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Irish Insider: Defensive gameplan stifles Nevada

Matt Gamber | Monday, September 7, 2009

Saturday’s was the kind of dominant defensive effort Irish fans haven’t seen in a long time – since 2002, Ty Willingham’s first year at Notre Dame, in fact.

Nevada’s vaunted Pistol offense surely didn’t live up to the hype, and all-WAC Colin Kaepernick certainly didn’t play his best game for the Wolf Pack. But the fast, disciplined, opportunistic Irish defense most definitely had a lot to do with that.

On Nevada’s first possession, Notre Dame allowed the Wolf Pack to move the ball downfield with three straight plays of 10-plus yards. But junior linebacker Brian Smith’s takedown of Kaepernick for a loss of seven led to a third-and-12, and the Irish defense held to set up a missed field goal.

That’s about as close as Nevada would come to scoring all day.

Nevada would muster just one first down on its next two possessions combined, and by the time the Wolf Pack started their fourth possession, the Irish were up 21-0 midway through the second quarter.

“Obviously, it feels good to put up a shutout on defense. Being a defensive guy, it’s something you shoot for,” senior safety Kyle McCarthy said. “We’re happy with how we played today.”

Co-defensive coordinators Jon Tenuta and Corwin Brown had the Irish defense obviously well-prepared for Nevada’s unique offense and the Wolf Pack’s multitude of rushing weapons, and the players went out and executed a game plan that seemed to center around getting bodies in the Nevada backfield.

“There was a lot of us moving the line of scrimmage the other way,” Weis said. “We had two sacks and four tackles for loss, and to be honest with you, we had another four sacks that we could have had that we missed a few tackles there. I think that’s going to be one of the points of emphasis for the defensive staff going into Michigan.”

As Weis suggested, there is likely room for improvement, both in terms of tackling fundamentals and stopping the inside run more consistently. But considering the Irish are less than two years removed from having to return to a back-to-basics training camp mentality a few games into the 2007 season, one has to be pleased with the defense’s progress.

All three defensive position units – the defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs – made at least one big play. Sophomore defensive end Kapron-Lewis Moore recovered a fumble, linebackers Brian Smith and junior Toryan Smith each recorded a sack and McCarthy and sophomore corner Robert Blanton each intercepted a Kaepernick pass.

Notre Dame’s defense combines talented youngsters with seasoned veterans, and the Irish appeared to have a newfound confidence and swagger, celebrating big plays and engaging the crowd in key situations.

“Guys out there getting rowdy, not just offensive guys with offensive guys, defense with the defense, but the team collectively. We had each other’s backs,” junior linebacker Brian Smith said. “Whenever the offense was in a bad situation, the defense put us in a good situation. We kind of fed off of each other today.”