Pass-rushers coming from all over for Irish

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
11:30
AM ET
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- With his defense needing one last stand at Pitt, Brian Kelly watched Aaron Lynch and Prince Shembo come up with huge sacks of Tino Sunseri to all but ice Notre Dame's second win of the year.

The Fighting Irish notched six sacks Saturday to improve to 23rd nationally with 11. They recorded four quarterback hurries to bring their season total to 15.

It's not just that Notre Dame is ahead of last year's pace, when it had eight sacks and 12 hurries through a 1-3 start. And to hear Kelly tell it, it's not just that freshmen ends Lynch and Stephon Tuitt have played such crucial roles in the pass rush so far, either.

[+] EnlargeStephon Tuitt
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicStephon Tuitt (7) has played a large role in an improved Notre Dame pass rush.
"I wouldn't just put it on the young guys," Kelly said. "I would put it on a balance of, you know, utilizing all of the resources that we have. Moving forward, obviously you feel really good that those young guys are gonna be here for a few years. But I think in the present I think we've got a good balance of youth with some veteran players."

At least one player from each class recorded a sack Saturday, led by senior Darius Fleming's two. Lynch's sack came a week after he hurried Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins six times and forced him to fumble.

Lost in the box score was Tuitt, who was officially credited with just one tackle despite teaming with Lynch on the fellow rookie's fourth-quarter sack.

Tuitt showed his versatility Saturday by seeing action at noseguard, creating a devastating rushing tandem along the line with Lynch, Fleming and Shembo on passing downs late in the game.

"Stephon, first of all, he has a lot of speed for a guy that size," said Manti Te'o, who notched a sack Saturday as well. "And he has a lot of natural strength, because he's very strong. And you combine that with his frame, that makes a very dangerous player. Stephon, he does a good job in there, provides a lot of energy, a lot of hustle. He and Aaron always show just a desire to get to the ball. They're always going hard, and they always want to make a play. So that's him."

The early production of Lynch and Tuitt should be enough to get Kelly excited thinking of the possibilities for the rest of this season and beyond, but he's maintained a cautiously optimistic approach, citing the duo's inexperience and vulnerability to freshmen mistakes.

After all, neither played Week 2 against Denard Robinson and Michigan. And on Saturday, Kelly had to burn a timeout after a third-quarter Pitt completion because of their confusion with signals from the sideline.

"There's a give and take there along the way," Kelly said. "But they're big, physical kids that can go in there and mix it up, and Tuitt is a guy that really at the point of attack is a difficult guy to block."

Matt Fortuna | email

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