Cam Hart leads defense in standout performance against Wisconsin
Nate Moller | Monday, September 27, 2021
In Saturday’s 41-13 win over Wisconsin in the Shamrock Series contest at Soldier Field, it was the Notre Dame defense that was the difference in the game, generating five turnovers on the day and sealing the game for the Irish late in the fourth quarter.
Junior cornerback Cam Hart was one of the difference-makers for the Irish on defense, recording two interceptions on the day.
Hart recorded his first interception by jumping in front of Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz’s pass near midfield to set the Irish up with good field position. The Irish would ultimately score on the ensuing drive to take a 10-3 lead.
Hart discussed his first interception of the day.
“The play prior, I got there a little early and got a pass interference called on me,” Hart said. “My coaches told me that they were going to come back to that, so I needed to be ready and be alert for a double move. The very next play, they came to the very same play, and I jumped in front of it.”
Hart discussed the impact of sophomore running back Chris Tyree’s 96-yard kick off return at the beginning of the fourth quarter, which seemed to change the momentum of the game and fire up the Irish team.
“I think that was the game changing play honestly coming out in the fourth quarter and having that,” Hart said. “And then putting the defense back on the field with a lot of energy and intensity changed the game a lot.”
Hart recorded another interception in the game with just over five minutes remaining by jumping in front of Mertz’s pass near midfield and returning it 32 yards to the Wisconsin 23-yard line. That play ultimately set up a Jonathan Doerer field goal to give the Irish a comfortable 14-point lead with three minutes to go. Following that interception, the defense would got two more interceptions from linebackers Jack Kiser and Drew White, returning them both for touchdowns.
Hart credited these interceptions to the defense’s focus on playing free.
“Even earlier this week [our coaches] emphasized playing free and trying not to go out there and think so much. They stressed playing with intensity, and I feel like we did that and executed well,” Hart said.
Hart has seen this type of energy out of the defense in practice every day, but Saturday was the first time it was on display in a game.
“The way we played isn’t unexpected or anything like that,” Hart said. “But to see it come to fruition in a game is crazy. Not much has changed with us. We are just having fun out there and understand the importance of playing free and not thinking about much.”
Hart credited first year defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman for the turnovers on Saturday.
“Coach Freeman’s attack mindset has allowed us to go out there and make plays. We can be in whatever coverage and can have five or six defensive backs on the field, and it doesn’t really matter,” Hart said.
Hart also talked about Coach Freeman’s emphasis on turnovers throughout pre-season camp and so far this season.
“Going back to camp, we have this thing called ‘Got Gold,’ and this just emphasizes turnovers and getting our heads up on things. To see us be able to get pick sixes and get after the quarterback in pass breakups is insane, so I love it,” Hart said.
Hart gave credit to his defensive lineman teammates for holding the Badgers to 1-for-14 on third down.
“I really give credit to our defensive linemen going out there on third down and having that dog mentality to get to the quarterback because that makes it a lot easier in the backfield for us,” Hart said.
Hart talked about how the defense has evolved throughout the season so far.
“The coaches have challenged us week in and week out to be disciplined and be smart and to play to the level that we know we can play,” Hart said. “Out of pre-season camp, we have been electric, and I knew we could all play better than the way we had been playing. And everyone on the team and coaching staff knew that.”
Head coach Brian Kelly discussed the steady development of the defense this season.
“Marcus [Freeman] is getting his players to develop on defense, and we are adding some layers to that defense,” Kelly said.
Hart also believes the defense has started to have more fun on the field, which has improved their play significantly
“It’s fun out there. When we are out there playing with passion and intensity and having fun with our brothers, that’s the biggest part,” Hart said. “It allows us to play for each other rather than being selfish, so I feel like that’s the biggest thing.”
Hart discussed what this win means for the team going forward.
“As a team, I wouldn’t say the win was expected, but it’s nothing new to us. That’s what we do every day by going out there and having fun. I think it’s finally on display to the outside world. I knew that we could do it, and I don’t think anyone in the locker room doubted that we could play to this level. I feel like we just have to keep going,” Hart said.
Hart also touched on what it meant to play in the Shamrock Series game at Soldier Field.
“It was crazy. This was my first time playing football in Chicago and playing in this environment is a blessing. I had a lot of fun out there. The game was intense and super fun,” Hart said.
The Irish defense will face another test next week when they square off with an explosive Cincinnati offense that has put up 129 points over three games so far this season. Despite the tough challenge, if the Irish continue to play with the same intensity and freedom that they brought this past Saturday, they should be more than ready for any challenge they face.