The key word, though, for head coach Charlie Weis has been consistency. There have been a few bumps in the road. The Michigan defense made Brady Quinn look foolish and physically dominated the contest. UCLA's two defensive ends constantly were in the backfield to disrupt the timing of the Notre Dame offense. But since the win over the Bruins, Weis has seen four consistent performances from the unit that has them riding high into the USC contest.
The competition hasn't been the stiffest. Of the past four opponents, Air Force statistically had the best defense, ranking 63rd nationally in total defense. In the game, Notre Dame only had the ball for 21 minutes yet totaled 383 yards of total offense. The other teams' rankings in total defense: Navy at 69th, North Carolina at 88th and Army at 83rd.
Next week's opponent, USC, has the 21st best defense in the nation, surrendering 288 yards per game. Racking up yards has not been a problem of late for the Irish. In the past four contests, they've averaged 436 yards per game. How bout scoring defense? The Trojans are 11th in Division 1A in the category, allowing a meager 14 points a game. Notre Dame has scored 38, 45, 39 and 41 points the last four times out for an average of 40.
The balance has been there. In every game, Notre Dame has broken the 100-yard rushing barrier and the 200-yard passing mark. Especially the last two contests, Darius Walker and the running game have been on point. The average yard of gain was 6.5 vs. Air Force and 6.3 against Army. The season mark is just 3.8 but the number is on the rise. USC is 13th nationally against the run, giving up 92 yards a game. Will Walker and the Irish be able to assert themselves on the ground out in Los Angeles and keep the ball away from the Trojans offense?
Quinn has been just as lethal. In the four game run, he has thrown 14 touchdowns to one interception. In the first three contests, the lowest average yards per completion was 14.8. Army took away the deep threat and made Notre Dame grind it out patiently. The benefit of having a senior quarterback is the experience factor. Quinn took what was there and completed 22-of-30 for 218 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. The average yards per completion was 9.9 but the signal caller didn't force the issue.
What do all these impressive numbers mean? Notre Dame has been getting it done on the offensive side of the ball. The consistency has been there. It gives the group confidence heading into the biggest contest of the year at USC. But make no mistake: the Trojans, by far, will be a stiffer challenger than the three service academies and North Carolina. Can the Irish offense carry the momentum to Saturday night? Notre Dame fans should have that answer in less than a week's time.
*Derek Landri overtook Victor Abiamiri for the team lead in tackles for loss. Landri registered 4.5 in the win over Army to give him 15 for the season. Abiamiri has 14.5 on the year. Landri is also fourth on the team in tackles and second in sacks. How impressive are the 15 TFL's? With the exception of 1998 (for which I couldn't find any stats on), it's already tied for the third highest total for a Notre Dame defensive lineman in the past 10 seasons with two games remaining. Abiamiri had 15 last season, Justin Tuck registered 19 in 2003 and Anthony Weaver racked up 21 in 2001. Note that these three were all defensive ends. Landri is a defensive tackle.