If you talk to Rover Steve Erzinger, the junior linebacker will tell you that he felt and understood the importance of last week's match up against Kent State and that he recognizes the significance of Saturday's contest against Notre Dame at the new Yankee Stadium.
"We went into that game (Kent State) feeling a little pressure," shares Erzinger. "It was of those games that we felt we could win, although they are a good team, but we felt we matched up well against them."
"Our defense did not play as well as we had hoped, but it was amazing (winning & becoming bowl eligible). For the seniors, you are happy for them because they have been here for a full four years and they are finally getting to a bowl. It's exciting for them, the whole team and the program; since it hasn't happen in a long time
we are pumped."
Many who have watched this years' defense feel they are at least one step behind the expectations bestowed upon them prior to the kick off of the 2010 season.
So, how does Erzinger rate the team's defensive performance thus far?
"I feel that we are coming together as a group pretty well," he shares. "It's just the fact there's those couple big plays that either turn your way or don't and stack up the number of yards on you.
And this year we just haven't as much success with those plays as we usually do, although it's getting better the second of the season. We just need to eliminate those kinds of plays."
One of the differences this season from last is the loss of 2009 leading tackler, Whip linebacker Andrew (A-Rod) Rodriguez who could not overcome his back injury to participate this season.
Initially, it appeared that A-Rod's junior backer partner was spending too much time trying to compensate for Rodriguez's absence.
"Yes, I tried to do that in beginning of the season
I wanted to play better, we had some young guys coming in there and I wasn't sure how they were going to play," confirms Erzinger.
"But to be honest with you, it really didn't work out too well for me in the first four games. I didn't play as well as I would have liked to. And then I kind of just went back to the basics
playing my game plan, playing through the system and I got really comfortable with the guys that are around us. They are doing great jobs - they all know the system. So I haven't really stepped up my game, but starting trusting the guys more and that's alleviated the stress on me in trying to play harder than I need to."
One player that the linebacker knows he can trust and depend on is All-American defensive end Josh McNary, who is now close to being back to 100% of himself after suffering through two week hamstring injury.
"Josh is an extremely good player and having him, especially in our defensive scheme which is based on pressure it's one of those essential factors," Erzinger says of his defensive partner. "Having him in there you always know that he is at least close to the quarterback - getting some pressure, making him scramble and do things. It alleviates a lot of stress on the corners, putting them on island, which is a difficult as it is, but if Josh and rest of pressure get there on time, it makes a lot of difference in how they cover."
Erzinger, who is second on the team in tackles with 61, with 3 ½ tackles for loss, along with 5 pass break-ups is an extremely aggressive and sideline-to-sideline backer. But he can also bring pressure on the pass, and may be called upon on Saturday to do just that.
It is that aggressive style that has resulted in two very critical personal fouls called on Army in games against Hawaii and Rutgers. One could argue that had those plays not been made, that the Black Knights would have been victorious in each game. But one could also argue that those calls were very questionable, to say the least.
However, what one cannot argue is that Steve Erzinger is a linebacker and as such, he will not alter his style of play
because he does what linebackers are trained to do, and that is play hard, hit hard and take no prisoners.
Army is an offense that really hasn't been stopped this year. Nobody can claim that.
- Notre Dame Head Coach, Brian Kelly
But the junior also realizes that he has to more focused, especially in the closing moment of a close contest.
"Some of that's being a little more aware
it was late in the game against Hawaii and he was kind of skating the sidelines and I probably gave him a little bit more push than I should have," he declares.
"The calls are there if they want to make them."
"In the case of the Rutgers' game, I'm not going to let up on the quarterback in the same situation
I'm going to keep going and if they want to make those calls, it's their right to do so. It's just one of those things where it's the game time speed and I will pull up if I feel that I'm wrong, but until then I'm going to keep going."
Even thought Erzinger's contribution has fallen under the radar or at least he doesn't get the level of exposure as some of his defensive teammates, like McNary, caption and middle linebacker Stephen Anderson or nose tackle Mike Gann he is a vital clog in the Black Knights' defense.
Trust me when I say that the Black Knights are not coming into this contest in awe of the Fighting Irish and it has little to do with some football logic where one could look at the similarities between Army and Navy, and deduce that the Midshipmen's success will be the Black Knights' success.
Army potential success on Saturday will be earmarked by their level of preparation and execution.
"Notre Dame has the horses and always has the athletic talent to be a good team and play with anyone, as they showed last week against Utah," stays the linebacker from Houston, Texas. "We feel that we can match up pretty well as far as scheme wise and keep them on their toes and guessing. They have the studs to probably beat us one on one, but we will keep things mixed up and we've got some tough guys are our team, so we aren't going to let up."
Don't expect any letup from Erzinger and his teammates on Saturday
they know what is at stake and appear ready to answer the bell.
"I'm really excited
it's a big time matchup - an old rivalry. It's going to be a lot of fun coming out and playing in that venue," states Erzinger prior to heading off to practice.
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