SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The Notre Dame defense is looking nothing like the dominant squad that led the Fighting Irish into the national-championship game a season ago.
A quarter of the way into this season, the 22nd-ranked Fighting Irish (2-1) are giving up 23.5 points a game, nearly double last season’s average of 12.8, and are surrendering 411 yards a game after holding opponents to an average of 306 yards a year ago.
Notre Dame figured to miss middle linebacker Manti Te’o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up. But the eight returning starters were expected to offset the loss of Te’o and safety Zeke Motta.
“The two big leaders on our defense in terms of communication are the safety and the mike linebacker,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “They’re no longer here. Those are new communication positions. That’s evolving.”
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Notre Dame, seventh in the nation last season in total defense, is at No. 56 heading into Saturday’s game against Michigan State (3-0).
• Defending national champion Alabama continues to lead the Associated Press media poll. No. 2 Oregon is among five Pac-12 teams in the Top 25. The others are No. 5 Stanford, No. 13 UCLA, No. 17 Washington and No. 23 Arizona State.
• Alabama’s 49-42 victory Saturday at Texas A&M got the highest preliminary TV rating for an afternoon regular-season college game on CBS in 23 years. The 9.0 overnight rating was the best since a 10.1 for Notre Dame’s 29-20 victory over Miami in 1990.