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Irish defense displays resiliency against Jones

Andrew Gastelum | Monday, October 29, 2012

NORMAN, Okla. – Since day one, the Notre Dame defense has adopted a bend-but-don’t-break defensive philosophy. Against the most explosive offense they have seen all year, the Irish stuck to their guns.

“That [bend-don’t-break] was the way it was set up,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “It’s been a consistent part of why we’re here. Week in and week out, we’ve structured the gameplan to keep the points down. We were willing to give up yardage in the passing game today just to keep the points down. We’re not offensively at a point where can score like Oklahoma. I thought Bob Diaco and the defense did a great job with the plan and it proved to be a good one.”

Notre Dame came into the primetime showdown with the 15th best rushing defense in the country, giving up 106.71 rushing yards per game. Against the Sooners, the Irish allowed just 15 rushing yards, while limiting the Sooners to 4-for-14 on third-down conversions.

“That always is tough when you’re not able to run it and when you throw it more than you want,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said.

Sooners senior quarterback Landry Jones threw for a season-high 356 yards on 35-for-51 passing, but the Irish held him without a touchdown and limited Oklahoma’s big-play ability – the Sooners’ biggest gain was a 35-yard pass from Jones to junior receiver Jalen Saunders.

“We sensed some frustration and we understood [their inability to break a big play],” senior linebacker Manti Te’o said. “We just had to play our ballgame. Everybody do their job and hopefully everything works.”

Despite holding the Sooners to 184 yards below their season average on the ground, the Irish gave up their first rushing touchdown of the season when sophomore quarterback Blake Bell bulldozed his way into the end zone on a one-yard run with just over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 13.

“Yeah we gave up a rushing touchdown, but we came away with a ‘W’ and that’s more important,” graduate student defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said.

Bell’s rushing touchdown was the first given up by the Irish in 41 quarters, dating back to a 16-14 win over Boston College on Nov. 19, 2011.

“Man, I was just frustrated that they got in the end zone,” Te’o said. “I didn’t care if it was a pass or run. They got in the end zone and that’s the point right there.

“[Bend-but-don’t-break] defense worked pretty good. Obviously we gave up a touchdown. I think with this defense, when somebody scores we get really frustrated. It showed our maturity about how we rallied after that touchdown. We just kept going and I’m very proud of our guys.”

Lining up against a talented veteran receiving corps just two months after converting from running back, freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell led the Irish secondary with nine tackles.

“There’s a young man that keeps getting better and keeps competing,” Kelly said. “Who would’ve thought a true freshman would be able to go out and do the things he’s done? He’s been so instrumental in what we’re doing on the back end of the defense.”

To Te’o, the effort was just another showcase of Notre Dame’s defensive strength and mental fortitude.

“We knew what we could do,” Te’o said. “Today is no surprise. We knew that if we came in to work, if we came into today with confidence and everybody doing their job, we would be fine.”

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu