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September 14, 2013
ND tries to plug leaky defense
In 2012, the Notre Dame defense allowed just 36 run and/or pass plays of at least 20 yards. That tied for second nationally with Bowling Green, one behind Michigan's nation-leading 35.
Notre Dame's inability to contain Michigan's explosive trio of quarterback Devin Gardner, receiver Jeremy Gallon and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint last weekend played a major role in the 41-30 loss in Michigan Stadium.
Michigan had six plays of 20 yards or more, including the long first-quarter touchdown by Gallon in which every member of the Irish secondary missed a chance to make the tackle.
Gallon caught passes of 61, 22 and 41 yards, Gardner had a 35-yard run, and Toussaint hurt the Irish in the fourth quarter with a 28-yard run and a 31-yard swing pass in a three-play span.
That makes eight plays the Irish have surrendered of more than 20 yards through two games, which is a pace of 48 during the regular season and 52 for the year, including a bowl game.
The Irish may get a reprieve this weekend against offensively-challenged Purdue, which is averaging just 13.5 points per game, 255 yards total offense, and a mere 9.4 yards per completion and 2.9 yards per running play.
Out of 127 snaps of the football, Purdue averages just 4.0 yards per play with only three plays of 20 yards or more. Two of those plays have been 29- and 25-yard receptions by running backs Dalyn Dawkins and Akeem Hunt. The only Purdue play of 20 yards or beyond by a receiver is a 27-yard reception by freshman DeAngelo Yancey.
The Irish also benefited from a plus-eight turnover ratio in 2012 after a horrendous minus-15 in 2011. So far, Notre Dame has one interception on 80 pass attempts and one fumble recovered out of 148 snaps, and that was a muffed punt late in the Temple game.
Notre Dame is one of just six programs that allowed less than 21 points per game over the last three seasons. Granted, the Irish shaved it close in 2010 (20.23) and 2011 (20.69), but established themselves as one of the premier defenses in the country last season, allowing 12.77 points per game and just four rushing touchdowns.
Thanks to Michigan's 41 points against the Irish, Notre Dame is allowing 23.5 points per game, which is tied for 54th nationally. Even more startling are the 411 yards per game allowed by the Irish, which ranks 77th in the country.
With Purdue and Michigan State struggling offensively, and Oklahoma caught between successors at quarterback to Landry Jones, Notre Dame's defense has a great opportunity to beef up its defensive statistics over the next three weeks.
In fact, seven of Notre Dame's remaining 10 opponents rank among the bottom half of the 123 FBS schools in scoring offense. Pittsburgh is 116th and Purdue is 113th. USC checks in at 97th this week while Michigan State (86th), Oklahoma (79th), Air Force (78th), and BYU (68th) help bring up the rear. (First-week opponent Temple is tied for 119th.)
By 2012 standards, the Notre Dame defense is behind schedule, although there remain plenty of struggling offenses on the slate for the Irish stop unit to get healthy again, particularly in the next three weeks.
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