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Friday, June 14, 2024
The Observer

Defensive line ready for Michigan's attack

The Notre Dame front four prides itself on its ability to stop the run. Saturday, the Irish defensive line gets a major test.

Through its first two games this season, Michigan is averaging 367 yards per game as a team and running back Chris Perry averages 208 yards. Both figures lead Division I.

The Irish know it's going to be a monumental challenge.

"They rush for a lot of yards. We know up front defensively we have to play hard. It's going to be some smash-mouth football and we are looking forward to the challenge," defensive end Kyle Budinscak said. "We are confident in our ability to stop the run. It's going to be a big challenge and hopefully we'll come out on top."

Last year, the Irish held the Wolverine rushing attack in check, allowing only 91 net rushing yards. Perry had some success gaining 78 yards on 16 carries, but Michigan coach Lloyd Carr abandoned the running game, rushing only 26 times despite the team's 3.6 yards per carry average.

So far this season, Carr and the Wolverines have stuck with the running game, with 46 attempts against Central Michigan and 51 times last week against Houston. Knowing the Wolverines play a typical Big Ten style of football, Budinscak appreciates the depth the Irish have developed on the defensive line this year and being able to play different combinations of players will help come crunch time.

"We're fortunate to have a rotation this year," Budinscak said. "We have a bunch of guys who can play a number of positions, which helps a lot.

"We have to stay fresh because it is going to be a tough game."

Defensive coordinator Kent Baer agrees.

"I see all eight guys playing again. I was pleased with the rotation. We're healthier now than one week ago. I like how that went," Baer said. "We're going to have to keep them fresh, because you never know what it's going to be like up there. It could be hop and humid, or it could be a little it cool. I think we're going to have to play a lot of guys, and that will be OK."

Budinscak, Darrell Campbell, Cedric Hilliard, Justin Tuck and Greg Pauly are the main returning players from last season. Joining them in the eight-man rotation are Travis Leitko, Derek Landri and Victor Abiamiri. The latter three made their collegiate debuts last week and may have seen more action than expected due to injuries to Pauly and Hilliard. This weekend, the whole line should be healthier than a week ago.

[Cedric's ankle injury] had a lot of effect and Greg [Pauly] wasn't healthy either," Baer said. "We had to go with that rotation, but they all got some reps, they got some playing time, and we all came out healthy. I feel good about it.

"I can see 8 guys playing and playing a lot."

This Notre Dame defensive line corps, after losing only one starter from 2002, is the deepest it has been in many years. Saturday's game against Michigan will revolve on running the ball. Being able to control the line of scrimmage, especially against the top rushing team in country, will put the Irish in a position to win every time they step onto the field.

"Coach [Tyrone] Willingham always says as the season goes on, we get stronger. That's what we're doing," Campbell said. "We came out in practice and gave it all that we had, and tomorrow we'll do the same thing and get better.

"We keep setting the bar higher and higher until we get to a point where nothing can stop us."