FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame’s defense rose to coach Brian Kelly’s challenge with its best performance of the season in Saturday’s 17-13 win over Michigan State.
I think if you really cut it to the chase here, what we saw on Saturday is demanding that our guys do their job, Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. We had guys trying to do other people’s jobs and not taking care of their own business.
This week really was about you get what you demand, and do your job. I know those sound like some pretty standard watchwords. But we didn’t reinvent any defense, we didn’t create any new schemes, we just demanded more and expected more from our players, and we got it on Saturday.
The No. 22 Irish (3-1) held the Spartans (3-1) to 254 yards, 100 yards less than Michigan State averaged in its first three games. The Spartans were also held to 119 rushing yards after averaging 209.7 in the first three games.
Safety Matthias Farley came up with a third-quarter interception that set up the Irish’s game-winning touchdown, and in the final four minutes, Notre Dame twice forced Michigan State to go three-and-out to preserve the Irish’s 10th straight home win.
We’ll now need to see that on a consistent basis, Kelly said. Who’s going to show up now is really going to be what we’re asking. Are we going to see the group that showed itself against Michigan State consistently? Or the group that we saw the last couple weeks that played hot and cold? We’re going to look for that consistency now from our defense.
The foundation for the performance against Michigan State was laid in the days leading up to the game.
Cornerback KeiVarae Russell said there was more emphasis on correct tackling technique and a higher standard in practice.
If you didn’t wrap up, if you didn’t play perfectly, we started the whole play over, Russell said. I think the emphasis on trying to be great as an overall unit was emphasized.
The standard Kelly held the defense to last week will be needed again Saturday when Notre Dame plays host to No. 14 Oklahoma (3-0). The Sooners are averaging 490.3 yards and 33.7 points.
And now, the players have a blueprint of what they need to do each game.
I think you got now, you can point and say this is the player that will play for us, Kelly said. The kind of play that we saw Saturday, that guy will play for us. The other guy will stand on the sideline. You clearly have video evidence of what we expect from you. This is the way you need to play on a plan-in, play-out basis.
Note: Kelly said defensive end Sheldon Day, who missed the game against Michigan State because of a sprained ankle, should be able to play against Oklahoma.