SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is getting frustrated at explaining why his defense is struggling so mightily.

The Irish defense has missed far too many tackles in losses at Texas and at home against Michigan State, giving up more than 239 yards rushing and 500 yards total offense in each and a combined 86 points in those two games. The Spartans averaged 6.4 yards a play in a 36-28 victory Saturday night.

Kelly, who after the loss to Texas said critics of his defensive staff needed to “tap the brakes and relax,” took a more urgent tone Saturday night after another disappointing defensive performance.

“Those are the guys we have. We can’t trade them. They’re not getting cut. We recruited them, so I don’t want to hear anybody … I told our staff, ‘Those are our guys, so we’ve got to get them better.’ We’ve got to put them in better position to make plays,” Kelly said.

The Irish (1-2) had a chance to get the ball back twice in the final two minutes but gave up big plays on third down. The Irish rank 102nd in the nation in total defense, giving up 439.3 yards a game, 99th in rush defense and 103rd in pass efficiency defense. The Irish, who fell out of the AP poll , still don’t have a sack this season.

Kelly said Sunday he and his staff have to do a better job of teaching and communicating and find ways to develop players more efficiently. He said he has confidence in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and his scheme. He said someone on his staff with access to his Twitter account had inadvertently liked a Tweet that said it was time for him to shake up his staff because “Clearly it’s not working #FireVangorder.”

Kelly became agitated after the game when asked if DeShone Kizer, who passed for a career-high 344 yards against the Spartans and has accounted for 13 of Notre Dame’s 15 touchdowns this season and ran the option on another, was going to have to overcome Notre Dame’s defensive deficiencies, saying it was a “typical” question after a team gives up a lot of points.

“Look at college football. Defenses give up points all over. What we have to do is clean up some things and we’re going to continue to work on it,” he said. “But, no, DeShone Kizer is not going to be asked to carry us. The entire football team, and my coaching staff in particular, is in a position where they have to coach better. I’ve got to coach better.”


AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org