One of the big concerns Irish Eyes had heading into the 2004 season was the Irish being vulnerable against the run after losing both interior starters in Darrell Campbell and Cedric Hilliard to graduation. The results so far have been impressive and the Irish appear to be very solid against the run.
Defensive line coach Greg Mattison has been running a three-man rotation inside, and believes that the trio of Greg Pauly, Derek Landri and Trevor Laws gives him a lot of talent and flexibility along the interior defensive line.
The big question heading into 2004 was if Landri and Laws could handle the load inside with both having little playing experience.
"I felt like these were two guys, speaking of Laws and Landri, that are very, very equal, that have the toughness, the strength, the quickness to be able to make plays," Mattison said of his two talented nose guards.
"Derek has really done a good job up to this point because he also goes over to the three-technique. He can play both equally as well. It's allowed us to have a three-man rotation with Brian (Beidatsch) having a pulled quad. We've been able to play three guys and be fresh."
Landri has been the man doing the most flip-flopping inside. Mattison says he feels most comfortable moving Landri at this point, but believes Laws will be able to do the same in the future.
"Trevor has really only ever played nose, where Derek, in his high school background, played both," Mattison said. "Derek is more mature. Derek is a year older.
"Trevor, this is the first time he's ever probably had to play a three (technique), and he could do it, but I really like him on the center. He has really good quickness and balance, and that's the wrestling in him. He has the ability to come out of blocks and make plays.
Pauly, now a fifth-year senior, has really improved his play from last season and Mattison has always been a big Pauly fan.
"He so solid. He never is going to make 10 tackles in a game, but other people around him make tackles because he is so solid in there," Mattison said of Pauly.
"The one thing that people don't realize is that he's such a plus to our pass rush. When you get a push from a big, strong guy like him up the middle, it allows our ends to be able to go up the field more.
"If you don't get that, there's always holes there and the quarterback just steps up. Landri has done the same thing. They know that ‘hey, I might not get one, but I'm going to make sure that it goes out to the guys that can do it.'"
Pauly, Laws and Landri have also been racking up the tackles. All three players are credited with nine tackles each in three games. Mattison gave credit to the rest of the defense for the high number of tackles.
"That must mean that the guys around them are doing a pretty good job," said Mattison when asked about the high number of tackles from his interior players. "I think one thing that has helped the whole front has been the linebackers have been doing a great job of fitting where they're supposed to fit.
"They've been very physical and just common sense would tell you it's got to come out somewhere. If everybody plays their gap, then it's got to come out to somebody, and then that guy has got to make that tackle."
The Irish defensive line is also emphasizing the pass rush this season with mixed results. So far the front four have recorded five sacks on the season.
"It's been a big emphasis for us," Mattison said of the pass rush. "I think last year, even though we had a lot of sacks, we could've had a lot more. There were a lot of times where there were holes where the quarterback could step up and elude the outside rusher. We have to continue to keep a strong push up the middle."
We know what Tuck, Abiamiri and Budinscak can do, so Irish Eyes also wanted to know about some of the players who have yet to see the field much this season.
Senior Brian Beidatsch appeared to be ready to climb into some action inside before suffering his quad injury. Mattison says he feels very comfortable putting Beidatsch in if needed.
"Brian is always right there. If we got into a game where we had a lot of long drives, he would've been the next guy to go in," Mattison said of Beidatsch. "I have the utmost confidence in him. When you have three guys rolling in there fresh, then those three keep rolling."
"Chris Frome is in the exact same situation," Mattison said. "He could go in at any time, but we've got three guys rotating at the end position. We've got six guys going now and it will get to eight very easily throughout the year. Travis (Leikto) is right there also. He does some great things. I've seen him really improve."
"With the way we're playing inside, I feel comfortable, and he can probably give us what we need outside"said Mattison when asked if Frome might play some inside this season.
Two freshmen also reported in August and we asked Mattison for his opinion on both Ronald Talley and Justin Brown.
"I like them," Mattison said of his two freshmen. "I think they've got great experience watching this group. It's probably been the best teaching for them because they see how you have to play hard; they see what you have to do to be successful.
"They're real raw. They haven't had a real chance to work on technique. We'll get a chance to work with them on technique and they're going to be very good.
"Ronald has a lot of potential. He works very hard and wants to learn. He's got a motor and the attitude you're looking for. We just have to get him some reps and teach him some technique.
"Justin is very, very fast for a big guy. He only played one year of football. I've seen flashes of him where he really looks good. It's just going to be growing up and technique and everything like that."
Much of the recent Irish success can be attributed to the excellent play by the Irish defensive line. We also believe any future success will also depend on the their play as well. So fa, the results have been impressive, and all signs point to a very productive season by this unheralded unit.