As the saying goes, defense wins championships—and for the Fighting Irish, it looks like they are priming themselves for one heck of a defensive unit.
When Charlie Weis took over the reins in 2005, his teams were not the most stout defensively. After several top recruiting classes and getting two top-notch coaches in Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta, Notre Dame is becoming one of the better defensive teams in the country.
Below are the Irish's defensive stats and national ranks from 2005 to the current 2008 season.
Rushing: 132.33 ypg (34th)
Passing: 264.58 ypg (103rd)
Pass Eff.: 126.40 avg. (69th)
Total Def.: 396.92 ypg (75th)
Rushing: 136.85 ypg (61st)
Passing: 203.38 ypg (60th)
Pass Eff.: 137.59 avg. (90th)
Total Def.: 340.23 ypg (65th)
Rushing: 195.42 ypg (96th)
Passing: 161.58 ypg (second)
Pass Eff.: 111.78 avg. (22nd)
Total Def.: 357.00 ypg (39th)
2008 Defense thru 10 games
Rushing: 137.70 ypg (57th)
Passing: 179.70 ypg (22nd)
Pass Eff.: 101.46 avg. (11th)
Total Def.: 316.40 ypg (31st)
Some might argue that this year's squad is benefiting from a weak schedule, but you cannot disregard the fact that the Fighting Irish have greatly improved across the board defensively.
Just look at last week's performance against the Naval Academy, where Notre Dame held the second-ranked rushing offense to only 178 yards. That's 117 yards below their season average! Pittsburgh, who has one of the better rushing defenses in the country, didn't hold the Middies to that yardage.
One of the reasons for the rise in success of Notre Dame's defense is that they are generating depth. Better yet, they are generating depth with high caliber athletes!
Some of the downfalls of recent Irish teams were that there was not enough depth along the defensive front or in the secondary. This season Notre Dame is getting quality minutes from a lot of players who will be called upon in the near future.
Here's a preview of what the defensive starting lineup could look like next season.
DE Morrice Richardson
NT Ian Williams
DE Ethan Johnson
SAM Harrison Smith or Steve Filer
MIKE Brian Smith
JACK Toryan Smith
WILL Kerry Neal or Darius Fleming
LCB Raeshon McNeil or Gary Gray
FS Sergio Brown
SS Kyle McCarthy 5th yr (DNP as a Freshman)
RCB Darrin Walls or Robert Blanton
Key backups that saw game action this season
NT Paddy Mullen
SAM Scott Smith 5th yr (DNP as a Sophomore)
WILL John Ryan
JACK Anthony McDonald (Special Teams in 2008)
DE Emeka Nwankwo
Will see action next year
DE Sean Cwynar
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore
FS Dan McCarthy
NG Brandon Newman
LB David Posluszny
DB Jamoris Slaughter
DE Hafis Williams
Waiting in the wings
LB Carlo Calabrese
LB Dan Fox
LB Zeke Motta
DB Marlon Pollard
DL Tyler Stockton
So you can see the Irish are finally stockpiling at the positions where the elite schools have done for years.
The other equation to having an ever-improving defense has been the addition of Coordinator Corwin Brown and Assistant Head Coach Jon Tenuta. The end result of their tutelage has shown from last season to this season and from week to week in 2008. Hopefully the Irish and Charlie Weis can keep both intact for the long haul.
The pieces to the puzzle are now setting into place for the Irish defensively. Next year will be the start of a big successful run in Notre Dame's leap back into elite status and waking up the echoes of seasons past.
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