Defense emerges as a strength for Notre Dame football
NOTRE DAME —
In the aftermath of his team's 20-19 loss to Georgia, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly uttered something that hasn't been heard in South Bend since the 2012 run to the BCS national championship game: "We played well enough defensively for us to go into a game like this and say, ' we can go and play with anyone'."
"We had three possessions with eight minutes and 30 seconds to go. We had our chances to win the game."
That fact, more than any other, may be the resonating message from Notre Dame's one-point loss to the 15th ranked Bulldogs on Saturday.
In a position where several Irish teams have failed in recent years, this weekend it was the Irish defense, not it's offense, which gave the team its best chance to win.
"I take positive things from that," says senior linebacker Nyles Morgan. "Especially against an SEC team with two good running backs, all those good things, that's good to see."
"As a defense we came up when we needed to come up and got the ball back to the offense," added senior linebacker Greer Martini. "I think that gives us a lot of confidence as a defensive unit that we can go out and play with anyone."
The numbers support the players' optimism. Through two games, Notre Dame is allowing 18 points per game.
And the team's 8.5 tackles for a loss are good for 19th in the country. Quite a turnaround for a squad that took nearly four games to record its first sack a year ago.
Notre Dame's players credit new defensive coordinator Mike Elko for creating a scheme, which allows them to "play fast."
"(Elko's scheme) allows us to play fast," Morgan says. "You know, play to the best of our abilities."
Martini agrees. "It allows us to play fast. I think we're playing confident, and having those things just allows us as a defense as a whole for us just to play, to progress and to be physical, not really think about things. We're just out there playing for each other and running around and it's been fun."
Fast. Physical. And most importantly, confident.
"Georgia was a great team.," says Martini. "So it showed us that we can go out there and play with anyone."