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September 24, 2010
Zeke Motta got up Sunday morning, grabbed breakfast, then went back to sleep.
Whether the safety had earned that extra rest might be up for debate in the mind of head coach Brian Kelly, but there was no doubt Motta needed it after playing nearly every defensive snap the night before.
The sophomore finished with a team-leading 11 tackles and his first career interception. But he was also targeted by Michigan State's slot receivers. Motta would prefer to remember his pick in the end zone, but those bad angles and bad alignments will probably stick with him most.
"It was exhausting but I think mentally I was more in the tank," Motta said. "After a game like that and coming out and thinking about the things you maybe could have done differently, it kind of sucks."
Motta was forced into action by an ankle sprain suffered by Jamoris Slaughter against Purdue, meaning he made his first career start against Michigan and his first road start a week later. With the Irish secondary already ailing, Motta became a target for Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins.
On the first play of the Spartans' first touchdown drive, Motta was whistled for a horse collar tackle on running back Edwin Baker. On the next play he got caught out of position defending receiver B.J. Cunningham in the slot, lining up to the inside of the wide out and letting him run unmolested into the flat.
Cousins hit Cunningham for a pitch-and-catch 27-yard gain.
"Zeke is going to give you everything," Kelly said. "You ask for his arm, he'll give you his arm. He'll give you everything. That's not good enough just to run around and be tough, you've got to be in the right position.
"So for Zeke the development is we know you're going to compete, we know you're going to play hard, you've got to be in the right position. You can't roll down over No. 2 and be three yards inside him when they run a bubble for 16 yards up the sideline. You're over the top of him. So those are coachable things. Those are things we feel like we can get him to that next step because he's a very good athlete, he's a tough kid. We've just got to have him pay attention to detail, and he wants to do that. That's a good thing."
Kelly's staff couldn't correct that during the game, with Motta victimized again on the first play of the next series, this time when Keshawn Martin snared a 14-yard pass in the flat. Once again, Motta took a bad angle in chasing down the slot receiver.
Throw in a pass interference penalty on Michigan State's game-tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and it added up to a rough night for Motta. But Notre Dame couldn't exactly turn the game into a teachable moment while it was happening. That's what this week was for in preparation for Stanford, although the Irish should get more out of Slaughter this weekend.
"I'm good physically, I just need to be on my business every play and every call and know what to do," Motta said. "To be honest with you, I felt pretty prepared during the week (last week). I kind of knew what role I had to play because of Jamoris being out. I didn't really switch up my routine at all. Being out there in a hostile environment in the game, first road game out there starting the whole game, I was a little bit nervous."
Notre Dame needs that anxiety to calm this weekend. The fact experience might actually be on Motta's side can only help that cause.