Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football: Defense Wins Games Because They Have To
Saturday night against the USC Trojans was just another example of what Notre Dame Fighting Irish football has looked like this year: an offense that doesn’t do a lot of scoring leaning on a defense as much as possible, but always coming through with the win. Multiple drives that resulted in short field-goals is what kept this game from being a rout. And while that is somewhat complimentary toward the Fighting Irish, it illustrates a big problem their offense has had all season with not being able to put more points on the board when they have the opportunity to. As a result, a lot of their games have been close that didn’t need to be close.
And Saturday night was no different. While the Trojans’ offense moved pretty well against the Fighting Irish defense during the first half, it was evident that they weren’t going to be able to keep up if the Fighting Irish began scoring touchdowns. The problem is they never did, and kicker Kyle Brindza ended up kicking five field-goals in the game while the Fighting Irish offense could only score one touchdown in the game.
Keeping the Trojans’ running attack in check was the first priority for the Fighting Irish, and is really the first priority in any Fighting Irish game this season. Against the run is the most dominant part of the Fighting Irish defense and it paid off against the Trojans, who only ended up netting 95 rushing yards as a team in their loss Saturday night.
The goal-line stand the Fighting Irish pulled off late in the fourth quarter to kill any chance of a Trojans comeback will be the stuff of legend for years if the Fighting Irish end up winning the national championship this year. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind about that. At the time, there was still a chance that the Trojans could pull off a comeback if they scored quick and made a stop on defense. And after a 53-yard catch by Marquise Lee that had the Trojans at the Fighting Irish two yard-line, it looked like a quick score was immanent.
After a penalty set the Trojans back five yards, Curtis McNeal ran for four yards on first & goal. Second & goal brought a pass interference penalty that give the Trojans a new first & goal now at the Fighting Irish two yard-line. First & goal and there’s another pass interference penalty on the Fighting Irish, moving the ball one yard and giving the Trojans a new first & goal. A rush for no gain by freshman quarterback Max Wittek follows. And then another. On third & goal, the Trojans give the ball to McNeal and he gets stuffed for no gain. And finally on fourth & goal, the Trojans tried something different without success as a pass from Wittek intended for Soma Vainuku in the end-zone went incomplete.
And after all that, only 2:33 remained to play with the Fighting Irish holding a nine-point lead and the ball. Truly the stuff of legend for those in South Bend. This goal-line stand preserved the final win of an undefeated regular season (first for the Fighting Irish since 1989) and has given the Fighting Irish a shot at their first national championship in 24 years. They are certainly going to need this play out of their defense no matter which team wins the SEC and faces the Fighting Irish for the title. Whether it’s the Alabama Crimson Tide or the Georgia Bulldogs, the Fighting Irish will certainly be prepared on defense.