Stout Irish run defense ready for another challenge

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Oklahoma entered last Saturday’s game against Notre Dame averaging 200 rushing yards per game.

Against the Irish, the Sooners had just 15, averaging barely half a yard on each of their 24 attempts.

“We have a great, physical defense,” linebacker Carlo Calabrese said. “We’re not going to let anybody run on us.”

At one point in the second quarter, the Irish held a 100 to minus-9 rushing edge on Oklahoma. Those twin strengths — a stout rushing defense and a strong rushing game — have been the driving forces behind Notre Dame’s dream season.

The physical edge on both lines gives the Irish a clear mental edge, too, especially as the games wear on.

“It’s a big factor, controlling the line of scrimmage,” Calabrese said. “If your defense is controlling the line of scrimmage and they’re not running, it’s pretty bad for the offense and their ego, when someone’s controlling you and pushing you back. And with our offense, if we’re pushing their defense back, it’s a big booster for our offense, getting them rolling.”

This Saturday’s opponent, Pittsburgh, is no Oklahoma, but the Panthers average a respectable 150 yards on the ground per game, led by senior Ray Graham and freshman Rushel Shell. Graham has 622 yards and seven touchdowns through eight games, and Shell has 441 yards and four touchdowns through seven games.

“The running backs are real electric,” said Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore. “Ray Graham and No. 4 (Shell), they have two different types of running styles. As a defense, when you play two different running backs with two different styles, it’s very hard to prepare for.”

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