Notre Dame's Walls motivated
Darrin Walls watched helplessly from the sideline when Jon Baldwin caught a corner fade for the tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter of Pitt's quadruple-overtime victory in 2008 at Notre Dame.
Walls covered Baldwin step for step until the Pitt receiver stretched out to make a spectacular, diving, 36-yard catch in the second quarter of a 27-22 victory over the Fighting Irish last season at Heinz Field.
While those two plays continue to haunt Walls, the Notre Dame senior cornerback swears he isn't stung by Baldwin's comments Monday that he "never even heard" of the former Woodland Hills standout before they played last November. And he didn't know if Walls was physical because Walls didn't press him at the line of scrimmage or tackle him.
"I've seen what he said," Walls said Wednesday. "I really don't care about it. I know I'm a different player from last year, and so is he. I don't really talk much. We'll see what happens Saturday."
After allowing Baldwin five catches for 142 yards and that touchdown last season, Walls knows his matchup against Baldwin could play a pivotal role when Pitt (2-2) visits Notre Dame (2-3) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly isn't about to concede defeat.
"Clearly, we have a great deal of respect for Jonathan Baldwin," Kelly said. "Darrin Walls is a pretty good football player. Whether it is Moss vs. Revis — I don't know if I would put it at that degree — but you've got two really good players out there that want to win. Within our scheme, (Wall's) going to have to defend (Baldwin) one-on-one sometimes. We feel good about that matchup."
That's because the 6-foot, 190-pound Walls is tied with senior outside linebacker Kerry Neal for most career starts (26) by a Fighting Irish defensive starter, is Notre Dame's fifth-leading tackler, with 24 and leads the team with two interceptions and three pass breakups.
"He's been outstanding," Kelly said. "He's our best cover corner consistently. He's played through injury. He's probably been our most professional and locked-in player. I say professional from a day-to-day standpoint. He is very purposeful in what he does. He has been somebody that we can really point to in our senior class and say that's mental and physical toughness. He's displayed that each and every week."
Although Walls downplays the importance of beating Pitt because it's his hometown, he knows covering Baldwin will be a major challenge because Walls is giving up five inches and 40 pounds to the receiver and is at a major disadvantage in competing for passes in mid-air.
"He's so tall, and he goes after the ball and catches everything," Walls said of Baldwin, who leads Pitt with 15 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns this season. "I haven't seen too many tapes where he's dropping balls.
"I think his biggest asset is catching the ball at its highest point. His vertical (leap) is probably about 40 inches or so, but we use different techniques that will be used on Saturday."
Walls wouldn't divulge just what techniques he will use, but he isn't hiding that he has additional incentive to outplay Baldwin, an Aliquippa product, and beat the Panthers.
"Darrin Walls is an outstanding player," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He's as good an athlete as we'll face at the corner position all year long.
"When you get two guys from the same hometown playing against each other, there's always that extra motivation. I'm sure that he's looking forward to it, and I'm sure JB is, too."