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November 24, 2013

Offense teaches defense, Jones

NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- The offensive line deserves some credit for the foundation of Notre Dame’s strong red-zone defense in Saturday’s 23-13 victory over BYU.

Senior offensive linemen Zack Martin and Chris Watt have never seen a defensive snap -- and likely never will -- but their influence created an interior power named Jarron Jones.

Jones found himself on the scout team during the two weeks preceding Notre Dame’s victory over USC on Oct. 19. Inconsistent showings in practice had landed the defensive lineman a demotion. The “humbling experience” taught Jones that playing well on Saturdays begins on Mondays.

“That taught me how to be more consistent because that was my biggest problem, being more consistent in practice,” he said following his seven tackles and blocked field goal against the Cougars. “That taught me how to be more consistent. They practice hard on a consistent basis.”

With seniors Louis Nix out for the season (meniscus surgery) and Kona Schwenke out for the final three quarters Saturday (high ankle sprain), Jones’s consistency is needed more than ever in the middle of the defensive front. Without it, Notre Dame may not have held BYU to three field goal attempts on three red zone entries in the second half. Without it, the Irish almost certainly would not have blocked the third of those attempts, preserving a two-possession lead, as Jones’s long reach swatted down the 22-yard attempt.

“He got the opportunity,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “We felt like Jarron was coming on and he played exceedingly well. I’m really happy for him. We thought this was something that when we recruited him that he was capable of, and he showed that today.”

Without Nix and Schwenke, the entire defense had to “step up,” to quote sophomore lineman Sheldon Day, who ended the afternoon with seven tackles of his own.

On its first second-half possession, BYU marched 80 yards to the Notre Dame 12-yard line, but the drive stalled there and kicker Justin Sorensen knocked through his first field goal attempt. Nearly eight minutes later, the Cougars found themselves only nine yards from paydirt before the Irish defense stiffened, and Sorensen sent another field goal through the uprights. His final attempt -- the one knocked astray by Jones -- came after BYU got to the Irish six-yard line.

In the second half, no matter how close the Cougars came to the end zone, Notre Dame bent but refused to break.

“That’s just what happens at that part of the field,” said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall of the Cougars’ struggles in the red zone. “The run game was working pretty effectively to get us down there, but the safeties are now closer and so the running game is much more difficult to get the kind of yardage we were getting.”

Smith, who made a perfect read of Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill’s eyes to nearly intercept the pass, forced BYU into a 3rd-and-goal from Notre Dame’s six-yard line rather than a Cougars touchdown and a 23-17 nail-biter. After he, Jones and the rest of the defense heard from the coaches that they weren’t reaching their capabilities in the red zone, they finally did so in dramatic fashion.

“In the past, we haven’t been very good in the red zone,” Smith said. “We worked on it all week and were able to be successful.”

It was the “all week” aspect Jones had been missing, until the offensive line gave the defensive lineman a two-week tutorial.

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