Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said from his first day on the job that a championship team needs to build with a strong defense foundation.
The Irish are certainly going in the right direction.
Entering Saturday's home game against Air Force (3-1), Notre Dame (3-2) is ranked 26th in scoring defense, giving up 18.6 points per game, and has kept opponents rushing attacks in check, giving up 91.2 yards per game.
Kelly said part of the reason the defense has improved so much is because the players on that side of the ball were made to feel wanted.
"There were issues of more than anything else that weren't on equal footing here," Kelly said. "We needed to make sure that our players knew, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that we can't win without you. We're not going to go into this and try to outscore people. That's only going to last a short period of time. We're here for a long period of time. We hope to be here for a very long period of time, and to build the foundation of long-term success, it's got to be invested in what you do defensively.
"I think when they heard that, knew that, they were an equal part in what we were doing then it's just let's go to work."
Linebacker Darius Fleming said the defense knew it was needed, but it was nice to hear.
"I think it needed to be said," Fleming said. "I think we knew that the team success had a lot to do with how the defense came out every week. In the past, we haven't been doing that.
"I think we've finally come together as a defense, and we understand we have guys who can make plays all over the field. We trust in each other, and we can get the job done. Now, it's just time to show it throughout our games."