Bye Week Briefing

Jackson has produced four turnovers this fall

Personnel notes, bye week plans and of course, defense, dominate today's notebook

A trip overseas, three games with annual Big 10 rivals, at least two future first round draft picks faced among opposing defensive lines, three quality defenses, a pair of quarterback benchings, and a 4-0 start.

Yes, Week Five appears ideal for Notre Dame's only bye of the 2012 season.

Head coach Brian Kelly discussed his plans for a week of work prior to next week's regular practice schedule and an October 6 date with the Miami Hurricanes in Chicago.

"I think first and foremost, we want to be able to clean up some things on both sides of the ball," said Kelly. "We'll do a practice on Tuesday and there will be some things that have been areas that we want to address and clean up on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game.

"Wednesday we'll do some Miami and get our first look at a game plan. We'll issue scouting reports on Wednesday. Thursday will be a weight training day, so we're going to build some rest with some self-scout, if you will, and an eye towards Miami, and we'll try to get that accomplished through Thursday."

Thereafter, the Irish will get a weekend off, a much needed respite after ascending to 4-0 as the only team to beat two ranked foes and the only of 124 FBS schools to begin undefeated while facing no FCS (Division II) foes.

The cherry on top of the program's dream-scenario start? No new injuries entering the season's second month. "It was our best medical report that we've had over the last four weeks," said Kelly. "Nobody regressed. We'll be able to build off of this week. This was the best medical report that we've gotten this year."

Personnel Points

A 50-10 win over Navy has proved misleading. Not only because the Irish offensive line isn't quite as powerful as the season's initial viewing indicated, and not only because the six offensive touchdowns scored that day is a greater number than those produced in the following games to date, but because that Saturday's apparent weakness has proved capable since.

Notre Dame's painfully young secondary has played above expectations during its three-game run through Big 10 foes.

Four-game career starter Bennett Jackson has been part of that improvement.

"I think it's been knowledge for him more than anything else, knowledge of defense," said Kelly of his team's leading interceptor (3). "He came in as a wide receiver, so I think every experience for him and each start over the last four weeks has been a learning experience, being in a good position to tackle, playing the ball in the air.

"We saw his interception late (Purdue) and learning to get down when the game is over. I just think all those things are what he's gaining each and every week out there. We knew his athletic ability would put him in a position to be successful, now he's learning the defense and he's learning how to be a corner."

Also learning the defense is backup safety Nicky Baratti, a true freshman who's ascended from likely special teams contributor to the team's two-deep depth chart in his first month.

Baratti's first major contribution came Saturday night: a goal line interception in the first quarter that stifled a Wolverines scoring threat. The play was a half-back option pass, one designed to suck in a rookie DB who would likely be anxious to charge forward in run support.

"Certainly his athleticism, savvy for the game, when you talk about where he came from and the football program in Texas, a very good program, well-coached, had all of those things going for him," said Kelly of Baratti's early assimilation.

"And any time that you can play quarterback, tight end, can play defense, he just has a real good sense for the game, and what he showed us was a very solid tackler, and against Michigan and (Denard) Robinson, we wanted to put a guy in the game … we didn't put him in until after the third series. We wanted him to see the game first. We felt really good that he would be in the right place."

Conquering Heroes

A whopping 13 turnovers created, 14 sacks, a touchdown scored and just three allowed. Notre Dame's defense rules the roost in South Bend with a third of the season in the books.

Saturday night, that group kept Michigan and quarterback Denard Robinson out of the end zone, this after consecutive losses to the Wolverines had included nine touchdowns against the Irish and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's group.

"I think Bob did a great job mixing things up. I think we looked at our game plan last year and really liked the components of it, and so the meat of our game plan had really stayed effectively the same," said Kelly. "I think what changed was the looks in the back end of the defense, and Zeke Motta doing a terrific job of managing the other three DBs, so on pre-snap we had some different looks. 

"I think that was really big, and we did a really good job of setting the edge on both sides of the ball. As you know, (Robinson's) a pretty dynamic guy, and we didn't want him outside. I thought (outside linebackers) Danny Spond and Prince Shembo did a great job on each side of the edge in terms of keeping Denard into a shorter space."

In both 2010 and 2011, the first two seasons of the Kelly regime, Notre Dame's defense found a way to limit most foes in the only category that counts: points scored. In Year 3, Diaco's defense has seen a leap in turnovers created as well, from 14 all of 2011 (an all-time program low according to 60 years of recorded research I found) to 13 already this fall.

"I think it's always been predicated about the keeping the points down, and we've seen that there's been that (decrease) each and every year," said Kelly. "We're keeping the points down, and we're also now taking the football away. I think we're close to as many turnovers as we had last year after week four.?

"The combination of keeping the points down and not having, 'Okay, you're a bend-but-don't-break defense.' Now we're a stingy defense and we're a defense that can take the football away. That's the next level of championship defense."?

Part of the improvement is experience and trust in Diaco's system, part is player maturity, and the rest, well, Kelly probably said it best when asked about the unit's evolution.

"We're all much better coaches with better players," he joked.

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