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Notre Dame Football

Defensive Focus Could Take Notre Dame to New Heights

December 14, 2020

The nation will be watching No. 2 Notre Dame face off against No. 3 Clemson in Saturday's ACC Championship Game, but Irish eyes will be in Nashville this week. 

Vanderbilt fired head coach Derek Mason and Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea is one of the leaders to take over at his alma mater. It's unknown when Vanderbilt will announce its next head coach, but it's likely to wrap up sooner than later. 

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly stated the program hadn't been distracted by the outside noise and there is a plan if Lea is the guy at Vanderbilt. 

"Clark's a professional," stated Kelly. "He was in it last year with the Boston College job and he's in it with the Vanderbilt job. 

"If it's the right fit for him, he's in it for the long haul here at Notre Dame. It's not going to disrupt what he does in his preparation for the championship game and hopefully moving forward. That's a given. You're dealing with professionals that recognize that when they make a commitment here, they're committing to seeing it through. 

"I'm not really concerned about it. I know our players aren't as well. As it relates to a distraction, I don't see that it's going to be a distraction at all." 

Lea's presence has been essential and despite the Irish being one of the best defensive teams in the country, Notre Dame might not be getting enough credit. 

The Irish held Travis Etienne to 28 yards in the first meeting and North Carolina to 87 total rushing yards. Yes, the same Tar Heel offense that had Michael Carter rush for 308 yards and Javonte Williams run for 236 yards on No. 10 Miami over the weekend. 

Saturday's game in Charlotte will once again be settled in the trenches as Notre Dame wants to stop the run. 

"This is centered around stingy run defense and making teams become one-dimensional," Kelly said of Lea's defense. "It then gives you the opportunity to dictate down and distance. We've been really good on third down. We're one of the best third-down defenses in the country because we get you into some predictable situations."

"It starts up front. It starts with the ability to be really good against the run. That's where this defense has really been consistent over the last four years."

Kelly stated his team was only focused on the ACC Championship Game and not the College Football Playoff when it comes to the big picture. 

Notre Dame is in if it wins and that's the only thing that matters this week. 

"It’s not even something that we consider at this point," said Kelly. "We’ll talk about that next week. We’ve got our hands full focusing on this ACC Championship Game. The Playoffs take care of themselves. We can’t control that.

“Will our players understand that if they win, they’re going to be in the Playoffs? Sure, they get that. They don’t go around thinking, ‘Oh, if we lose.’ That’s just not the way we think. We’re not wired that way. We’re wired to think that we’re going to win the football game and we expect to win the football game.

“They don’t go around thinking, ‘Hey, we’re going to lose the game and we’re probably still going to go to the Playoffs.’ We’re thinking about winning the ACC Championship. All of our time, all of our energy is about this game and winning this football game.”

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