ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Sorry, Notre Dame fans. Forget the rhetoric coming out of the Fighting Irish camp and just hang this one on the defense.
Brian Kelly, who opted to pin most of Saturday’s 41-30 loss to Michigan squarely on the shoulders of his offense, spoke at length on the subject of missing opportunities to score points.
And ND did.
Kelly then missed an opportunity of his own by deflecting blame away from the Fighting Irish defense, the perceived backbone of a team coming back fresh from a run to the national championship game, a unit laden with preseason accolades, aspirations and experienced talent.
Kelly wouldn’t go there.
“Well, I’ll tell you overall we want to be smarter and more disciplined,” Kelly said. “I’m not going to get into the specifics, but I want my football teams to play smarter and more disciplined. That’s what we need to get to.”
Smarter and more disciplined.
The ND coach reiterated that very point not once, not twice, but six more times in a 10-minute conversation with the media underneath Michigan Stadium.
Smarter and more disciplined, as in finding ways to get more than seven combined tackles for the starting defensive line of All-American candidates Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt and young Sheldon Day.
If Tuitt hadn’t made an incredibly nimble end-zone interception of Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, Tuitt wouldn’t have even made the statistics sheets. The hulking 6-foot-8, 320-pounder made zero tackles.
As in none.
Notre Dame managed to compile eight tackles for loss, but was called for three pass interference penalties, including two in the end zone to set up two Wolverine touchdowns.
Another violation of the smarter, disciplined mantra.
The Irish allowed the Maize and Blue thrill show of Gardner and Jeremy Gallon to ring up three touchdowns and 184 passing yards together.
Tommy Rees & Co. rung up 30 points. It should have been enough. The Irish shouldn’t have to score 42 to win.
“Take everything that happened. All the situations you can analyze, over-analyze. Pick through it,” Kelly explained. “I felt like we had two opportunities to score. We’ve got to make those plays. And we’ve got ... this was one of those games that our offense needed to carry the day for us.”
You’d think 30 points supporting a supposed rock-solid defense would be plenty, even on the road.
The defense gave up 41 points, a number which is far more unacceptable than the 30 ND points scored.
“You got to be smarter and more disciplined as a defense. We don’t coach penalties. We want to coach guys to be smarter and more disciplined on a day-to-day basis. That falls on me,” Kelly said. “I don’t want my football team to be in a position where games have to be decided in that regard.”
Smarter and more disciplined, Kelly said. Again.
Rees being cool and poised is a formidable foundation offensively. So are TJ Jones and Troy Niklas in the passing game and an offensive line with three starters back.
Marquee players for the Irish, though, live on defense and those stars simply haven’t aligned with significant impact after two weeks.
Notre Dame looked just good enough to beat Temple a week ago.
The Irish never looked good enough to beat Michigan.
Bill Beck is The Elkhart Truth sports editor. Contact him on Twitter @BillBeckTruth or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.