Let's Hear It for 'D-Boys'

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Air Force 6.jpg Notre Dame director of football media relations Brian Hardin makes his Irish UNDerground debut in grand fashion ...

Beginning this week, I will occasionally pen a column on our football team to either draw attention to something I feel is being overlooked, provide clarification on an issue that has not been presented accurately or fairly or shed light on a part of the program few have seen or heard from before.

In my first column, I'd like to recognize a group that has earned much deserved praise for its performance in the first half of the season, but one that was sent to the shadows from the shining light that was the Fighting Irish offense last Saturday.

I want to give credit to the first-team defense for its performance against Air Force.

Many will think I'm crazy for praising a defense that allowed 33 points and 565 total yards of offense. Those numbers certainly did not help the unit's statistical rankings in the latest NCAA report. However, a look inside those numbers reveals something pretty fascinating. The defense was pretty solid.

For instance, the Notre Dame first-team defense allowed 19 points to a group that entered averaging over 38 points per game. The final two touchdowns and 147 of 565 total yards came against third-team defenders last Saturday. In fact, over 25 percent of Air Force's final total yardage came in the last three possessions against the third-team defense.

The two touchdowns scored on the first-team defense occurred on drives that had actually been stopped earlier in the possession. The first touchdown came one play after the Irish jumped offsides on fourth-and-two from their own seven-yard line when the Falcons were attempting a field goal. The second touchdown came on a drive that was continued by a fake punt from the Air Force 35-yard line. The defense had allowed 15 yards on six plays in that possession before the Falcons punter scrambled 19 to keep the drive alive.

The second half, though, is when the stinginess the Irish defense showed in 19 of the 20 quarters entering Saturday returned. Air Force gained only 107 yards on 28 plays in the third and fourth quarters against Notre Dame's first-team defense. A team that entered the contest averaging 7.7 yards per play was held to half that after halftime. The Irish starters were tough to run against after intermission as Air Force tallied 78 rushing yards on 20 carries.

Explosive plays were non-existent in the second half as the only rush over 15 yards and pass over 20 yards in the second half came at the end of the game when the Irish cleared the bench in the waning two possessions.

The only way for Air Force to have gotten back into the game would have been through quick scores on offense that would have required passes over 20 yards. The defense implemented in the second half by defensive coordinator Bob Diaco completely eliminated that possibility.

Maybe the largest point that should be made cannot be proven by a statistical category, and that is the discipline required to play Air Force.

During Friday's production meetings with NBC, Cierre Wood told the story of how he asked Stephon Tuitt if he was ready to wreak havoc in the Air Force backfield on Saturday. To Wood's surprise, Tuitt's response was, "I'm ready to do my assignment."

For five weeks, our defensive line has gotten pressure in the backfield seemingly at will. That had been its assignment in previous games but not against Air Force. It was a great sign that a group of talented yet inexperienced defensive linemen could focus on the duty assigned by their coach in helping the team be as successful as possible.

There will be times in the future when the young defensive linemen will be "turned loose," but that type of approach versus Air Force could have had catastrophic results for the Irish.

It was great to see the Irish offense march up and down the field with relative ease last Saturday. The offense deserves the lion's share of attention this week for its stellar play in scoring touchdowns on every possession of the first half.

However, what I really enjoyed seeing was the winning mentality displayed in the second half by the Irish defense.

In a game decided by points and not yards, the starting defensive unit lived up to the standard set multiple times this year, and that's something that shouldn't be completely overshadowed.

- Brian Hardin (@bhardin2)

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7:30 PM
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