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Notre Dame Football

Irish's feast-or-famine defense believes answers are close

September 15, 2021

The stats tell a tale of competing narratives, and the scoreboards reveal a picture of white-knuckle suspense.

Notre Dame is 2-0, dipping a bit in the national polls due to a pair of narrow wins at Florida State in overtime and at home against Toledo, while simultaneously looking like one of college football's most aggressive defenses and also one of its most vulnerable.

The next test comes Saturday, again inside Notre Dame Stadium, when in-state rival Purdue (2-0) visits in a throwback to Brian Kelly’s first game as Irish head coach. Kick is 2:30 p.m. (NBC).

Consider: The Fighting Irish own 20 tackles for losses, 10 of them quarterback sacks, through two games. Both numbers are ahead of the pace a year ago, when Notre Dame had just five sacks through two games – both at home against Duke and woefully overmatched South Florida.

Counterpoint: Notre Dame's defense also is responsible for seven plays by the opposition in two games covering 354 yards' real estate, including gashers of 89, 67, 60 and 60 yards.

Super-senior defensive lineman Kurt Hinish, on the verge of earning a rare fifth varsity letter after seizing the opportunity for an additional season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, knows the Irish defense is on the verge of hitting its stride.

“Just being a detail-oriented defense,” said Hinish, the fire hydrant in the middle of the Notre Dame defensive line. “When you play fast, mistakes are going to happen. That comes with playing fast. So when you can find the balance and the medium of playing fast and playing detail-oriented, you can be a very dangerous group.

“We're still a baller defense. Have we given up a couple points? Yeah. But we're still a group of ballers, and we're going to be a group of ballers.”

Hinish is seeing the Irish take a motivated approach to correct mistakes each day on the practice field. And film sessions aren't a time to duck teammates.

“I feel like if one of the plays gets through one of the gaps and leads to the middle, then I take responsibility for that,” Hinish said. “Even if it's in the opposite A gap, I feel responsible for that, because it is in the middle of the defense, and me and Jayson Ademilola, we hold all hold one another accountable.

“For example, last week I missed a tackle for loss against Toledo. We were sitting in the film room watching it the other day, that play came up and Jayson just turned around and gave me a look and I looked at him back, and I'm like, 'You're right. We gotta make those plays.'”

While the film neither discriminates nor lies in what it reveals, Hinish also says it shows a group extremely close.

“When we go back and watch the film, it's always one missed tackle, one missed assignment,” he said. “That comes with details. That comes with playing fast. That's something we have to clean up and something we've been cleaning up. One of the things we've been harping on is tagging off on the hit, getting fitted up in position where you're going to make that tackle. I missed three or four tackles for loss this year because I wasn't in the correct position to make the tackle.

“The thing that's been killing us on defense is tackling, and that's on the defense. When we we're on our details and we can find the happy medium of playing fast and playing free, that's when we're going to be good. Something that's been biting us in the ass has been tackling. So that's something you can work on. Or missing a fit. Coach (Mike) Mickens, Coach (Marcus) Freeman, and Coach (Chris) O'Leary, they're doing their part in the secondary to get everybody going, just as Coach Freeman and Coach (Mike) Elston are getting us going up front.”

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