One week after surrendering 192 passing yards in his cornerback debut, Irish junior Bennett Jackson is fired up for the chance to prove Notre Dame’s pass defense won’t be a liability this season.
Irish junior Bennett Jackson makes his first defensive start at home Satuday afternoon.
Jackson’s first start last Saturday didn’t go exactly as planned. Questions would have remained for the junior and his inexperienced counterparts on the edge of the Notre Dame defense no matter what they did against the run-heavy Navy offense. Trey Miller did nothing to quell concerns by completing 14 of his first 16 passing attempts, but he didn't shake the confidence of Jackson’s group.
“Every game is a new opportunity to do great things,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. I know the other guys are looking forward to it. If they aren’t obviously they shouldn’t be on the team, but I know all of them are.”
Purdue presents a new challenge. The Boilermakers picked up 372 passing yards in their season opener last week against Western Kentucky. They have a handful of small, quick receivers led by senior Antavian Edison and junior O.J. Ross, who combined for 129 of those yards last week.
Jackson said the fact that he and fellow starter, freshman KeiVarae Russell, have a better idea of what to expect Saturday afternoon should help them play more aggressive than a week ago.
“I would say just maybe if I had any jitters, it kind of relaxed me more let’s you know what the game is going to be like,” he said. “Film helped me more. Showing me what I kind of did wrong, not necessarily wrong all the way but what I lacked a little bit. I now know to concentrate more on the littler things because they actually make a big difference.”
The junior admitted to being a little too hesitant against the Midshipmen receivers when they showed an unexpected spread look on their two scoring drives in Dublin. Jackson and Russell both got burned for big plays on a three-play, 75-yard scoring drive to start the second half in Dublin.
Irish co-defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks said sometimes a bad beat can be a good thing in the long run for a developing defensive back. Cooks played cornerback at Iowa and later in the National Football League. He still remembers his first collegiate game when he gave up a long touchdown to Biletnikoff Award winner Terry Glenn at Ohio State.
“We say have a short term memory in the field of play like for example during a game. If you can bring something out of that game positive or negative that’s going to make you better, I’m all about holding on to it and using that for motivation,” he said this August. “At cornerback you’re out there on that island for 70 plays. You may give up one or two, it is what it is but you’ve got to reset your mind that, ’Hey I’m the best D.B. I’m the best athlete on this field’ every time, every snap.”
Jackson’s confidence didn’t seem shaken this week after a few slip-ups against Navy. The Irish shut down the Midshipmen passing attack after the touchdown drive, and he played strong and disciplined in the run game — finishing second only to senior Manti Te’o with seven tackles.
Purdue will throw as many as three different quarterbacks at the Irish secondary. Caleb TerBush will start the game after serving a one-game suspension last week. Robert Marve, who passed for 295 yards a week ago in his place, will likely see the field at some point. Robert Henry, the team’s most athletic option under center, also did enough to be included in Notre Dame’s scouting report. Despite their differences, Jackson said a rotating trio of quarterback won’t do much to complicate things for him.
“You study their tendencies and what not, but really whatever quarterback is in the game, if I have my eyes on my guy which it should be, the quarterback really doesn’t make a difference. The ball’s in the air. I read and react on the receiver. I’m not going to be looking at the quarterback,” Jackson said.
The quarterbacks, and most of Notre Dame Stadium, will be looking at Jackson.