After squeaking out late-game victories in the first two games of the season, Notre Dame controlled the action against Purdue on both sides of the ball en route to a convincing 27-13 victory.
Against Florida State and Toledo, the Irish struggled defensively holding leads and closing out the games in the fourth quarter. On Saturday afternoon Notre Dame’s defense shut down an explosive Purdue offense from start to finish.
A driving force behind that success was safety Kyle Hamilton. The junior All-American safety was spectacular for the Irish, finishing second on the team with 10 tackles to go along with two pass breakups and one of the game-clinching interceptions in the fourth quarter. Hamilton’s seven solo tackles led the team, and the Atlanta native is now tied for first in the nation in interceptions with three through three games played.
It was a different Irish defense on the field against Purdue compared to the previous two weeks.
“I think that throughout practice this week we really bought in," Hamilton said following the win. "Obviously coming out of last week we didn’t play as well as we wanted to. In all facets of the game I thought we were really a lot tighter this week in what we were doing and a lot more focused throughout the week and that showed today."
The numbers tell the story. Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer was held to a season low 187 passing yards and one touchdown, and the Boilermakers were only able to accumulate 85 rushing yards for the game on 25 carries. The 348 total yards given up were the least given up by the Irish this season, and the defense also forced multiple turnovers for the second time this season.
Building on this win is a must for Notre Dame.
“It can’t just be a one game thing, we have to stack this every week in order to get where we want to go," Hamilton explained. "I think schematically guys were just doing their job today, not trying to do too much. That’s what Coach [Chris] O’Leary has been preaching to me; just make the plays that come to me, not trying to make other guys’ plays, just do my job and I feel like everyone on the defense was doing that today."
It was a strong afternoon overall in the Irish secondary, as senior DJ Brown racked up a career high seven tackles and also secured a game-sealing interception off a deflection from junior cornerback Cam Hart. Hart had six tackles of his own and tied for the team lead with Hamilton with two pass breakups.
The big days for his teammates came as no surprise to Hamilton.
“I think we’re really deep in the secondary just a lot of guys haven’t had a shot yet," noted the Irish captain. "Guys like DJ Brown really stepped up, TaRiq [Bracy], Ramon Henderson, really everybody in the back end was really tight today and didn’t really give up too many big plays.
“I think that just goes to show you how deep we are as a secondary and as a whole defense. There’s a couple of guys who get a lot of the praise on defense but I feel like we’re really strong as a unit.”
That depth is supplemented by the team’s confidence in one another.
“We stayed fresh, we can rotate guys in," Hamilton affirmed. "We’re just pretty deep so we trust each other to come in when we’re tired or tell the coaches we need a break or something like that. When guys come in, guys go out, there’s no drop off at all.”
Hamilton believes the strong performance against Purdue could be the start of something special for the Notre Dame defense.
“I think the guys are really buying in at this point and this was a real big turning point for us going through the rest of the season,” Hamilton said. “There were a bunch of question marks around our defense, especially this past week and it was a little annoying … we just had to come out and let everybody know what we’re about, not just to prove that to everybody else but just to ourselves."
Overall, it was a suffocating defensive effort by Notre Dame, the team’s best defensive showing of the season by a long shot. And, according to Hamilton, there’s only up from here.
“The confidence is sky high right now and the scary part is I think there’s a lot more room for improvement.”
If those improvements are made and Notre Dame continues to get better and more comfortable in new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s defense like they seemed to against the Boilermakers, scary is a fitting word to describe the unit’s potential.
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