CHICAGO - If Chris Tyree’s 96-yard touchdown return in the second half was the offensive play of the game then Cam Hart’s first half interception off Graham Mertz qualifies as the defensive play of the game in Notre Dame’s 41-13 victory over Wisconsin Saturday at Soldier Field.
Hart, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, has turned into a lockdown cornerback for the Irish.
Hart started the interception parade for the Irish when he picked off a Mertz pass with 7:06 left in the first half. The Irish finished with four picks in the game, including two that were returned for touchdowns.
Hart stepped in front of Wisconsin receiver Kendric Pryor and took it away at the Badger 41-yard line.
The beauty of the interception was that two plays earlier, Hart had been whistled for pass interference.
Hart said he knew the pass was coming.
“I got there a little early on the prior play,” Hart said. “My coaches were like, ‘They’re going to come back to it. Just be ready and alert on the double move. The next play later, they came back with the same play and I just jumped in front of it.”
The interception set up a 36-yard touchdown pass from Jack Coan to Kevin Austin with 4:48 left in the second quarter. That gave Notre Dame a 10-3 lead.
The defense was outstanding, forcing five turnovers in the victory. The Irish (4-0) held the Badgers to 74 yards rushing. Wisconsin averaged 266 yards on the ground in the first two games and had only been held to under 100 rushing yards three times in the previous four seasons.
Notre Dame's two interception returns for scores in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
Hart said the defense has a play-loose approach.
“We just emphasized playing free earlier this week,” Hart said. “We just wanted to play with intensity. I felt like we did that.”
Hart said the Irish expect to force turnovers, and what we saw today is something this defense expects on a regular basis.
“I feel like in practice we do that so often (get interceptions),” he said. “It’s not unexpected. To see it come to fruition in a game, it’s crazy. We’re having fun out there and we understand the importance of playing free.”
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said everyone, including Hart, is just figuring it out on defense.
“I think I alluded to this when we've had our opportunities to answer questions about our defense was that we just need to tap the brakes early on about our defense,” Kelly said. “It takes some time to get everything in and there are layers to our defense. We've played a lot of man early on. We've added some of our dime and nickel packages and quite frankly we've got some guys making plays. Cam is a great example of it. Cam gets called for pass interference. He lets that go, which you have to at corner, and he steps underneath the same play for a pick. We're just developing and Marcus (Freeman) is getting his players to develop on defense and we're adding some layers to that defense."
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