Photo courtesy of USA Today
"Talking about Notre Dame again Gallagher?" Yes. Yes I am.
The Irish are 4-0 this season, their best start in 10 years. Week one opened with a trip to Dublin, Ireland where the Irish swabbed the deck of the Midshipmen 50-10. What some can call jet lag and the young, freshman quarterback Everett Golson needing Tommy Rees to lead the offense down the field to set up a game winning field goal in a 20-17 win over Purdue. A game in East Lansing where the Irish kept Michigan State running back Le'veon Bell out of the endzone, only giving up a field goal. Last nights second annual under the lights game in South Bend saw the Irish defense create six turnovers on the Michigan offense in a close 13-6 victory.
They're not pretty wins. If you are a fan of Notre Dame, or you are one of the many who watch, hoping the Irish crash and burn, you're used to seeing it. Sure the Irish offense is in a situation where a bye week will consist of talk of a quarterback controversy between Golson and Rees. While every writer, analyst and blogger will focus on that, how about giving some props to the Notre Dame defense.
The Irish defense, who has held opponents to an average of 9 points per game through their first four games, has played a big role in the last two victories for Notre Dame. Stopping the Spartans and then holding down the fort while Golson and the offense struggled against Michigan, the Irish defense has made noise this season that has not been heard in a long time.
Over the past several years, and under several different head coaches, the defense always took a back seat to the offensive mindsets of Tyrone Willingham and especially Charlie Weis. Under Weis, The Irish gave up an average of 24.6 points per game is shorter than expected tenure at Notre Dame. Since Brian Kelly has come in, Notre has shown some improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Last season, they gave up an average of 20.7 points per game and gave up 33 touchdowns. This season, only 3 through the first four games.
How has Notre Dame been able to play better defense? Well, you have to give credit to senior linebacker Manti Te'o. Te'o has played exceptionally well during the first four weeks of the season. Week three was met with tragedy when Te'o's grandmother passed away and hours later, his girlfriend passed after battling leukemia leading up to the matchup at Michigan State. Te'o played one of his best games in his college football career and then topped it with two interceptions against Denard Robinson and Michigan.
The Irish front seven deserves our recognition as well. Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nixx, who wear numbers that don't normally match their positions on the line (they're #7 and #9 respectably), have helped contribute to a stronger run defense. Bennett Jackson has three of the eight Irish interceptions this year.
OK, now about the Achilles heel of the defense, the secondary. They haven't been challenged as much to start the season. Despite that, they have held their own and Jackson has a few picks to provide some credentials. Tougher tests from Stanford, Oklahoma and USC will come about, so they will get their turn.