2001-2002: The last “great” Notre Dame defenses?

I believe new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown will resurrect the the Irish defense. Name me another college DC who can list as references on his resume Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini. Paying attention recruits? That would be FOUR current head coaches in the NFL.

But are the Irish even that far removed from greatness?

A popular line these last few weeks seems to be, “ND hasn’t had an elite defense since the Lou years.”


2001: Irish ranked 14th nationally in total defense (304.91 yards per game, Notre Dame’s best figure in that category since 1996) and 10th in pass defense.

2002: Irish finished ninth in scoring defense (16.69), 10th in the nation in pass efficiency (98.24) and rushing defense (95.23), and 13th in total defense (300.00).

2003: Irish defense ranked 33rd nationally in total defense and was 29th in the nation against the rush, surrendering only 127.2 yards per game.

2004: Irish defense ranked third in the nation against the run, (88.2 yards per game) and allowed five rushing TDs during the entire regular season.

A couple things to note with these numbers: 1) Our “stout” rushing defenses 03-04 were arguably as much a reflection of teams being able throw at will on us as anything else; and 2) As much as he gets bashed (and as much as I detest him personally), Davie was an excellent defensive recruiter and defensive coach whose coattails disguised Willingham’s incompetence.

Hindsight being 20/20 and all, if you need to depend on Davie’s coattails, you’re in a world of shit. But since 1984, care to guess how many ND defenses have given up less points per game than our 2001 or 2002 squads? THREE: the ’88 team, the ’89 team, and the ’92 team.

By almost any reasonable yardstick, our ’01 and ’02 units were great. What KILLED both defenses was the inability of our offenses to move the chains, score points and keep them off the field. By season’s end, in 2002 especially, our D’s legs were gone. (For further reference, see ass whuppin’; USC ’02; Gator Bowl ’03.)

Going back to those ’88, ’89 and ’92 teams, their defenses also had the benefit of playing alongside 3 of the 4 highest scoring offenses in ND history. The ’92 team had one of the best scoring defenses in the country (14.8 ppg) and one of the best scoring offenses (34.1 ppg). But Davie’s ’01 defense held opponents to 19.5 ppg while his offense was only scoring 19.4 ppg.

Montana’s Cotton Bowl heroics, Harry O’, Jerome Bettis in the Cheerios Bowl, the Snow Bowl…For my money, one of the truly more underrated “miracles” of Notre Dame football is Davie’s ’01 team–a defense that surrendered less ppg than nearly every ND team of the last quarter century while at the same time having an offense that scored even less.

So go ahead and wax nostalgic about the bygone days of ND’s defenses smacking people in the mouth. But realize those days aren’t as bygone as you might be led to believe.

[tags]Corwin Brown, Bob Davie, Notre Dame Football, Ty Willingham, Lou Holtz[/tags]

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One Comment

  1. Interesting analysis. I guess I mentally blocked the ’01 defense out of my mind b/c, as you pointed out, the lack of offense made the stingy defense a moot point & a very forgettable year. The ’02 D suprised us all, but, again; had ND had any offensive firepower they would’ve at least beaten BC. Your theory on the USC & NC St. embarrassments are hard to substantiate but make as much since as any other explanation that I’ve heard. Who knows if the defense was worn out by the time they went to LA? If memory serves one of NDs TDs were scored by the defense when C.P.A. blocked a punt & recovered it in the endzone. His one shining moment in a dissappointing college career (remember what a hot prospect he was coming out of the state of Wash.?). I’d like to have seen that ’02 offense led by Lovecchio but everything happens for a reason & Davie pulled the plug on him way too early in ’01 IMO; especially after what he did in ’00. Speaking of ’00, what would you attribute the embarrassment the Irish incurred in the Fiesta Bowl vs. Oregon ST? I don’t remember much about the defense that year (do you have their rankings as well?), but I don’t recall them getting blown off the field like they did that night.

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