A first-year starter at each corner. A first-year starter at safety. All three of them converted offensive players. And going up against the dynamic Denard Robinson.
The first real test of the Notre Dame secondary looked like a nearly impossible one to pass.
Five interceptions on five passes and a 13-6 win later, and it looked like the Irish had taken the Wolverines to school. Robinson, after racking up 948 total yards in the past two seasons in last-minute wins over the Irish, was held to just 138 passing yards (and four of the five picks) on 13-of-24 passing, with a modest 90 rushing yards on 26 carries.
“You know people are questioning you,” said cornerback Bennett Jackson, who had one of Notre Dame’s five first-half picks. “So that’s going to motivate you to work harder. That’s what we do, we come out every day and work hard, everybody believes in everybody, and it’s the next man in. It’s your turn to go in, you’ve got to step up. You’ve just got to know that everybody’s here to support you.”
Freshman corner KeiVarae Russell and freshman safety Nicky Baratti also had picks for the Irish, along with a pair by linebacker Manti Te’o. And Matthias Farley, starting in the place of senior Jamoris Slaughter — who ruptured his Achilles last week against Michigan State — had a strong game, as well. And while the stellar play of the Irish front seven certainly takes the pressure off the secondary, that door swings both ways, too.
“I think if I was looking for surprises, I would tell you to look at the game that Matthias Farley just played,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “First-time starter who was a wide receiver last year. I think our coaches have done a great job of getting that back end of our defense to the point where there’s a lot of confidence so those guys can just tee off and go get the quarterback.”
Safety Zeke Motta, the old man of the secondary now, raved about his young teammates’ performances.
“Everybody played great,” he said. “The young defensive backs showed they have the capability to rise up in games like this. Bennett obviously had a heck of a game. Everybody played great.”