Notre Dame finally has that top-tier defense from 2012 back in tow, and it showed in its 37-34 win over Arizona State. They limited the Sun Devils offense with great run defense, pass-rushing capabilities and forced turnovers.
It took half the season to get to this point, but it looks like Bob Diaco's brilliantly schemed defense is finally back in South Bend for the Fighting Irish. They have been on a milk carton for the first part of the 2013 season.
However, if they can show up like they did against Arizona State, Notre Dame could finish the season anywhere from 8-4 to 10-2, barring some surprise wins.
They Got After the Quarterback and Forced Turnovers
The keys to a Bob Diaco defense are forcing turnovers and getting after the quarterback. Against Arizona State, they did just that. They had six sacks of Taylor Kelly. The sacks were evenly distributed among the key pass-rushers too.
Notre Dame's Prince Shembo celebrates a sack on Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN pic.twitter.com/bY90ozLuPT— SB Tribune Photos (@sbtphotos) October 6, 2013
The sacks were credited to the team—Isaac Rochell, Stephon Tuitt, and Prince Shembo—three times. Not only did they sack Kelly six times, but their pressure forced him to make poor decisions, throw interceptions or fumble the ball.
Poor decisions by Kelly led to two interceptions, and one of those was taken back for a touchdown by Dan Fox—the man who replaced Manti Te'o in the middle of Diaco's 3-4 defense.
And Tuitt's sack led to a fumble that was recovered by Arizona State. By turning up the pressure and forcing multiple turnovers, the Irish defense revisited the pattern set by last year's unit.
They Also Limited the Running Game
The biggest asset of a Bob Diaco defense is the ability to limit the running game. In their two losses this year, the Irish allowed 166 yards to Michigan and 212 yards to Oklahoma and a combined yards-per-carry average of 4.67.
But in their three prior wins this season, they allowed no more than 134 yards rushing, and the combined average was just 3.42 yards per carry. Against Arizona State, they allowed just 65 yards rushing on 25 carries for an average of 2.60 yards per carry.
And guess what? They won. When Diaco's defense is on, it will have the hallmarks of stopping the run and forcing turnovers and getting sacks with an excellent pass rush.
The Arizona State game was just another signature performance for Diaco's defense.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.