SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame’s secondary was not going to be the cause of another loss.
After giving up 202 passing yards in the final quarter of a loss to Michigan two weeks ago, the Irish’s defensive backfield corrected its mistakes and became a force in Saturday’s 31-13 home win over Michigan State.
We got great guys back there, cornerback Robert Blanton said.
I don’t think any of us were down about (the Michigan loss). We were more excited about the game (against Michigan State), and the challenge that is presented to us each and every week.
Blanton stood out the most from a secondary that combined for 34 tackles, eight pass breakups and an interception as the Spartans attempted 53 passes.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior made six tackles, reacted perfectly to a flea flicker out of a wildcat formation to record a sack as part of his three tackles for loss, broke up three passes and returned an interception 82 yards late in the fourth quarter.
The interception that set up the Irish’s game-sealing field goal was Blanton’s second of the season and eighth of his career.
We felt very strongly about Robert Blanton coming into the season, that he would give us great play, said coach Brian Kelly, whose Irish (1-2) play at Pittsburgh (2-1) on Saturday.
I think he’s exceeded everybody’s expectations at this point. He’s been a consistent performer for us. We believe he’s a very important part to what we do defensively.
Blanton’s two interceptions lead the team, and he is third in tackles with 16 and second in pass breakups with three behind safety Harrison Smith’s five.
Blanton’s play this season is a continuation of his performance last year.
Blanton had two interceptions last season to go along with a career-high 52 tackles, seven for loss, and five pass breakups while playing in a three-cornerback rotation with Gary Gray and Darrin Walls, who graduated.
The difference now, as much as he played last year, with that three-man rotation we had back there, he comes into this year with a lot of experience, a lot of confidence, a lot of understanding that he has to be one of the guys back there in the secondary that has to set the tone, cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks said.
He always has to be on top of his game, he’s got to play well, he’s got to have a good understanding, and when he goes out there and makes plays.
He’s one of those guys that has a personality that he energizes everybody. And I think he’s accepted that role, and he’s done a good job thus far handling that.
But as impressive as Blanton’s and the secondary’s performance was last weekend, they know they have to continue to produce this week and beyond.
We just have to make sure we finish the game, Blanton said.
We just have to finish.