September 13, 2005

Minter's game plan sparks Irish upset

Get pressure on the quarterback. Don't give up big plays. Create turnovers. Sounds fairly simple, right? Not when facing the defending Big Ten champs, who feature a balanced offense and a handful of the nation's top skill players.

That's why Notre Dame assistant coach Rick Minter has been selected as the National Coordinator of the Week. Minter, who was hired as the Irish defensive coordinator in the offseason, directed a unit that accomplished all of those daunting goals and sparked a 17-10 upset of then-No. 3 Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

Minter, a former head coach at Cincinnati and defensive coordinator at Notre Dame during the Lou Holtz era, put together a game plan that included a lot of zone blitzing and double coverage on receivers. The results were exactly what he was looking for.

Michigan was able to move the ball with modest success, piling up 337 yards of total offense. But, the Wolverines scored only once on their four drives into the red zone and only four of their 73 plays went for 20 or more yards.

Sophomore quarterback Chad Henne looked confused all game long, often overthrowing receivers and holding the ball too long. Henne went 19 of 44 for 223 yards with a touchdown and a costly interception. The 43 percent completion percentage was the worst of his 14-game career. He also fired four consecutive incompletions on the Wolverines final drive.

Henne's biggest mistake came at the Notre Dame 1 with the Irish leading 17-10 and 5:40 left. He fumbled the ball on a quarterback sneak and safety Chinedum Ndukwe recovered it in the end zone.

Henne was never able to take advantage of receiver Steve Breaston, who is considered one of the nation's most dangerous players. Breaston touched the ball three times on offense, including only one reception for nine yards.

The Wolverines rushing attack was lackluster at best. Highly touted freshman Kevin Grady busted free for a 23-yard gain in the third quarter, but that was the lone highlight. Grady and Mike Hart combined for 83 yards on 21 carries.

"I don't know if you can say enough about our defense," wide receiver Jeff Samardzija told "They were lights out all game and the reason we won this game."

The performance is even more remarkable considering what Minter is working with. Only three starters returned from a Notre Dame defense that ranked 116th out of 117 Division I-A teams in pass defense last season.

Other coordinators of note:

Bradley Dale Peveto made his debut as LSU's special teams coordinator last week and he emerged as possibly the most proud assistant in the nation. The No. 3 Tigers blocked a field goal and created a fumble on a punt, returning both turnovers for touchdowns to spark an emotional, come-from-behind 35-31 win at Arizona State. The Tigers also converted a fake punt for a first down during their first drive, had all five kickoffs go for touchbacks, and Patrick Fisher and Chris Jackson combined to average 52 yards on four punts. The performance will go down as one of the best ever from any LSU special teams unit.

Virginia Tech's Bud Foster has long been considered one of the nation's top defensive coordinators and he put together a masterful game plan in the No. 4 Hokies' 45-0 rout against Duke. The Blue Devils were held to just 35 yards of total offense - the lowest number allowed by Virginia Tech since the 1940s - and had just two plays in Tech territory.

Iowa State defensive coordinator John Skladany also deserves some recognition. Each of the five turnovers the Cyclones forced led to scores in their shocking 23-3 win over arch-rival and then-No. 8 Iowa in what was the biggest upset of the week. The Hawkeyes were never able to drive past the Cyclone 26 and quarterbacks Jason Manson and Drew Tate combined to complete just 15 of 41 passes (36 percent).

Vince Young wasn't supposed to be able to run the ball on Ohio State's vaunted defense and appeared to lack any capable receivers. Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis proved both assumptions false in the No. 2 Longhorns' 25-22 win at then-No. 4 Ohio State. Young's running ability carried the 'Horns on their first two drives and led them to a 10-0 lead. A pair of unproven wideouts also made some clutch plays. Sophomore Billy Pittman, who hadn't caught a single pass entering the season, had five receptions for 130 yards, and classmate Limas Sweed made a spectacular grab on a 24-yard touchdown pass on a perfectly thrown pass from Young with 2:37 left to put the 'Horns ahead for good.

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