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Notre Dame Football

Explosive ... defense? For No. 3 Notre Dame, absolutely

October 24, 2020

Typically an offense is renowned for its explosive weapons.

Notre Dame's defense just might be breaking the mold.

A week after it limited Louisville to just seven points, the third-ranked Fighting Irish stop-unit suffocated host Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon in a 45-3 win for Notre Dame.

The group thrice picked off Pittsburgh quarterback Joey Yellen, forced a fumble, notched three sacks and six total tackles for losses.

Oh yeah, the Panthers barely clawed out 162 yards' offense and possessed the ball a scant 19 minutes.

“That's a pretty good defense,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “There's playmakers all over that field. It's very difficult to run the football against them.”

Though the NCAA listed the Notre Dame defense as allowing 300.8 yards per game as it entered the Pitt contest, the Irish's own season statistics reflected the unit had allowed just 1,189 total yards – or 297.3 per game. That figured plummeted to 270.2 in the wake of Saturday's dominance; the Irish also have allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards per game on average.

The Panthers could neither run nor pass against a Notre Dame defense that held consecutive opponents to 10 or fewer points for the first time since the early 2000s, something Kelly noted postgame. Notre Dame has allowed just 49 total points through five games, and its fifth-ranked scoring defense positioned itself to inch higher in the NCAA rankings after this game.

“If you're a drop-back team, and this is the first drop-back quarterback that we've seen, other than the opener against Duke, they make life difficult for you,” Kelly said of his Irish defense. “You are under duress with them coming after you.

“Then on the back end, you've got some outstanding players. Again, it's not like we've had great continuity. That's four weeks now we've had four different combinations at the cornerback position.”

The Irish were without starter and burgeoning breakout-player TaRiq Bracy Saturday for an unspecified illness, though Kelly noted it was not COVID-19.

Still, Notre Dame got interceptions from transfer defensive back Nick McCloud, and returning linebackers Bo Bauer and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

“Of course, any time you can turn the ball over, that's great,” said defensive lineman Kurt Hinish, who had one tackle in his return home to Pittsburgh. “We were just happy we showed up and played loose today and played free and were running around the field. (Defensive backs), they're tired of waiting for the ball to come to the receivers and they're starting to take the ball now.

“And that's the mindset that we have and that's the mindset that they have.”

The Irish likewise had a mindset to further manifest depth along the entire defensive unit, which saw 23 different players record at least one tackle or a quarterback-pressure.

“We talk about it all the time, everything we do is for the brotherhood,” Hinish said. “There are times I don't want to come out and that's just being selfish of me.

“I have to understand I'm not as fresh as the other guys coming into the game right now. Obviously it lets guys in to make some plays.”

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