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Football: Defense dominates Duke

Bill Brink | Monday, November 19, 2007

The Irish haven’t had many big hits this season – most of their tackles came when chasing a ball-carrier from behind. But safety David Bruton bucked the trend Saturday when he destroyed Duke’s Nick Stefanow after the tight end jumped for an overthrown pass in the beginning of the second quarter.”It was fun, that was something I haven’t done all season as a safety,” Bruton said. “It looked like it was sailing, so I was going to either pick it or, once I saw his hand touch it, I was like, ‘All right, time to do something like Brian Dawkins or something, just lead with the forearm and let him have it.'”Bruton’s hit was like Notre Dame’s performance on defense – one of the best of the season. The only game where Notre Dame held its opponent to fewer points was against UCLA and the Bruins’ third-string walk-on quarterback. The Irish defense, which has allowed 32.4 points per game this season, held Duke scoreless until the final 1:12 of the game. By that time, one of Notre Dame’s defensive players was taking snaps under center and most of the players on defense for the Irish were walk-ons.”I think that they did a really good job even when the few times there was a play – they played stout right off the bat, got off the field and turned the ball over a couple of times,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said.Bruton said the defense met the goals it set before the game.”Get a lot of three-and-outs, try to get three turnovers, try to shut the offense up, and just try to eliminate all big plays,” Bruton said. “I feel like we did that today.”With 2:29 left in the first half, Bruton recovered a Thaddeus Lewis fumble on his own 42-yard line. One minute later, the Irish offense put points on the board. Moments later, safety Kyle McCarthy forced Duke wide receiver Jomar Wright to fumble, and cornerback Ambrose Wooden fell on the ball on Duke’s 25-yard line. Two plays later, freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen’s touchdown pass to freshman receiver Duval Kamara put the Irish ahead 14-0 heading into the half. Duke also converted four of its 16 third downs, something Blue Devils coach Ted Roof said affected the result of the game.”The turnovers were huge like they always are, and our performance on third down, I thought those were the two most critical factors in the football game,” Roof said.Duke rushed for 94 yards on 27 carries, its best production on the ground since it rushed for 95 yards in its 41-36 loss to Wake Forest earlier this season. The Blue Devils averaged just 52.9 yards per game and 1.8 yards per carry this season, so on Saturday, they ran fairly well in comparison. But Notre Dame’s defense stopped them when it counted – Duke did not reach the red zone until the final minutes. And the Irish defense, which has been giving up more than 200 yards per game on the ground, held a team to well under their average.Weis said he was more concerned with playing the seniors near the end of the game than with keeping Duke out of the end zone.”I think the defense played well the whole game,” Weis said. “You don’t want to give up a shutout, but I would rather get those kids in the game than worry about the shutout.”Notre Dame forced punts on seven of Duke’s 13 possessions. Two more ended in fumbles and one in a turnover on downs. Duke ran 15 fewer plays than Notre Dame and averaged 3.6 yards per play in comparison to Notre Dame’s 5.2 yards per play. The wet, slippery conditions also gave the defense an advantage.”The field was so terrible the whole game, you just have to play and get around,” said defensive end Trevor Laws, who had six tackles and a sack in the game. “We just made plays that we needed to win.”Linebacker Maurice Crum said the team had gelled into a cohesive unit throughout the season and practiced well before the game.”I think it’s just everybody being tuned in and having a great week of practicing,” Crum said.The Irish defense, which usually allows 372.5 yards per game, held Duke to 232 total yards in Saturday’s contest. Notre Dame’s passing defense, which was No. 5 in the country and allowed 164.9 yards per game through the air, held Duke to 138 yards passing.Safety Tom Zbikowski said the Irish matched Duke’s talent well and that Notre Dame’s success stemmed from pre-game preparation.”I think a lot of it comes down to good game plan and scheming pretty well, and I think guys just wanted to make sure we got this win and played pretty hard,” Zbikowski said. The Irish haven’t usually had time of possession on their side this season, but the success of the offense, especially Clausen and freshman running back Robert Hughes, ensured the defense was well-rested. The offense held the ball for 35 minutes, 11 more than Duke’s offense.”That is always a plus when you’re not on the field,” Crum said.Laws said the defense enjoyed the offensive success from a defensive – as well as team – point of view. “It’s always nice when the offense can move the ball,” Laws said. “It’s the best defense we ever see on the sidelines, I say. You watch them move the ball and you’re sitting there relaxing on the bench, man, it’s a good thing.”