Composure proves key
Isaac Lorton | Monday, October 13, 2014
Going into the game against North Carolina, the Irish had the third best scoring defense in the country, giving up only 12 points per game. Coming out of the game Saturday, the Irish had dropped five spots to eighth overall and were giving up 17.2 points per game. The Tar Heels were able to run 84 offensive plays and put up 43 points against Notre Dame. Irish coach Brian Kelly said that North Carolina’s up-tempo offense contributed to the Tar Heels success against the Irish defense and the need for Notre Dame’s offense to win a shootout.
“We’re inexperienced in a number of areas, and if the circumstances played out, we could be put into that kind of situation,” Kelly said. “Here are the ingredients for that. A team that runs an up‐tempo offense that can run up to 100 plays. … We’re very thin on the back end, as evidenced late in the game. We were tired and tackled poorly. That’s something that concerns us. Playing very fast with some young kids, not being able to get off the field on third down with our base personnel. We weren’t able to situational substitute, so we weren’t as good on third down, another key ingredient with playing a team like North Carolina. And then turning the football over on offense, which happens.
“I knew if those things happened, there could be a day where we needed to outscore because we’re inexperienced in a number of areas on defense. We’ve been able to overcome some of those things. This was one of those days that all those things came together.”
Kelly said the substitution and personnel problems the Irish had against North Carolina will advise the coaches and players for future games.
“In some of our situational substitutions, they got us a couple times when we were flipping nickel into base defense,” Kelly said. “That’s some coaching things that we’ll obviously improve on with limited personnel. There’s no question there will be some carryover that will help us, but I think the overriding point here is that we still have to do a better job of not putting our defense in vulnerable positions like we did on Saturday. We don’t have the depth. We don’t have the ability to have a number of players get a breather. We were dead tired late in the game, and then when [senior linebacker] Joe Schmidt has to go out and he’s missing tackles because he’s playing  plays, that’s just not managing the game effectively … Yes, we’ll learn. We’ve experienced this tempo and we’ll be better for it across the board.”
Kelly said the defense would not have been so unorganized and fatigued if the offense had taken care of the ball.
“We gave them three touchdowns on offense,” Kelly said. “If you take the three touchdowns that we gave them off the board, it’s 50‐20 whatever, and everyone is going, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty nice game. Wow, nice job. North Carolina has got a pretty good offense.’ I think if you really critically look at it, we just gave them too many plays, and our third down was not what it has been up to this point. We just weren’t locked in defensively like we had been the previous weeks. It wasn’t our best effort.
“… We’ve got to do a better job on the offensive side of the ball to protect our defense in these kinds of situations,” Kelly said.
Notre Dame’s offense had three turnovers — senior quarterback Everett Golson had two fumbles and a pick-six — all were in Irish territory, and all ended in a Tar Heel touchdown. Golson now has nine turnovers in the past three games. In the first three games, Golson had zero.
“Every single [turnover] is analyzed, overanalyzed, and we look at them and we go back to work and find ways to secure the football and do a better job,” Kelly said. “We don’t take any of them for granted. We look at ways to improve each time and look at each one of them as opportunities to eradicate them.”
Sophomore cornerback KeiVarae Russell announced the outcome of his academic hearing to his team at practice Thursday and to the public via Instagram Friday. Kelly said none of the other four withheld players have spoken to him about their results.
“No, the only one that actually said anything to me is KeiVarae, so that’s really it,” Kelly said.
A group of players, including graduate student corner Cody Riggs and sophomore safety Max Redfield, acknowledged the five during Saturday’s matchup by wearing towels with some the five’s numbers scrawled on them. Kelly said he did not think that this gesture was distracting.
“I think they’re being good teammates and just recognizing their teammates in that situation,” Kelly said. “I’m generally not big on that, but they’ve handled themselves very well through social media. They have not formed opinions of such, and so I did see a towel, I did not make a big deal of it because I thought that our team as a whole has handled the situation very well and felt that I was okay with it.”