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Football: Defensive line steps up in victory

Laura Myers | Monday, October 5, 2009

The quarterback threw for 422 yards. The receiver caught 244 of those yards. The freshman kicker hit five field goals.

And the defensive line coach got the game ball.

Not only that, but Randy Hart led the fight song in the Irish locker room after the win.

Notre Dame’s much-maligned defensive line was instrumental in three goal line stands against Washington, stopping the Huskies in 10 plays from within the Irish 8-yard line and allowing just one field goal in those drives.

“That was huge,” senior safety and defensive captain Kyle McCarthy said. “You can credit the defensive line and linebackers there. They really buckled up their chinstraps and lined up to play some hard-nosed football. Those goal line stands in the third and fourth quarters were obviously huge for this game.”

Hart, who spent 21 years as defensive line coach at Washington, came to Notre Dame after the 2008 season to coach the young Irish linemen – two of the three starters are sophomores.

So far, the line has struggled in 2009 and is currently ranked 67th in the country in rush defense with 139.6 yards per game.

However, they are tied for eighth in red zone defense. Opponents this season have scored in just 65 percent of chances from inside the 20-yard line, and have managed a touchdown in only 50 percent.

“The key is just to go as low as possible while keeping your feet moving,” sophomore defensive tackle Ethan Johnson said. “It’s all about the first step and staying lower than the offensive line. Just make plays. It’s not that complicated.”

The red zone defense is something Hart has emphasized, players said.

“We practiced goal line stand all through camp, going against our guys,” junior defensive end Kerry Neal said. “Our linemen are bigger than [Washington’s], so we felt like we were ready for it.”

The linemen credit that readiness to confidence in themselves and their teammates.

“We just kept our composure and just kept believing in each other and we had each other’s back,” sophomore defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. “It’s just confidence and heart to go out there and not give it up.”

Added Johnson: “It was all heart, staying low and just wanting it more than [Washington].”

With each successive stop, the plays got easier, Lewis-Moore said.

“After every stop, we feel like we’re just gaining more and more momentum. By the time the fourth down came, we just felt like we could do it,” he said.

In the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, the defense made one goal line stop only to have it nullified when nose tackle Ian Williams was called for roughing the snapper on the ensuing Husky field goal attempt.

McCarthy said the defense was still confident despite the fresh set of downs the penalty gave to the Huskies.

“That’s a pretty tough call, especially in a game like that,” McCarthy said. “But our guys knew we still had a chance. Coach Tenuta always preaches that if you give yourself a chance, good things can happen. Hats off to our defense, we really came up big there.”

Defenders agreed that the fourth quarter stand, during which the Irish stopped the Huskies six straight times to keep Notre Dame within one score, was crucial.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had that many in a row,” Johnson said. “But hard work pays off.”

Which is why Randy Hart has a new souvenir.