By DEN MCLAUGHLIN
Notre Dame's defense came up big again last week against Michigan to propel the Irish to a 4-0 mark leading into this weekend's off date.
Last week the Irish "D" used the big play to hold Michigan without a touchdown and keep its fine QB Denard Robinson in check. In fact, Robinson was intercepted five times by the young Irish secondary. Many of those were caused the the tremendous pressure put on Robinson by the Irish front defensive line. Robinson threw four of those costly interceptions in the first half, the fifth in the second, and capped his dismal night with a fumble in the red zone.
ND's defensive leader, LB Manti Te'o, got two of the five interceptions thrown by Robinson. Te'o had eight tackles for the night, topped by CB Bennett Jackson, who had nine.
The victory was the first over Michigan in four tries but it came at a perfect time as the Irish are on a roll.
The Irish are off today and return to action next Saturday night for a "home" game at Soldier Field, in Chicago, against an old foe in Miami. We'll preview that game in next week's column.
IRISH NOTES:ND moved up to 10th in the Associated Press national rankings after beating the then 18th ranked Woverines. The top 10 ranking is the first for the Irish since 2006. They move up another notch on Monday since Stanford, who was eighth, lost on Thursday evening...The play of the Irish defense is impressive considering the youth of their secondary. ND has lost several starters to injury early this season and is relying on "youngsters" to fill the bill. With the help of the pressure up front from Te'o and company, the young secondary has over-achieved so far. Two freshmen defensive backs, KeiVarae Russell and Nicky Baratti, accounted for two of the six turnovers the Irish defense forced. Each had an interception. First year CB Bennett Jackson also had a interception, along with his nine tackles and a fumble recovery....The Irish scoring defense has surpassed the 1988 national champs' scoring defense through four games. The Irish have given up just 36 points in four games while the '88 team gave up 41. And who would have thought that ND would hold both Michigan State and Michigan without a touchdown....Head coach Brian Kelly continues to contend there is no quarterback controversy for the Irish. He pulled starter Everett Golson in the second quarter after he turned the ball over with two interceptions that never should have happened, for veteran Tommy Rees. Rees performed well completing eight of 11 for 115 yards. Golson was three of eight for 30 yards when pulled. Golson, Kelly said, is still the starter. He said he pulled him because his youth was causing him to make poor decisions in the pressure-packed game. He said Golson will get better as the season goes on....Some game stats. Theo Riddick had 52 yards on 17 carries, but some of those carries came at very key moments in the game. Cierre Wood had 39 yards on seven carries. Riddick also had five catches for 32 yards and Davaris Daniels three for 40. Tyler Eifert caught is first pass in three games but it was a big one. It was a 38 yard reception on a third and long late in the fourth quarter. The completion allowed the Irish to run out the clock....Kicker Kyle Brindza was two for two in field goals, making 33 and 39 attempts....The 4-0 start by Kelly's third Irish team is the fifth such start dating back to 1982. Three of those were by Lou Holtz coached teams. The 1988 championship season which ended 11-0; then 1989, 12-1, and 1993, 11-1....Obviously the Irish offense has to get better. You can not depend on the defense winning the game for you every week. The offense must pickup the pace and be more successful. Kelly and the Irish have to solve the running attack problem. ND has a big and experienced offensive line but struggles to run the ball. That forces Golson, or Rees, to pass the ball more, which is not a good thing....NBC-TV was more than pleased with the ratings of last week's game. NBC won the night finishing first in the ratings for the evening with the game drawing 6.4 million viewers. That is the highest ranked ND primetime game on NBC. It was also the highest rated ND game on NBC since 2010 season. Overall, ND's rating on NBC are up 28 percent this year from last year. NBC will be hoping for more of the same next Saturday night as the Miami game is a home game for ND and that, of course, means its on ND's network, NBC....With the week off Kelly had the team practice Tuesday and Wednesday, lift weights Thursday, and have the weekend off. He also was happy to report there were no injuries in the Michigan game....Golson will have to get better if he doesn't want to give up the starting job to Rees every game. Next week he faces a Miami team whose defense is ranked 98th in the country. Then come the tough ones. Stanford is 24th, BYU seventh, Oklahoma 15th, and Pitt 28th, all next in line....ND's defense is now ranked 16th in total defense and fourth in scoring defense....ND's early success can be attributed to one big stat change from last year - turnover margin. Last year the Irish were ranked 120th nationally in turnover margin, and so far this year they are fifth....More stats of note. The Sagarin computer rating place ND eighth this week with all 12 of their opponents ranked lower....As you might have read ND ended its series with Michigan prior to last week's game. Because of its entry into the ACC and the fact it must play five ACC teams a year everyone knew ND's games with Big 10 teams were in jeopardy. ND and Michigan will play two more games, next year and 2014. Don't be surprised if the Michigan State series ends. ND and Michigan officials both said they would try to resume the series but it won't be for some time....Thanks for reading. Be back next week.