It's not that the Notre Dame defensive players want to be placed tough positions, it's just that they're taught that those are the situations in which they can prove themselves. The Fighting Irish defense readily accepts any challenge that may be placed upon it.
"Anybody can play well when you're up by 20 points and when the other team is starting at the 20," defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said. "I don't like turnovers, but at the same time ever since I was in high school and college, when the (offense) turned the ball over we looked upon that as an opportunity, because one, you know that they're going to be fired up going out onto the field.
"So when they can come out there and they gave us their best shot and then we stop them, if we turn it over that's even bigger, but if we make them kick a field goal then what could have been a momentum boost for their team is almost like a downer."
Junior cornerback Raeshon McNeil does not look forward to those situations, but at the same time he relishes the opportunities.
"As bad as they are, those are the types of situations that you really thrive for," McNeil said. "Those are the situations when you really get to show what your defense is made of."
Sophomore linebacker Harrison Smith also gets the message.
"We really just try to take it as a challenge," said Smith. "Say the offense gets the ball and they're already in our red zone, we just look at it as a way to prove ourselves."
Through three games, Notre Dame opponents have started drives inside Irish territory four times and half of those possessions have ended in punts. Last week, Michigan State started a drive on Notre Dame's 22-yard line and scored a touchdown, but it needed nine plays, a fourth-down conversion and a pass interference call to do it.
"If it's not for a penalty, they might not even score then," Brown said.
Brown looks at it as a chance for his defense to go head-to-head with the opposition.
"Give us your best stuff because I promise you're going to get our best and then we'll see what happens," he said. "We don't mind that."
SCOUTING PURDUE: Brown gave a very simple, yet telling scouting report of the Boilermakers.
"Good quarterback. Running back is capable of making big plays, we've got to get this guy corralled," he said. "Very capable receivers and an O-line that does a good job protecting."
McNeil has seen the talent at wideout on tape.
"They've got some really good receivers," he said. "They've got a new slot (Desmond Tardy) that's in there and he's looking pretty good. He looks just as good as (Dorien) Bryant. Their receivers are really just as good as they have been, so we're going to have to be on top of our game."
Going against Curtis Painter and pass-happy Purdue should give the Irish a chance to get after the quarterback again. It's easier to see the difference in the new aggressive defense when they are facing a team that likes to get in the shotgun and sling it, but Brown said that the offense's scheme does not really matter because the rules don't change for the defense.
"We can play well against anybody. The systems don't matter because we have things in place where we can handle anything," he said. "I don't care about anything else, if the guy has the ball, there's a gap he's running in, somebody's supposed in that gap, get him down."
Brown admitted that the Irish would like to have more sacks, but that they are doing a good job on third down and still dictating the game.
"There are times when we want to get to the quarterback and we're not getting there, but at the same time we are getting off the field," he said. "Now if they're throwing a game where they don't allow us to do that, that's fine too, we just play more coverage."
Brown offered any easy indicator as to whether or not the Notre Dame pressure is being effective.
"Any time you see the quarterback throwing and he can set his feet than we're not doing something right," he said.
BRUTON ON NEXT LEVEL?: Brown was asked about safety David Bruton's pro prospects, but did not want to think too far ahead.
"I'm not even going to go down that road," he said. "Ill say this, I've been around guys and I've seen guys that have done it at a pretty good level and if he does things the right way he can do it. I'll just leave it at that… I want to focus on him being a good college player right now, I don't want to put him in Canton already."
HIGH PRAISE HARD TO COME BY: Overall, the defense has played pretty solid so far, but Brown has been hesitant to give any of players too much credit. Brown quotes former coaches a lot, but the one he got from his former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler is one of his best.
"Bo used to always say, ‘When a guy starts talking nice about you, hit him in the face, punch him right in the face because he's going to make you soft,'" said Brown. "If you're constantly telling somebody how good they're doing sooner or later they're going to start believing that. Even if a guy is doing good, there is always something you could work on… You're playing good, but how about playing great?"
That thinking can translate from individuals to units.
"Yeah, we're playing OK, but if we were playing great, we would have shut them out," he said.
FLOYD MAKING AN IMPRESSION: Freshman receiver Michael Floyd has caught the eye of everyone and even has Brown giving him high marks. When asked about Floyd, Brown brought up another former Wolverine.
"As a freshman, I would say he's probably further along than a lot of guys that I've seen and played with and against. Probably further along than Amani Toomer, who I played with as a freshman, he was a freshman," Brown said. "So he's pretty good I would think, he's done OK. (Floyd) is probably more physical, I think he's a little more athletic (than Toomer)."
David Grimes does not have the kind of recall that Brown has, but he sees the same thing.
"This is a pro-style offense, it's a lot to grasp. It's very intimidating as a freshman, it's a lot of mental work. It's not just going out there and running routes," Grimes said. "Michael Floyd he's doing a great job. He's probably handled it the best I've seen any freshman ever handle it."
Jimmy Clausen also thinks that Floyd's mental ability has been just as impressive as his athletic ability.
"I give him a lot of credit for coming in and working real hard to learn the offense because it is real difficult to come in and be able to play and learn the whole offense," Clausen said.