Al Golden met with the media yesterday to discuss his team’s game against No. 9 Notre Dame. And after listening to Miami’s head coach, the Hurricanes certainly won’t enter Soldier Field overlooking the Irish.
Golden was effusive with his praise for the Irish, applauding the work Brian Kelly and Notre Dame have done in the season’s first month, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“Really impressive defensive group. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with them,” Golden said of Notre Dame’s defense. “Really strong and rugged up front, 3-4 alignment, Nix at the nose is a load to handle. Linebackers are all big. Te’o in the middle is as good as advertised, holds it all together, and does a great job running the operation for them. Play a lot of cover 2. Make it hard for you to run the ball. Up front as good as anybody I’ve seen in the red zone in a long time. Really good.”
Golden’s comments on the Irish red zone defense actually point out something many of us have overlooked for most of the season. The Irish have been really, really good in the red zone, especially keeping teams out of the end zone.
Notre Dame is ranked second nationally in touchdown efficiency on defense, holding opponents to just two touchdowns on ten attempts, with the 20% clip behind only TCU. Putting that rate into context, if the Irish kept it up, they’d beat Alabama -- the nation’s No. 1 team in TD efficiency in 2011 -- by 15 percent. No team in the last five years has held opponents below 31.7 percent, putting another datapoint on the board that shows how impressive Bob Diaco’s unit has been playing while breaking in a young secondary.
Offensively, Golden and his coaching staff have prepared for both Everett Golson and Tommy Rees. And while you wouldn’t know it from talking to Irish fans, the Hurricanes staff doesn’t see much difference between the two quarterbacks.
“We’re ready for either Golson or Rees at quarterback,” Golden said. “From our standpoint, we don’t see a whole lot of difference when Golson’s in there as opposed to when Rees is in there. We see a lot of the same throws, a lot of the same reads, formations, and things of that nature. From our standpoint, as far as how they’re formationing things and what they’re calling, we don’t see a whole lot of difference between those two.”
Golden is a smart coach and has a young defense that’s learning on the fly and struggling as it goes along. But this should be a great opportunity for the Irish to let Golson get into the game plan as a runner as well, holding onto the ball in the zone read and breaking some plays on the outside with his feet. Golden was candid about the team’s struggles on defense and knows they’re a work in progress.
“There is no frustration,” Golden said about his young defense. “I know where we are right now, and there’s going to be a day when we all play our best on the same day. As I said to the team, why not today? Why not this week? I don’t know when it’s going to be, but we haven’t done it yet and we’ve won. I want to make sure we don’t lose our aggressiveness. We’re competing right now. You can’t turn on the film and say we’re walking around on defense. We’re not playing as smart as we need to, we’re not executing like we need to, and we need some guys to step up.”
After watching from the press box as Hurricane players huddled around heaters in El Paso and wore neck warmers during their Sun Bowl drubbing against Notre Dame in 2010, Golden did his best to choose his words wisely when asked about potentially cold weather this weekend, with Saturday evening temperatures expected to drop into the 30s.
“How cold are we talking about here, like Green Bay Packer cold?” Golden asked, doing his best to move past a game where the Hurricanes program was in transition. “I think we’ll be alright. I hope we’re not to the point where we got to huddle around a heater. I hope we’re just tough enough to go out and play, to be honest with you. I don’t mean that facetiously, I mean that. We’re going to be outside for three-and-a-half, four hours against a Top 10 teams. If we have a team that’s thinking about heaters at that time or looking to get sweatshirts and stuff, I’m not doing something right.”