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Walker had Irish on run, but Bruins blew his cover

Defensive coordinator's plan ruined when Notre Dame circumvents UCLA's `prevent' at end.

October 22, 2006|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — UCLA defensive end Bruce Davis sat at his locker stall, a good half-hour after the game ended, in full uniform, with his helmet on.

Getting undressed meant leaving Saturday behind, and he didn't want to leave it.

Notre Dame had won, 20-17, it said so on the scoreboard, but the numbers didn't add up.

UCLA won 59 minutes to Notre Dame's one.

The Bruins defense generally frustrated Notre Dame for 77 of its 80 offensive plays.

But what about those last three?

Zing, zing, zing, game over.

"Three plays," a disgusted Justin Hickman said.

Hickman, who played a dominating game from his end position, had three of the UCLA's five sacks of Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn.

"No words can explain the way we feel right now," Hickman said. "I really don't know what to say."

UCLA made 74 tackles but came up one short.

Where have we heard that before?

In December 1998, with a national title-game berth at stake, UCLA's defense needed to make one tackle against Miami to earn a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.

It didn't happen then, it didn't happen Saturday, but the circumstances were entirely different.

That UCLA team couldn't tackle anyone. This one tackled almost everyone.

Saturday was seconds from becoming the biggest win of Karl Dorrell's developing coaching career and at-long-last redemption for a defense that for years had been blamed for the Bruins' underachievement.

It should have been a sweet, sleepy plane ride home for first-year defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who had answers for almost everything Notre Dame's Charlie Weis threw at the Bruins.

"I was trying to mix up my calls the whole game because I know Charlie's a smart rascal," Walker said. "So I tried to mix it up."

Three plays.

Notre Dame, down by four, with no timeouts, took over at its own 20 with 1:02 left.

Quinn threw 21 yards to Jeff Samardzija, 14 yards to David Grimes and 45 more to Samardzija for the game-winner. Samardzija, drafted by the Chicago Cubs as a pitcher, ran a back-door slider route, slipping into space in front of Bruins linebacker Christian Taylor, then avoiding free safety Dennis Keyes, then outracing everyone else.

"We had calm heads," Samardzija said of the comeback.

UCLA had sore ones.

After making Quinn look like Ryan Leaf for most of the game, UCLA made him look like Joe Montana.

What happened?

On the last drive, Walker put the Bruins defense in a "cover 2" zone, sometimes derisively known as "prevent."

It wasn't that he wasn't trying to be aggressive, Walker said. He had mixed his defenses the entire game, with great success.

His plan on the last drive was to play zone on the first three plays and then go after Quinn.

Quinn completed his first two passes.

"I just wanted to get one more zone called and make a tackle," Walker said. "And then, 'OK, now we got to do what we got to do not to let them in the end zone.' "

On the third play, though, Quinn and Samardzija connected on the big strike.

"And then it hit," Walker said of the touchdown. "So I never got a chance to get to my pressures."

Walker never imagined Notre Dame could go 80 yards in three plays.

On its previous two scoring drives, both field goals, the Irish needed 14 and 19 plays.

So UCLA's defensive coordinator may have left his best scheme in his hip pocket.

It was a tough loss to take after the way Walker had coached and his Bruins had played.

"There's nothing else that needs to be said about that," Davis said of his coach's defensive strategy on the last drive. "If coach Walker wants to call cover 2, we'll line up and play cover 2. We've just got to execute. It wasn't a bad play call; we've got to tackle. That's just what it comes down to. ... If we made a tackle, you guys would be asking me totally different questions."

The loss dropped the Bruins to 4-3. It also dropped their heads and bowl fortunes.

Players stumbled out of the visitors' quarters at Notre Dame Stadium. Some looked dazed as they grabbed their boxed lunches and headed toward the bus, toward next week, toward Washington State.

"I guess we just broke down, man," linebacker Reggie Carter said. "We played as hard as we could, we're supposed to play 60 minutes, but we really played like 59.

"It hurts. I never experienced anything like that."

Bruce Davis eventually took his helmet off.

"Don't let all the Notre Dame hype fool you," he said. "They're a good team, but they can be beaten and they should have been beaten."

Cornerback Rodney Van talked about the lessons learned.

"We played a hell of a game for 59 minutes and 30 seconds," Van said. "But you have to play 60 minutes."

Mostly, there were sick feelings.

"We've got to put this behind us," Van said. "But it still hurts. It's not going to go away."

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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