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Monday, October 8, 2012
Irish defense striving to dominate

By Matt Fortuna

Is it possible for a defense that hasn't given up a touchdown in three games to fly under the radar, at least for one week? What about a unit giving up fewer than eight points per game, good for second in the nation?

The offense was the story of Notre Dame's 41-3 win over Miami. After averaging fewer than 18 points per game over its last three contests -- amidst a few rounds of quarterback roulette, at that -- why wouldn't it? Everett Golson had his best career game, the running game did whatever it wanted and, once again, the Irish protected the ball.

So, too, did the Hurricanes, becoming the first team to not give the ball away to the Irish this season. A Notre Dame defense that forced 13 turnovers through its first four games did not force any Saturday night against Miami. That same unit failed to sack Stephen Morris despite entering the game with 14 quarterback takedowns on the season.

And yet for the third straight game, an offense faced the Notre Dame defense and did not see the end zone. (Morris had a rushing score brought back on a holding penalty.)

"Think of what Coach [Bob] Diaco has had to defend in the five weeks," head coach Brian Kelly said Sunday of his defensive coordinator. "Option offense, a run-first with the quarterback in Purdue. Michigan State, a grind-it-out, great running back. It's been an outstanding performance to date, and we've seen it all. Now we just need to build on it."

But what is the ceiling for a unit surrendering just 7.8 points per game through five weeks?

"Well, I think for us, it's continuing getting that consistent performance week in and week out and not having any lapses," Kelly said. "You've seen a pretty disciplined group where there's very few breaks, very few penalties and they're assignment correct. So the challenge for us is to continue to do this week in and week out, and that's not easy to do. It takes intense preparation. It takes everybody committed to the task at hand. And not swaying at all and saying we've arrived, because in this business obviously you're going to be lost.

"The challenge for us is to not turn somebody into what they're not, but just continue to improve on those fundamentals. If we do that, we've got enough good players out there that we can do this week in and week out."

Kelly said the defense did not match the sense of urgency on a burst by Phillip Dorsett in the early minutes of Saturday night, twice losing sight of the receiver before he dropped two sure touchdown passes on the game's opening drive.

Notre Dame survived Miami's early aggression. It did not suffer any lapses the rest of the way.

The Irish held an offense that averaged better than 328 passing yards per outing to 201. They bottled up a rushing attack churning out more than 144 yards a week to 84. In the end, an offense putting up 35.6 points per game exited Soldier Field with just three.

"We're constantly striving to dominate each play," Manti Te'o said after the game. "We don't really worry about all that other stuff. We just want to dominate. And whatever that looks like, that's what we're going to do."

Through five games, at least, consider that mission accomplished.