which was humbled by the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl last January. In that 34-20 win, Ohio State amassed 617 yards of total offense. So with nine starters back on the Irish defense its Fiesta performance raises the question: Is that a good thing?
Zbikowski says it is. Several of the Buckeyes' big plays were the result of "mental breakdowns," he says-miscues that were addressed during spring drills, when the defense "got back to basics." After the Fiesta Bowl loss, the party line coming out of South Bend was: It's not that we're not fast; it's that we didn't play fast.
Just in case the Irish aren't as fast as they think they are, there's a Plan B. Included in the 2006 recruiting class are two of the nation's top corners, Raeshon McNeil and Darrin Walls. "I don't care if the guy playing is a freshman or a senior," says coach Charlie Weis. "I want the best guys out there."