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Irish defense shows up against run

Douglas Farmer | Monday, October 4, 2010

CHESNUT HILL, Mass. — Coming into Saturday’s game, the Irish had allowed 190 rushing yards per game.

Saturday, they allowed five, compared to forcing 11 Boston College punts and 10 Eagle three-and-outs.

“We knew what Boston College is like; they are a running team,” sophomore linebacker Manti Te’o said. “If you want to win, you have to stop what they do best. It was hard of course, because they have a good running back.”

Indeed, Boston College running back Montel Harris had run for 329 yards in the Eagles’ first three games of the season, but for the second year in a row, the Irish stopped him in his tracks. In last season’s match-up, Harris accounted for 38 yards on 22 carries, compared to Saturday’s total of 28 yards on 15 carries.

“He’s a very good back. You see that on film,” sophomore linebacker Carlo Calabrese said. “We just did what we haven’t been doing, and we stopped him.”

Te’o and Calabrese each had 10 tackles, including four for losses. Notre Dame’s next highest tackler was senior defensive tackle Ian Williams with four. Williams said the Irish respected Harris, but when the Notre Dame defense plays like it did Saturday, it does not much matter who is running the ball at them.

“Montel Harris is a really good back,” Williams said. “But our defense just had a really good game today.”

The good game came at an opportune time for the Irish defense. Saturday morning, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit compared Notre Dame’s defense to that of a high school’s, and while none of the Irish would admit to hearing that particular piece of criticism, they did allow that statements like Herbstreit’s both annoy and motivate them.

“Of course we take [those comments] very seriously,” Te’o said. “We don’t really know what’s going on because we don’t really listen to what other people are saying, but we’re just focused on each other … It doesn’t matter what other people say, but definitely when we hear that stuff it motivates us and makes us better.”

That motivation led Te’o and Notre Dame to focus on the start of Saturday’s game, a job made easier by the Irish offense’s efficient touchdown on its first drive.

“We wanted to start off fast, and our offense was starting off fast too, so that helped,” Te’o said. “[Boston College] had that one big play, but other than that, we held our ground. It was a good game.”

After the first quarter, in which the Eagles only managed one total yard for the first 13 minutes, the Irish defense somehow gained steam, even limiting Boston College to one total yard in the entire third quarter.

“We were just getting comfortable in what we were seeing,” Te’o said of the 60-minute performance. “Usually an offense will throw everything they have at you in the first quarter, and you have to adjust from there. We adjusted well and played assignment-sound football.”

By doing so, the defense fueled the offense’s performance, even if it cut down on its rest time, junior quarterback Dayne Crist said.

“It gives us such momentum, and it takes the life out of teams when the defense plays as well as it did,” Crist said. “They made our job easier tonight … We love it when our defense makes another team go three-and-out because it just gives us another opportunity to score.”

For possibly the first time this season, the Irish defense was clicking on all cylinders Saturday, and Te’o said it is something that needs to happen again.

“This is the kind of performance that we knew that we could do week in and week out,” he said. “You just have to keep working so that it is more consistent … We just have to build off of [Saturday’s performance]. We have to use it to motivate us and move forward.”

Calabrese agreed with Te’o that Saturday’s performance should help the Irish in the future, but he had a more specific goal for the defense coming off of an effort in which it gave up only five yards rushing:

“The next is you want minus rushing yards.”