As much as I really wanted to come on here and talk about how Notre Dame’s offense (Ian) Book-ended their first half of the season with yet another impressive performance by the rushing attack, I couldn’t help but focus on the Irish defense. While Mike Elko’s status as defensive wizard has certainly been cemented through the first six games of the season, what ND did to North Carolina this past Saturday veered into video game stat territory.
In the first quarter, the Irish gave up seven yards. Total. North Carolina managed to only run nine plays, gained zero first downs, and rushed for a grand total of -8 rushing yards.
The Tar Heels finally moved the sticks near the midway point of the second quarter. Six plays later, they fumbled, giving the Irish their first of three takeaways on the day.
Notre Dame forced eight total three-and-outs. That number doesn’t include two other drives that ended in three plays or less via a safety and a super-human interception by Julian Okwara tipping a Chazz Surratt pass directly to himself. That’s a grand total of ten drives out of fifteen, or two-thirds, of all UNC drives that ended in complete failure and zero first downs.
Seriously, just take a look at this quarter-by-quarter breakdown of what Elko’s defense did on Tobacco Road:
|Quarter||Total Yards||Rush Yards||Pass Yards||1st Downs||3-and-outs|
I don’t care how banged-up or terrible North Carolina’s offense is. Giving up 150 yards or less in each half is something I’ve only seen a ND defense do when I’m on the end of an Xbox controller. Giving up less than 50 passing yards per quarter in the second half, to a team that is desperately trying to pass in order to attempt a comeback, with paper-thin depth in the secondary no less, is otherworldly.
The Irish have yet to surrender more than 20 points to any opponent this season. At this point last season, they only managed such a feat twice against a terrible Nevada team (10) and in a hurricane against NC State (10). The next lowest mark on the scoreboard was 33 points from Syracuse.
They have one less sack now (13) than they did all of last season (14). Further, they have five different D-linemen that have registered at least one sack this season. Last season’s mark: two.
Their 14 forced turnovers are only bested by three power five schools: Southern Cal (15), Washington State (15), and Penn State (17). Yes, they have more than Alabama (13).
While the true tests await on the other side of the bye week, I simply can’t overlook what the defense has brought to the table thus far. Five of six ND game days have been (relatively) stress-free and the effort that they put forth this past Saturday ensured that the Tar Heels remained at arm’s length until the Book-led offense put them away for good.