Irish defense forces turnovers, shutout
Renee Griffin | Sunday, September 7, 2014
It was not the arm of Notre Dame senior quarterback Everett Golson or Michigan graduate student quarterback Devin Gardner that defined the end of the famed Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry. It was the intensity of the Irish defense.
Michigan (1-1) came into the game Saturday night after scoring 52 points against Appalachian State the previous weekend. Against No. 16 Notre Dame (2-0), the Wolverines scored zero.
Notre Dame’s defenders recorded three interceptions, two forced fumbles, nine quarterback hurries and two sacks in its 31-0 victory over the Wolverines.
“Obviously, shutting out any opponent in college football is an enormous task with offenses today,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “A great performance by our defense. Great performance by our coaches. The preparation was outstanding.”It was the first time in the 42 meetings between the two programs that the Irish shut out Michigan.
“It felt amazing,” sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “They haven’t had a goose egg since 1984. So that alone — we’re setting our own standards here, and it’s an amazing feeling.”
Before Saturday night, a major question was whether or not Michigan’s offense could be contained. Gardner is on the school’s top 10 lists for career passing yards, career passing touchdowns, career completions, career efficiency and career total offense. Michigan junior receiver Devin Funchess had three touchdown receptions against Appalachian State, while Michigan recorded 350 rushing yards in its season opener.
Senior linebacker Joe Schmidt, who had seven tackles and a forced fumble, said the Irish defense wasn’t too shocked by the shutout.
“I think as a defensive player, you have to see this coming,” Schmidt said. “You want to believe that this is something that you can accomplish every time that you go out on the field.”
Most of the game statistics were not nearly as lopsided as the 31-0 score. Michigan actually possessed the ball for more time and gained nine more yards overall than Notre Dame did.
Where Notre Dame really dominated on the statistics sheet were turnovers and red zone performance. The Wolverines were unable to get into the red zone at all, and four of their drives ended with an Irish takeaway.
Much of the success in the secondary and overall defense could be attributed to consistent penetration and containment by the defensive line, Kelly said.
“Once we were able to really get a hold of the run game and getting it to third down, we felt like we were going to be in pretty good shape, because we were able to do a lot of things to confuse what they were seeing,” Kelly said. “So, stopping the running game and having a good control over the running game really set up a lot of things for us tonight.”
The secondary, with the help from the linemen up front, forced two turnovers despite the absence of players like junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell and graduate student safety Austin Collinsworth. Sophomore safety Max Redfield and graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs, for instance, recorded one interception each.
Keeping an offense locked down for a full four quarters is a rare feat, one that requires an energized and motivated defense, Smith said. He added that the high energy is not out of character for a team like the Irish.
“It’s just something that we live by,” Smith said. “You get what you earn. We had to earn it. We weren’t giving in. We were up 21 or 28, at halftime, and it was all about the next play. Eradicating everything. Zero, zero.”
There was one other intangible that Smith mentioned as playing a role in the team’s determination — the Notre Dame Stadium atmosphere in the final scheduled game against Michigan.
“That atmosphere was great. It was surreal,” Smith said. “Last year we were in the Big House playing Michigan. So to actually be home, seeing all your family there, it was amazing.”