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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Football is dominant at home once again

November 20, 2023
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Fighting Irish fans typically enjoyed their experience inside Notre Dame Stadium this season. 

The team’s average margin of victory inside ‘The House that Rockne Built’ was 31.8 points, 17.1 points more than the previous year. 

Of course, 2022 came with disappointing home losses to Marshall and Stanford and an anxiety-inducing 24-17 victory over Cal. Those games represent Marcus Freeman’s first three home games as a head coach. 

Since then, the team has become a juggernaut at home, winning eight of the last nine games at Notre Dame Stadium by at least three touchdowns. 

The other resulted in a last-second defeat to No. 2 Ohio State — a contest in which the Irish played the better team before giving a victory away in the game’s final seconds.

Of course, fans were accustomed to this near the end of coach Brian Kelly’s tenure in South Bend. 

Sure, they didn’t always blow the team away, but Notre Dame rarely lost at home. The program went 30-2 at home during Kelly’s final five seasons. 

It’s much easier to win at home when the defense is one of the most dominant in college football. The Irish gave up just 11.8 points at home this season and never allowed more than 20 points inside Notre Dame Stadium (a point total that occurred against USC, which still owns the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense). 

The last two games have proven especially dominant, with Notre Dame holding Power Five opponents to just seven points each. 

It’s gotten to where the defense is disappointed with any result that isn’t a shutout, which was the case following a 45-7 Irish victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.

“I was talking to coach (Al) Golden after the game, and we're upset about 7 points,” Freeman said. “Really upset about 7 points.”

In total, Notre Dame has given up eight touchdowns in six games at home. Only two of those came through the air. 

“I feel like it's us playing Notre Dame football, Notre Dame defense,” cornerback Ben Morrison said. “Coming into this year, we knew the talent we had and how we could play. Going against teams, we’ve felt pretty confident. 

“So I feel like here, home stadium, obviously, you want to protect your home. All off-season, we have workouts to protect our house.”

Of course, the pass defense is dominant no matter where the Fighting Irish have played this year.

Category Statistic Rank
Total Defense 276.0 6th
Yards Per Play 4.4 5th
Passing Defense 148.5 3rd
Turnovers Gained 21 T-10th
Red Zone TD Conversions 40% 5th
Rush Defense

127.5

38th

The only area where someone could say the defense has struggled is against the run, but that’s somewhat by design. 

Notre Dame regularly plays with nickel Thomas Harper on the field, removing a linebacker from the action.

“The ability to play pass defense is the confidence you have in your front seven or six to stop the run,” Freeman said. “There is always that one defender, if you're going to commit them to the run game, where you are going to expose something in the pass game. 

“If you put him in the pass game, then you have to believe you can stop the run with six guys up front with your D-line. If you can't stop the run playing pass defense, then you're not going to be able to play a lot of pass defense.”

This season, the lone demerit on the defense was when that strategy enabled the other team to run all over them on the road. 

In away contests at Louisville, Duke and Clemson, the Irish gave up at least 175 yards on the ground and greater than 4.0 yards per carry. The Irish went 1-2 in those contests and needed a miraculous touchdown drive in the final minute against Duke to leave Durham victorious. 

“We talk about it often, how special it is to play in Notre Dame Stadium, the history, the tradition,” Freeman said. “We take pride in our performance in Notre Dame Stadium. That doesn't excuse us for, obviously, the performances that we have to have on the road. 

“There is a sense of pride when you come out of the locker room and you touch that ‘Play Like a Champion’ sign that you carry when you take this field.”

 
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