To the chagrin of many readers, last week I penned a column outlining why Notre Dame will underachieve in 2013.
No guarantee exists that the Irish will fall short of expectations this fall; in fact, head coach Brian Kelly and Co. could very well end up a pleasant surprise after 12 regular-season games by exceeding the aforementioned expectations.
The question begging to be asked is how Notre Dame will go about accomplishing such a feat.
Without question, that venture begins on the defensive side of the ball.
Notre Dame reached last season's BCS National Championship Game on the shoulders of its formidable defense, which was a stark contrast to Kelly's Cincinnati teams that reached the BCS via explosive offenses.
It was an unmistakable signal that Kelly has indeed altered his coaching philosophy to match the age-old mantra that "defense wins championships."
The Irish learned that lesson in embarrassing fashion during a 42-14 loss to Alabama, the most dominant defensive team of the BCS era; the Tide has won three of the last four national championships largely due in part to the ferocious defenses head coach Nick Saban assembles on an annual basis.
While Alabama set the gold standard for defense once again last season, the Irish weren't far behind statistically.
Notre Dame finished seventh nationally in total defense, second in scoring defense, 11th in rushing defense and 16th in passing efficiency defense (statistics courtesy of NCAA.com).
With eight returning starters from the unit that produced those gleaming figures a season ago, the Irish defense is primed for another dominant season.
The front seven will again be among the nation's most stout, with the likes of nose guard Louis Nix, defensive ends Stephon Tuitt and Sheldon Day and linebackers Danny Spond, Prince Shembo and Dan Fox (Jarrett Grace is an up-and-coming yet unproven linebacker filling Manti Te'o's vacant right inside linebacker position).
Fortunately, the front seven won't be responsible for shadowing an inexperienced secondary, as it was for the first half of the 2012 season.
That unit features three returning starters: strong safety Matthias Farley and cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell.
With such a wealth of experience returning on the defensive side of the ball, points will come at a premium for Irish opponents in 2013.
However, the defense can't go it alone; the offense must provide enough of a punch to counterbalance the strength of the defense, though that's a tall task without incumbent starting quarterback Everett Golson, who was assumed to be a vastly improved player in 2013.
Regardless, the offense must continue doing what it did well last season: run the ball. The Irish finished 38th nationally in rushing yards per game, at a clip of 189.38.
Yet there are two areas of concern that must be addressed: passing efficiency and red-zone offense.
Notre Dame finished 74th and 71st nationally in those statistical categories, respectively, a season ago.
If the Irish are able to shore up those areas and put just enough points on the board, they will have a legitimate opportunity to silence the critics.
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