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Football: Offensively challenged

Joe Monardo | Tuesday, September 10, 2013

 

In Saturday’s 41-30 loss to Michigan, the respected Irish defense gave up more points by halftime than any game in 2012. The Irish offense, meanwhile, put up 23 points and produced 410 yards. After the big loss in the Big House, however, Irish coach Brian Kelly said he placed the largest portion of the blame at the feet of his offense.   

“I felt that we missed some opportunities offensively that could have given us the opportunity to win this football game,” he said. 

“This was one of those games where our offense needed to carry the day for us. And we just came up short on a couple of key plays for us.”

Kelly acknowledged that some portion of those missed opportunities reflects failed execution by senior quarterback Tommy Rees, who passed for 314 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Rees threw an interception that set up No. 11 Michigan (2-0) for a short touchdown drive that began on No. 21 Notre Dame’s 23-yard line with 1:29 remaining in the opening half. After overthrowing senior receiver TJ Jones in the end zone on fourth down from the Michigan 17-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Rees threw an interception in Notre Dame’s final drive of the game. The pass ricocheted off a Michigan defender into the arms of Wolverine defensive back Blake Countess and effectively ended any chance of a comeback.

“Tommy obviously … would like to have [back] the one throw before the half,” Kelly said. “He did some really good things. It feels like there were just one or two throws there that – we could have put 44 points on the board. Really, really close, but not good enough. He just needed to make a couple more plays.”

Kelly’s comments demonstrate a sharp departure from the defensive mentality of last season, when the Irish (1-1) rattled off an undefeated season and finished the year ranked second in scoring defense. 

“Last year we had to rely on our defense to win football games,” Kelly said. “I don’t want to have to do that week-in and week-out. I think there are going to be some times when our offense has to win some ballgames.” 

The Irish defense lost three starters to the NFL following last season, including Heisman candidate Manti Te’o, but Kelly said his desire for the offense to score more points does not reflect negatively on this year’s defensive unit.  

“In games where you have two really good football teams, we are going to have to score more points,” he said. “It doesn’t mean our defense is not as good, it’s just that we went up against a really good quarterback [against Michigan] and he made a lot of plays …

“I just felt like this was one of those nights where our offense had to bail out our defense. But in no way of saying our defense can›t play championship defense. I think it can. It just wasn›t this night.”

The head coach was also adamant, when prompted by reporters, that offensive coordinator Chuck Martin would continue to call plays for the Irish offense. 

“Chuck Martin is calling plays, he will continue to call plays,” Kelly said. “He called every single play. That hasn’t changed.” 

Kelly also highlighted one area where he hopes his defense can improve: discipline. Six Irish penalties turned into 50 yards for the Wolverines, who also convertep three third downs off the visitors’ flags. With Michigan clinging to a 34-30 lead and driving midway through the fourth quarter, two Notre Dame pass interference calls allowed the Wolverines to convert on third down in consecutive series.  

“We’ve got to be smarter and more disciplined as a defense,” Kelly said. “We don’t coach penalties. We want to coach guys to be smarter and more disciplined on a day-to-day basis, and that falls on me. I don’t want my football team to be in a position where games have to be decided in that regard.”

Notre Dame will travel to West Lafayette, Ind. to face Purdue (1-1) this weekend. 

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu