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Notre Dame Football

Scouts' honor: Notre Dame service team helps spark Irish defense

November 6, 2021

There was at least one touchdown. A couple, actually.

Throughout its week of preparations, Notre Dame's scout team wasn't hesitant to lets scholarship-bound teammates hear it when the group comprised largely of underclassmen and members of the Fighting Irish's fabled Walk-On Players Union – WOPU Nation.

All those celebratory moments throughout the week were muted when it most mattered – Saturday as the 10th-ranked Irish stymied Navy, 34-6, and held the Midshipmen without a touchdown.

“I think the tension between the defense and the scout team, the scout team was taking pride if they ripped one on us,” said Irish defender Jack Kiser. “They were hootin' and hollerin'.

“The defense was like all right, we gotta go. If they're doing it on us, this can't happen.”

It didn't happen in the finale of Notre Dame's three-game homestand, perhaps the Irish's most complete defensive performance of this season under first-year defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.

The feast-or-famine Irish had played the season's first two-thirds gifted in their ability to force negative plays but also unable to piece together a consistent, four-quarter performance.

“We've definitely had some ups and downs,” said J.D. Bertrand, who amassed nine tackles in the Irish's stingy effort. “... When we are playing with good fundamentals, communicating, everyone on the same page, that's when teams can't run the ball on us, can't pass the ball on us.

“They might bleed one or two runs or one deep shot, but when we're on the same page … we're a very hard defense. Almost unstoppable defense.”

The Midshipmen didn't hit any veins in the Notre Dame stop-unit; they had just one play of longer than 20 yards – Jayden Umbarger's 32-yard gainer on a reverse – and were forced to settle for a pair of field goals on their only two trips into the red zone.

It was a needed step forward for Freeman's unit, a week after it yielded 564 yards and 34 points last week to visiting North Carolina.

“We needed to make some progress,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly, who saw his defense yield its second-lowest yardage total against Navy across his dozen years at the helm. “We weren't happy with some of the things last week and so we needed to see the incremental progress. And this week was much better.”

Key now, however, becomes the Irish's ability to manifest this performance in the season's closing stretch. That begins next Saturday at Virginia, which ranks in the top 15 nationally in scoring at 39 points per game and boasts college football's No. 2 passing offense.

Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong leads the nation in passing, with 3,557 yards.

“It's a snapshot, right? Next week, we've got a team that is one of the more prolific passing offenses in the country,” Kelly said.

"So, job well done. Checkmark on the old option. Let's go see how we handle Brennan Armstrong and the Cavaliers. This is a work in progress for us. We like the step we took today, because the communication was really good, and the tackling was much better. We're going to cover some people next week."

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