Stats & Info: Curtis McNeal

Notre Dame goal-line defense nearly perfect

January, 4, 2013
Flash back to Nov. 24: USC trailed Notre Dame by nine points and had just four minutes remaining to erase the deficit. USC needed a touchdown.

The Trojans had the ball at Notre Dame's 1 and had just received a new set of downs after Marqise Lee drew a second consecutive pass interference penalty in the end zone.

On first and second down, USC lined up with two tight ends and tried a quarterback sneak with Max Wittek. Notre Dame denied both attempts. On third down, the Trojans went with a handoff to Curtis McNeal. He never made it back to the line of scrimmage. On fourth down they tried play-action, but the pass fell harmlessly to the ground.

It was second time USC had failed to score a touchdown in a goal-to-go situation in the quarter and the 10th time for a Notre Dame opponent this season.

Notre Dame's defense has been great all season when it had its back to the wall. Of the nine offensive touchdowns that its defensive conceded, only five were in goal-to-go situations, the fewest among FBS teams.

The Irish did bend a few times on defense but rarely broke.

They allowed 33 percent of opponents' goal-to-go drives to end with a touchdown, tied with the 2010 Miami Hurricanes for the lowest touchdown percentage for any defense in the past eight seasons. BYU was the only opponent that scored a touchdown on all of its goal-to-go possessions against the Irish this season.

Run defense has been the key. The Irish allowed minus-5 total yards on 39 goal-to-go plays this season, the fewest yards and lowest average in the nation. Against the run, their opponents had minus-28 yards on 24 carries.

Opposing offenses were unable to gain any yards on 14 of those 24 carries (58.3 percent), the highest percentage for any FBS defense this season. Even more impressive, the Irish allowed only one rushing touchdown on a goal-to-go run. Every other team gave up at least three such touchdowns.

Notre Dame’s defense will be challenged by an Alabama offense that leads the SEC with 124 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns in goal-to-go situations.

The Tide have scored at least two goal-to-go rush touchdowns in four straight games, the second-longest active streak in the nation.

They also have had success throwing the ball in these situations: six touchdowns in 13 attempts. Yet two of AJ McCarron’s three interceptions this season were at their opponents' goal line.

Notre Dame concedes very little on defense

November, 23, 2012
Matthew EmmonsWith one more win, Manti Te'o (right) and Notre Dame will play for the right to be No. 1.
(USC hosts Notre Dame on Saturday at 8 ET on ABC.)

If the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can win on the road against the USC Trojans. History could, again, repeat itself.

Four different head coaches have been responsible for Notre Dame's eight national championships in the AP poll era (since 1936). All four captured their first national title in their third season at Notre Dame, and head coach Brian Kelly is in his third season at the helm in South Bend.

Notre Dame is one win from playing for the BCS Title thanks in larger part to its defense. The Irish have conceded a touchdown on 6.7 percent of their opponents’ possessions, the lowest percentage in FBS this season.

Notre Dame’s red-zone defense also is the best in the nation, allowing a touchdown on 24.1 percent of their opponents’ drives inside the 20-yard line. (Opponents have seven touchdowns and five turnovers in 29 red-zone possessions.) That’s the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the last eight seasons.

The defense is led by senior linebacker Manti Te’o. With two more tackles, Te’o will join Bob Crable as the second Notre Dame player with three 100-tackle seasons. Te’o also leads the Irish with six interceptions after not having any in his first three seasons.

Notre Dame’s defense will be tested one more time, this time by one of the best wide receivers in the country. USC’s Marqise Lee has more receiving yards (821) in his last four games than 52 FBS teams during that time span. Lee has gained more yards after the catch (837) than any player from any BCS-AQ school, and leads FBS with eight 100-yard receiving games. However, only one player this season has 100 yards receiving against Notre Dame, Jalen Saunders from Oklahoma.

However, Lee will not have Matt Barkley throwing to him – the senior QB will not play because of a sprained shoulder. Since 2002, USC’s only loss to Notre Dame came in 2010 when Barkley (then a sophomore) had a sprained ankle and did not play.

Without Barkley, USC may turn to its running game. The Trojans are averaging 160 rushing yards per game, and has gained 10 yards or more on almost 17 percent of their rush attempts. Curtis McNeal has 324 yards in USC’s last two games, but he’ll face a Notre Dame defense that has allowed just three running backs to rush for 80 or more yards this season.