No Sudden Movements

Notre Dame's 2012 offense committed half as many turnovers as it did in 2011. Nearly as important: it's defense refused to yield following the majority of those mistakes.

Brian Kelly's second season in South Bend took a turn for the worse because of the turnover: a staggering 29 were committed; a program-record low of 14 forced and a minus-15 ratio among the nation's worst.

Kelly's third season flipped the script, with Notre Dame losing the football just 14 times due to turnover; only 11 teams nationally committing fewer. The Irish defense in turn forced 23, a solid number, tied for 37th nationally.

But turnover differential alone doesn't explain how the Irish escaped the 2012 slate unscathed -- their defense's response to each, does.

Notre Dame's defense took the field 13 times following a turnover this fall (a 14th turnover directly resulted a Stanford touchdown in Game Six). The Irish allowed just three scores. On three other occasions the defense created a turnover of its own to immediately offset the offense's mistake.

Scores Allowed

Two of the four total scores occurred in the season's first two weeks, with one nearly dealing a death blow to the team' championship dreams:

  1. Purdue Fumble Recovery: A standout effort by Everett Golson was marred by the redshirt-freshman's 4th Quarter fumble, one that gave the Boilermakers a 1st and 10 at the Irish 15-yard line. Though the defense stiffened (a sack pushed Purdue back to 2nd and 22 at the 27) it eventually broke, with quarterback Caleb Terbush hitting Antavian Edison for a 15-yard score on 4th down. Chiefly involved among Irish defenders were backup safety Matthias Farley and linebacker Carlo Calabrese. I've yet to receive an adequate explanation for the run-stuffing linebacker's presence on the field in such an obvious passing situation.

  2. BYU Interception: The first of two interceptions thrown by backup quarterback Tommy Rees this season was not his fault. A quick hitch over the middle to DaVaris Daniels bounced off the receiver's hands/face mask and into the waiting arms of Cougars linebacker J.D. Falslev at the BYU 44 yard line.

    Four snaps, a pass interference penalty on Notre Dame, one well-designed play at the goal line, and 30 yards later, Notre Dame's defense allowed its first touchdown score in 17-plus quarters, with Cougars QB Riley Nelson finding tight end Kaneakua Friel for a two-yard touchdown. Coverage responsibility on the play appeared to fall to Calabrese, who took one false step on play-action and was beaten inside for a slanting score (though replay seemed to indicate Friel trapped the ball on his score, but the touchdown stood as called).

  3. Pittsburgh Interception: Rees' second interception was a head-shaker, one thrown directly to the waiting arms of Eric Williams and nowhere near an Irish receiver (T.J. Jones was far downfield; Theo Riddick close and near on a ball thrown far and outside). Three snaps, 52 yards, and one beautiful middle screen (that gained 43 of the 52 total yards) to plodding tight end J.P. Holtz later, the Panthers hit pay dirt, with quarterback Tino Sunseri finding Holtz again, this time an easy 9-yard post in front of Dog linebacker Danny Spond. The score gave Pittsburgh a 17-6 and presented the Irish with their first and only two-score deficit of 2012. (Pitt later extended the lead to 20-6.)

13 turnovers, just three scores allowed by the defense. More rare than points allowed were yards gained, as Notre Dame limited its opponent to less than 15 yards on nine of the season's 13 drives following an Irish turnover.

"We can't move too far from our core beliefs (this) I said when we first met three years ago. We're interested in keeping the points down," said Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.

"It begins with fundamentals. On a play-to-play basis, understanding in pass coverage, the fundamentals of body position and relationships to the routes and the different core concepts we have, and different fits in block destruction, tackling angles, there are things to be coached on a regular basis."

Mission accomplished.

Turning the Tables

Notre Dame's defense refused to yield 10 times following the offense's 13 turnovers committed in 2012:

1 -- Interception vs. Navy: The Midshipmen drove 75 yards following a Golson interception at the Navy 9-yard line, but Ishaq Williams and Stephon Tuitt proved too athletic, the former recording a sack and forced fumble, the latter picking up the pigskin and sprinting for a 77-yard score and 27-0 lead, effectively ending the contest late in the second quarter.

2 -- Interception vs. Michigan: Staked with field position at the Irish 10-yard line following an opening snap interception of Golson, the Wolverines offense went backwards, losing two yards on a rush (Farley and Calabrese on the stop), three more on a sack (Prince Shembo) and another 10 on a 3rd and G sack from the 15 by Tuitt. Michigan's ending 42-yard field goal attempt sailed wide and the Irish seized momentum after Golson's opening error.

3 -- Interception vs. Michigan: Golson was picked off in the end zone (and subsequently replaced by Rees) providing Michigan starting field position at its own 20-yard line. The Wolverines managed to hold onto the football for four snaps and 14 yards before Manti Te'o recorded his first of two interceptions to stymie the Wolverines again.

4 -- Fumble vs. Stanford: Quarterback/Center exchange was the culprit, giving the visitors field position at the ND 47-yard line. Five snaps, 27 yards, and one fade route later, Irish cornerback Bennett Jackson tracked a Josh Nunes pass down the far sideline and secured the interception at the Irish one yard line.

5 -- Fumble vs. Stanford: A 20-yard Golson scramble is negated by the redshirt-freshman's fumble near the Cardinal sideline, but Notre Dame's defense responds with swift justice, forcing a three-and-out after just two yards gained to keep the margin manageable, Stanford leading 10-3 late in the first half.

6 -- Interception vs. Pittsburgh: Trailing 20-12 with four minutes remaining, Golson throws his second of three end zone interceptions on the season as Pitt's K'Waun Willillams baits redshirt-freshman into a corner route (under throw) to Troy Niklas. The Panthers begin a drive at the Irish 20-yard line as a result but Notre Dame's defense holds, 3 plays, minus 5 yards, just 0:56 taken off the clock and Golson is afforded the opportunity of a game-tying drive at the end of regulation. Golson's touchdown pass and ensuing conversion run ties the score at 20, keeping an undefeated season alive.

7 -- Overtime Fumble vs. Pittsburgh: Attempting to dive in for the winning score, senior Cierre Wood brushes against Irish left guard Chris Watt. The ball pops loose, lands in the end zone, and is recovered by Panthers safety Jared Holley, giving the Panthers possession in need of a field goal to win. The Irish defense limits Pittsburgh to nine yards on three snaps and Kevin Harper's errant 33-yard field goal gives Notre Dame (and its stunned stadium crowd) new life in an eventual 29-23 triple overtime victory.

8 -- Fumble vs. Boston College: Sophomore running back George Atkinson is stripped standing up at the Eagles 31-yard line. Notre Dame's defense takes the field with a tenuous 7-3 edge midway through the second quarter and subsequently holds, limiting the Eagles to 34 yards on six snaps before forcing a punt in Irish territory.

9 -- Fumble vs. Boston College: With the Irish leading 21-6 early in the fourth quarter, senior Theo Riddick loses his only fumble of the season, giving the hosts possession at the Irish 48-yard line. Notre Dame's defense allows one first down, but ultimately just seven yards are gain on seven snaps, with Kapron Lewis-Moore ending BC's threat at the Irish 35-yard line, sacking quarterback Chase Rettig for a six-yard loss on fourth down.

10 -- Interception vs. Wake Forest: Golson final interception of the regular season is his third in the opponent's end zone, this time forcing a 24-yard pass into double coverage in the far corner -- an obvious attempt to get a touchdown for senior Robby Toma on Senior Day. Wake manages seven yards on three snaps (a sack by Tuitt the key) and the Irish defense forces punt No. 4 following 10 turnover situations.

Final tally: Four punts forced, one turnover on downs, two missed field goals (one quite fortunate in the grand scheme of college football), two interceptions, and one touchdown scored by the Irish defense. Top Stories