Forcing more turnovers an 'ordinary' task for Irish

Forcing more turnovers an 'ordinary' task for Irish
October 2, 2013, 6:45 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Through five games, Notre Dame's defense has forced four turnovers. That's two fewer takeaways than the defense had last September against Michigan, and it's grown into an area of concern for this year's unit.

Notre Dame's seen how momentum can swing on a turnover -- Stephon Tuitt's bizarre touchdown against Michigan nearly turned the tide against the Wolverines, and Bennett Jackson's pick-six at Purdue keyed a seven-point win.

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But those momentum-altering takeaways have largely been absent from Notre Dame's defensive resume in 2013, after being a focal point for the Irish last year.

"What we haven't done well, quite frankly, is the ordinary things, and last year we did the ordinary things much better," coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday, speaking in broad terms about his entire team.

Kelly, though, sees doing those ordinary things -- the kind of things he and Bob Diaco could've taken for granted last year -- as the key to generating more turnovers.

Some of the "ordinary" issues Kelly rattled off this week were the kind of things Manti Te'o brought to the defense -- staying in the curl, for one, has been a problem for Notre Dame linebackers, allowing for plenty of bend-and-break defensive drives.

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That's just one defensive shortcoming that's contributed to the Irish allowing 10 scoring drives of 75 or more yards this year. In 2012, Notre Dame allowed just one scoring drive of at least 75 yards.

There's some luck involved in both 2012 and 2013's turnover rates. Thanks to Te'o's incredible ball skills and a few fortunate bounces, Notre Dame intercepted 16 throws on 50 passes defended -- just under one in three throws Notre Dame's defense got its hands on last year was picked off.

A roughly neutral-luck defense generally intercepts about one in every five passes defended.

In 2013, not only is Notre Dame defending about one fewer pass per game, but its "luck" has regressed to the mean. Of 14 passes defended, three have been picked off -- a 21 percent rate, which is right in line with the average Bill Connelly's research showed.

"We're not going to change up who we are, we just gotta execute it," cornerback Bennett Jackson said. "When the opportunity is in front of you, you gotta make the most of it. There's several opportunities this year where the ball hit guys right in the hands and they didn't catch it. That's a huge game-changer that we need to work as a defense."

While the stats show Notre Dame is neither lucky nor unlucky with its interceptions, the key is that they're not getting to nearly as many throws. Defending more passes means more opportunities for a fortunate bounce, and with that a game-altering turnover.

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To do that, Kelly sees a need for improvement in those "ordinary" areas.

"We've got to go back and look at how we're coaching it and demand from our coaches to do a better job because if our players aren't doing it, it's a reflection on the coaching," Kelly said. "So that's why we have to demand the ordinary things, and hopefully that will translate into more turnovers."