Al Golden’s Defensive Revival: Notre Dame Football’s Quest for Excellence in 2024

Notre Dame finished the 2023 season with a 10-3 record, which landed them 14th in the final Associated Press poll. Some might argue that if it were not for the Irish’s defense, they may not have been ranked. The mastermind behind the stout defense was defensive coordinator Al Golden.

He managed to get his defensive unit to buy what he was selling. The Notre Dame defense surrendered just 276 yards per game, the Irish’s best since 1996. They also limited opponents to a mere 15.9 points per game, the program’s lowest in more than a decade.

The 2024 season will be Golden’s third year with the Irish, but Golden admitted that the prior two seasons were then, but the 2024 season is now.

“I hate to keep saying it, but last year does not matter much,” Golden reiterated. “Whatever we accomplished as the 2023 defense, you don’t get to carry it forward.

“A team is reborn every year, and this is no exception on defense,” Golden explained. “We’re just trying to see what are some of our best things. What are our best characteristics? Who are our leaders? What are our strengths, and what are some of the things that we need to fortify? That is really what we are focused on. It is not really about year three, so to speak. It is year one with this group. It is seeing what the characteristics of the 2024 defense are and then trying to build around it.”

That is certainly true, as the Notre Dame defense will be missing a few of its leaders from 2023: linebackers JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau, safety DJ Brown, and cornerback Cam Hart.

Golden acknowledged their departures and reminded folks that when one door closes for some, another opens for others.

“They did it every day for a long period of time,” Golden said of Bertrand, Liufau, Brown, and Hart. “Now we have the next generation, and it is their chance to carry the torch. That is what we need, whether is it ‘X’ (Xavier Watts), Jack (Kiser), Riley (Mills), or Howard (Cross). There are so many guys that really have a chance to step up.”

Golden’s blind eye to the past and appetite for the future appear to have been instilled in some of his players. Veteran safety Xavier Watts echoed what Golden’s been preaching.

“I try to just put everything in the past,” Watts stated. “Everything that happened last year was last year, but at the same time, I still want to build on that. I want to elevate my game and take it to the next step while still helping the young guys get ready.”

There is one Irish player who plays on the opposite side of the ball as Watts, who has already witnessed the next generation first-hand. Senior tight end Mitchell Evans admitted with excitement that there is a noticeable change of pace amongst the linebacker unit.

“We had a couple of guys leave with the (NFL) draft, but yeah, they’ve got some hard hitters in that group,” Evans expressed. “They’re young, but they’re good. They’re really fast. They’re fast. They’re quick to the coverage, quick to the flat. They’re very mobile. So, I’m very excited for that.”

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