SOUTH BEND – Bennett Jackson wasn’t setting a good example at the start of a Notre Dame season that will end Saturday when the No. 25 Irish (8-4) play Rutgers (6-6) in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
The senior cornerback was letting being named the only defensive captain weigh too heavily on him.
I was just trying to make too many plays in the beginning, Jackson said. I felt like, Ah, he’s a captain. You got to live up to these standards.’
Jackson’s belief that he had to do more being a detriment was highlighted for him just less than 5 minutes into Notre Dame’s 41-30 loss to Michigan on Sept. 7.
Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner connected with receiver Jeremy Gallon on a pass from Michigan’s 34-yard line to Notre Dame’s 45. Jackson closed in on Gallon around the Irish’s 30, but instead of taking the receiver down, he tried to strip the ball.
Gallon spun out of Jackson’s arm, sidestepped cornerback KeiVarae Russell then dodged safety Mathias Farley to score a 61-yard touchdown that gave Michigan at 10-0 lead with 5:35 to play in the opening quarter.
The play also delivered a message to Jackson – he wasn’t playing the way he was taught.
I remember vividly the one tackle that me and (Russell) went on Jeremy Gallon. He spun out and wound up scoring, Jackson said.
I went for the strip, because he already gained about 30 yards, and I tried to make a play. Guys not making the tackle and me not making the tackle, turned into a huge touchdown in the game.
I was just like go out there and make the tackle, live for another down. That is something I always prided myself on, live for the next down.
Jackson said after the loss to Michigan in the second game of the season, he went back to focusing on fundamentals and technique. He said it has been a season-long process to always stay within the system and doing things how he was taught.
But the changed mindset appeared to pay dividends right away for Jackson.
In the next game, against Purdue, the Irish rallied from a 17-10 deficit to start the fourth quarter to take a 24-17 lead with 12:40 to play. Jackson followed the go-ahead touchdown with an interception at Purdue’s 32-yard line that he returned for a touchdown in the eventual 31-24 victory.
I remember after his pick-6 against Purdue, I went up to him and said, That’s why you are our captain. That’s an unbelievable play,’ quarterback Tommy Rees said.
Jackson continued to build off his performance against Purdue and finished fourth on the team in tackles with 59.
He also had four tackles for loss, with a sack, three breakups, a quarterback hurry, forced a fumble and added a second interception in the season finale against Stanford.
And along the way, Jackson learned how to deal with being a captain and created numerous good memories in his final season with the Irish.
I don’t even notice it’s on my jersey any more, Jackson said of the capital C that he and fellow captains, left tackle Zack Martin and receiver TJ Jones, have on the right corner of their jerseys. I just go out there and play.
It was a great honor. I enjoyed being captain. It was something I had as a goal. I have a lot of great memories. We had our bad memories, that’s how football goes. I was more than happy. I was thrilled being able to wear that. It was a great honor. Not a lot of people get to do that.