SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame has played well when games against good opponents appear out of reach.
The Fighting Irish (1-2) trailed Texas by 17 before taking the lead and then losing in overtime in the opener. They were down 29 to No. 8 Michigan State before scoring three straight touchdowns and losing 36-28 on Saturday.
Coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday the Irish need to get going sooner, starting against Duke (1-2) on Saturday.
“We shouldn’t be waiting for the ebbs and flows of games to carry us. We should be the ones initiating the flows of the game. That is the makeup of this team right now that needs to change,” Kelly said.
Kelly spoke a dozen times Tuesday about the need to play with urgency. He pointed particularly to the play of quarterback DeShone Kizer, saying there were seven plays in a row in the third quarter where the Irish either lost yards or were held for no gain — including an interception Kizer threw.
“That is just unacceptable offensively. It’s not just him, but he’s running the offense,” he said. “There are plays that are out there to be made that we’re not making.”
Kelly also was peppered with more questions about the Irish defense, which ranks 102nd in the nation and is giving up 439.3 yards a game. After the game on Saturday, he shot down a question about whether with the Irish were going to have to count on Kizer to carry the load because of the defensive struggles.
“There is not a referendum on who’s got to carry who,” he said.
But asked Tuesday how he’s handled defensive issues in the past, Kelly replied: “Scored more points.”
The Irish are averaging 38 points a game, which would be a school record, so that might not be the answer. Kelly believes one of the problems defensively is the Irish are trying too hard and are missing tackles because they playing out of control.
“If we’re just in a better position, a better football position, if we just put ourselves in front of the ball carrier and get run over and hold on for dear life, they’re only going to get another yard or two,” he said.
The two early season losses dropped Notre Dame from preseason No. 10 to unranked and likely eliminated from a shot at the playoff — and a national championship. So what’s left for this team to play for with no conference race to contend for? Linebacker James Onwualu said after the game it comes down to players’ pride.
“For me, it’s just, do they take any pride in their own name?” he said. “We are the University of Notre Dame and even though we have two losses already, another loss is unacceptable, just like any other loss.”
Kelly said there’s still enough time to turn the season around, saying the Irish wouldn’t be thinking about the playoff even if they were undefeated.
“We’re so focused on getting a win, the goal is off to the side,” he said.