Status Quo

Irisheyes.com continues its "10 for a Title" series examining 10 crucial game elements necessary for Notre Dame if the Irish are to earn a BCS Championship victory over Alabama. Next in the series: staying in character to start both halves.

No touchdowns and three field goals in the first quarter. Two touchdowns and one field goal in the third.

No, those numbers don't represent the beginning of two tough halves for Notre Dame's defense. Rather, they encapsulate a season's worth of dominant defensive efforts by Bob Diaco's unit.

It's a group that's owned the all-important third quarter for two seasons, last year allowing just 16 total points in the third quarter of 13 games with but one offensive touchdown. In total, a 155 to 33 Irish advantage over the last 25 football games coming out of the halftime break.

This season they've owned the first quarter as well, never allowing a touchdown with an 85-9 spread vs. their 12 foes.

Such quick starts allowed the Irish to lead for every minute of the season's first five contests, or until Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas recovered an Everett Golson fumble in the end zone for a 10-3 lead in Game #6, and the first deficit faced by Brian Kelly's Notre Dame squad all season.

Moreover, the Irish scored first in 11 of 12 regular season games and scored the first touchdown in 11 of 12 (Stanford the exception). Notre Dame scored the first offensive touchdown in all 12 games and, not unrelated, held the lead in 90.5 percent of the season's total 720 minutes of football.

Dent the scoreboard first. Keep points down. Manage the game with an appropriate run-pass mix or wherever the opponent's defense appears vulnerable during a given contest.

That's been Notre Dame' s formula for 2012 -- they can't break character inside Sun Life Stadium and in front of the college football world.

Portent

First and third quarter scoring differentials might seem like empty statistics, (there are second and the fourth quarter to consider as well), but note the following:

Of the five teams to score third quarter points vs. the Irish in 2011 or 2012, only one of the quintet -- Navy, with a passing touchdown to open the second half of Game One -- proved inconsequential to the final outcome.

Notre Dame twice beat Pittsburgh close during this span of third quarter dominance, first 15-12 with a fourth quarter comeback in 2011; the 29-23 with a triple-overtime comeback win this fall. The Panthers scored 10 third quarter points vs. Diaco's unit this seasonl (a 10-0 advantage) and pressed the Irish to the limit as a result.

Also in 2011, USC used a full-field fumble recovery touchdown to dent Notre Dame's third quarter scoreboard en route to a 14-point victory. At season's end 2011, Florida State scored a third quarter field goal and then a touchdown on the first play of the fourth to cut Notre Dame's seemingly safe halftime lead to 14-10 before winning 18-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl.

The first eight to 10 minutes following intermission often offes a major momentum swing in the college game, with points scored often forcing a foe out of character and away from its game plan.

Likewise, first quarter points allow power teams such as Alabama and Notre Dame to dictate the early tenor of a contest.

Every score matters, but as Notre Dame showed in 2012 and must continue to do so at the outset of 2013, a fast start -- in both halves -- offers poll position in what will likely be a tight race.

(Note: Click the links below for the first four game keys in our "10 for a Title" series):

#1 Hit for one score from outside the red zone

#2 Plus-One Turnovers

#3 Return of the Man?

#4 Even Steven


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