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Consistency starts with veterans

Laura Myers | Monday, September 20, 2010

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Irish coach Brian Kelly spoke Sunday of his “24-hour rule:” the players have 24 hours to think about a loss, and then need to forget and turn their focus to next week’s opponents.

By that rule, junior receiver Michael Floyd has already forgotten about his fumble in the second quarter of Saturday’s game. Senior safety Harrison Smith no longer remembers the blown coverage on the last play of the game that allowed the winning touchdown. Junior quarterback Dayne Crist has no memory of a costly red zone interception.

In reality, they probably still remember those mistakes. And they probably should.

These players are three of the most important and talented players on the team, and it’s clear that they have high expectations for themselves. Through their play and work ethic, they have earned high expectations from coaches and fans as well.

After last week’s game against Michigan, Kelly rightly took the blame for the mistakes made by backup quarterbacks Tommy Rees and Nate Montana. They weren’t prepared as they should have been, and he took responsibility for that.

But he wasn’t at fault for these, and he said as much.

Of the fake field goal, Kelly said the team knew it was a possibility.

“It was the same play that MSU ran against Texas Tech,” he said. “It was well-executed, and our guy who was in coverage fell down.”

Of Floyd’s lost fumble, which occurred at Michigan State’s 11-yard line and killed Notre Dame’s longest drive of the day, Kelly had a similar sentiment Sunday in his teleconference.

“We just clearly have to take care of the football,” Kelly said. “[Floyd’s] a big kid. There’s no excuse why the ball should be on the ground. And that’s something he’s got to do. We coach it every day.”

Of Crist’s interception, which came as the Irish had an opportunity to start a drive at the Spartans’ 27-yard-line, and of his fourth-and-two fumble, Kelly acknowledged his quarterback’s shortcoming.

“Dayne did some good things, but what he has to work on is ball control and taking care of the football,” Kelly said.

Perhaps Kelly wouldn’t be that frank with the media if he didn’t think his players could handle it. But he certainly wasn’t throwing them under the bus with his statements.

These three were not the only offenders — plenty of Irish made mistakes during the game.

But these errors stand out because of who made them.

Coaches have lauded Floyd and Smith as two of the hardest-working players on the team. Before the season started, Kelly told reporters Floyd had set the standard for work among offensive players. He talked of how Smith had become a leader for the defense.

Crist, of course, is the head of the offense.

So, when the leaders and standard-bearers are making costly errors, how can the team expect to function?

Floyd seemed to understand as much following the game.

“I let the team down with my fumble,” he said. “I think it affected the team. You can’t do stuff like that.”

Mistakes can be written off when they’re made by freshmen and coached away when they’re made by inexperienced players.

But when juniors and seniors are making the costly errors, there’s no way around it.

Floyd, arguably one of the most talented players in the stadium at any given game, has not been the constant fans have come to expect. The fumble was not the only play he should have converted.

Smith, the most experienced member of the secondary, needs to set a better example. The play on the fake field goal was not the only tackle he missed.

But as Kelly acknowledged, Crist played well on the whole. He had to carry the offense and did for much of the game.

Floyd and Smith had their bright points, too — Floyd scored two touchdowns, including a nice catch at the back of the end zone, and Smith effectively broke up a few passes late in the game.

Without these players, Notre Dame would be nowhere. They keep the team in the game each week and did so Saturday.

But they are also the ones who should be the most consistent for the Irish. If they can’t play a complete game, how can fans expect any Notre Dame player to do so?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers2@nd.edu