The stats don't lie. In the second half, Notre Dame's defense allowed just three points. Through seven games, the Irish have allowed a meager 15 points in the third quarter. The Irish held them down not only on the scoreboard but on the field. The Bruins mustered just 75 total yards in the second half and 243 for the contest. On third downs, Notre Dame got off the field on nine of 14 chances. They were even better stopping UCLA's ground attack, stuffing the Bruins for 26 yards on 28 attempts. The 26 yards is 117 under UCLA's average.
"We knew they had some stuff to throw at us but we've seen the kind of runs they've run all year," defensive lineman Trevor Laws said, who ended up with 1.5 TFL and a fumble recovery. "We've been making plays on those types of runs all year and we knew we could stop them."
Other Notre Dame players were praising Laws and his linemates for their performance.
"Actually, it was more the front four and the defensive line," linebacker Joe Brockington said about stopping UCLA's rushing attack. "How the defensive line plays is how we play and they played well. They hogged up blockers and let me, Mo and Travis run. It's basically the D-line. If they can clog things up, we can't make plays. I give all the credit to them."
*There were two big negatives for the defense. Once again, they allowed two big scoring plays from long distances. The first happened when Bruins quarterback Patrick Cowan found Marcus Everett over the middle and outran the defense for a second quarter 54-yard touchdown to tie the game up at 7-7. The next dagger happened just over five minutes later when Cowan found William Snead over the middle for a reception. Snead proceeded to break two Notre Dame tackles on his way towards a 36-yard score to give UCLA a 14-7 lead.
"It was kind of a busted coverage," cornerback Mike Richardson said about Snead's touchdown. "We didn't pick up the people we actually were supposed to pick up. He got open and started running. He's a big guy and was tough to bring down.
"We just wanted to keep playing our game. We gave up those big plays in the first half, which we shouldn't have. For the most part, we wanted to stuff the run and play solid on the back end."
"It's tough," Laws said about the big plays. "Mistakes always happen. You don't see them as much up front as you don't in the back end. We all know they're going to happen. You just have to forget about them and look forward to the second half."
*The plan was simple: stop UCLA on three consecutive downs with 2:20 left and three timeouts in the bank and get the ball back to offense for a chance at the winning score. This was the situation faced Notre Dame when Brady Quinn's quarterback sneak on fourth down fell short.
As they did time and time again on Saturday, the Irish stifled the Bruins when they tried to run the ball. UCLA's Chris Markey rushed for no gain on first down. Timeout Notre Dame. Markey was able to pick up three yards on 2nd-and-10. Last timeout for the Irish. On 3rd-and-7 and one more first down the difference between a huge upset or a chance for Notre Dame to get the ball back, the Bruins chose to run the ball with Markey to the right side for a loss of two yards. A punt and three plays later, the Irish scored the game-winning touchdown.
"We had to come out and stop them," Richardson said. "The coaches told us that if we stop them, we'll end up with the ball back with about a minute to go after we used all our timeouts. We went out there with the mentality that we were going to stop them."
"We knew we could do it," Laws said. "Just the way we played against the run all day, we thought there was no way they're running for a first down. We were happy with the way things turned out."
"We talked about getting that stop and giving the ball back to the offense," Brockington said. "We needed to give the offense a shot to score. That's the thing about our offense. They can put points up on the board. It was just a matter of getting the back to them and letting them do what they do."
*Speaking of Brockington, this was the third straight game that the senior started. After totaling just 12 tackles the past two seasons, Brockington has been able to see some significant playing time. When weak-side linebacker Travis Thomas got hurt in the Michigan State contest, it was Brockington that started in his place for the Purdue and Stanford contests. With Thomas healthy on Saturday, it forced Weis to shuffle around the linebacker group.
"During the bye week, he told me I had to learn to play Sam," Brockington said. "We were kind of experimenting out there with me playing Sam and Travis playing Sam to find out what was best. Coming into the week, they told us that Travis was playing Sam and I was playing Will. I thought we played well. We still have some time to gel and once we do, we'll be a good group."
Brockington finished with seven tackles, tied for second best with Thomas. The leading tackler: another linebacker, Maurice Crum, Jr, with eight stops. Brockington said he's adapting to his new found playing time rather nicely.
"I'm actually not nervous at all when I'm out there," Brockington said. "I settle in. I don't know what it is. When we practice during the week, that was pretty much what we saw during the week. But I wasn't nervous at all and I settled in quite well."
*Terrail Lambert nabbed his third interception of the season in the first quarter, which is a team-high.