Irish defense continues impressive streaks
Andrew Owens | Friday, October 12, 2012
When Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly following the 2009 season, it was due in large part to the coach’s offensive pedigree at his previous head coaching stops. However, at his introductory press conference, Kelly emphasized the need for a staunch defense over a prolific passing attack.
The defense Kelly inherited ranked 88th in total yards allowed per game. In 2012 – Kelly’s third season – a defensive uprising has fueled Notre Dame’s 5-0 start and has prognosticators from coast to coast wondering what heights the team can reach.
“I think you have to make sure that it’s valued within your program, and when I say ‘valued,’ [it’s] through your recruiting efforts, an emphasis on taking players that can impact your defense and in particular against the rush,” Kelly said this week. “So if the blueprint was public, it would talk about right out of the gates finding those guys that can physically control the line of scrimmage.”
And that’s exactly what Notre Dame has done. The Irish have held three consecutive opponents without a touchdown, a streak that has lasted more than 182 minutes of action, dating back to Purdue’s game-tying touchdown pass late in Notre Dame’s 20-17 victory over the Boilermakers on Sept. 8.
“It’s exciting, but I don’t think the guys keep track of statistics like that,” sophomore safety Matthias Farley said.
Irish senior linebacker Manti Te’o credits defensive coordinator Bob Diaco with leading the charge in a defensive revival.
“The greatest change is our coach, Coach Diaco,” Te’o said. “He’s our mentor, he’s our second dad.
“When you have that connection with a coach, you’ll do whatever for him and do anything for him. I think our defense has really paid tribute to him and the sacrifices that he and our other coaches on the defensive side have made to make us the successful defense that we are thus far.”
Behind Diaco’s tutelage, the Irish have allowed 39 points in five games, which ranks second nationally. Notre Dame is the only team that has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season and has yet to trail in 2012.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Notre Dame’s defensive surge is the play of the inexperienced secondary.
Following graduate student Jamoris Slaughter’s season-ending injury three weeks into the season, the Irish secondary was left with three new starters and senior safety Zeke Motta. What was expected to be a detriment has been a plus during the undefeated start.
“It was going to be a rebuilding year for us in the secondary anyway, and then a few other poorly timed events that created an even more inexperienced secondary,” Diaco said. “A lot of the thought process goes into making sure those guys aren’t overly exposed so for 2012, that’s a big part of our thought process. Allowing them to develop and not overexposing them.”
Diaco said the resurgence is a result of three years’ worth of teaching by the coaching staff, and the willingness of the players to buy in to the philosophy.
“We’ve continued to maintain the same core beliefs and the same defensive ideologies that we’ve had since we’ve gotten here,” Diaco said. “Over time, the consistency, the maturity of the players, the expectation is that they continue to improve the things we were working on. They’re improving at it. It’s just sheer physics as the players become bigger, faster, stronger … The sheer physics of a pretty stout front creates some obstructions.”
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