NOTRE DAME — Most teams on Notre Dame’s schedule wanted to exploit the Irish secondary.
Stanford, Oklahoma, USC — you name them. Notre Dame was vulnerable.
Zeke Motta, the lone senior safety standing for the Irish these days, took the challenge personally and helped take a young crop of defensive backs under his wing.
“These guys out here, they need somebody to communicate and be on the same page .. that’s kind of the role I accepted,” Motta said this week. “It was great to see how players, especially on the backend, competed and shook off all the negative hype and came to work each day to play.”
After Jamoris Slaughther’s season-ending injury, Motta took the reins, along with junior Bennett Jackson, and helped steer youngsters like sophomore Matthias Farley and freshman KeiVarae Russell. Jackson, Farley and Russell all were recruited to ND as wide receivers.
Head coach Brian Kelly says that fact alone speaks to the tenacity of the players as well as the coaching job done by Bob Elliott and Kerry Cooks, who coach safeties and corners, respectively.
“Yeah, three wide receivers recruited as wide receivers that are playing for the top defense in the country. Bob Elliott and Kerry Cooks have done an incredible job back there in developing those players,” Kelly said Monday.
Motta, Kelly said, “has played incredible football.”
With 61 total tackles apiece, Motta and Jackson are tied for second among Irish defenders behind all-everything linebacker Manti Te’o. For the season, Notre Dame has allowed only seven passing touchdowns and less than 200 passing yards per game.
Alabama will bring a battering ram run game to the BCS Championship game table, but the Irish know Crimson Tide A.J. McCarron will make big plays with his accurate passing arm.
“To see these guys come in from the beginning of the season and the preparation they had and the work we did in the offseason
to see them evolve from game to game and compete on a daily basis .. .its encouraging and exciting,” Motta said.
Motta says the secondary has more than answered the “Can they get it done?” question.
“As far as the evolution, you couldn’t ask for anything better or much more
they’ve fought against adversity and all the negative media attention they get from week-to-week,” Motta said. “We just stayed together as a unit and ignored all of that and did what we do best which is compete.
“Communication, as far as verbally goes, you need to make sure everybody is on the same page. We’ve meshed well as a group and everybody bought into that and realized that hey, everybody’s coming for us so we need to get on our horse and work.”
Secondary play has been scrutinized all season. Motta says it’s time to move on and look at the big picture.
“You look at them being young as easy to pick on ... we proved that wrong week in week out,” said Motta. “I think we’ve established some sort of credibility out there.”