Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wasn't pleased with much of anything that happened in Saturday night's 31-17 home loss to USC
The second-year Irish coach was upset that Notre Dame went down 17-0 in the first half, that two turnovers killed any chance of the Irish coming back to win and he wasn't pleased with how his team reacted to being on a big stage.
"We had some guys that didn't play with poise that need to play with poise," Kelly said. "Championship football teams play with competitive grace, which means that when the stakes are high and the stage is great, they raise their game. Today, in that same situation, some of our players didn't raise their level of play.
"That to me is poise, and we are still building that. That's a hard thing to dig at. But we are still building that."
Notre Dame (4-3) was dominated for most of the loss to USC (6-1)
The Trojans outgained the Irish 443-267, outrushed the Irish 219-41 and had 29 first downs to the Irish's 17.
Plus, like the first two losses of the season, Notre Dame lost the turnover battle.
Dayne Crist, who briefly replaced starting quarterback Tommy Rees in the third quarter when Rees injured his knee, couldn't handle a snap, lost the ball and USC scored an 80-yard TD on the return.
Then Rees threw a pass behind the line of scrimmage that went through running back Cierre Wood's hands and was recovered by USC. The Trojans scored their final touchdown after that turnover.
"I just told our team that, you know, very disappointed in the way we played the first half," Kelly said. "Sloppy football. Didn't tackle well. Timing was off. Just unacceptable for the amount of time we had off to play that way in the first half.
"Second half, you know, I thought we settled down defensively. You know, again, you look at USC, we gave them three points on a penalty, that kept the drive alive. We lacked some poise that is necessary. And then you know, we settled down defensively and put ourselves back in the game until we turned the ball over twice in the scoring area. And we thought we were past that. That's the toughest part is when you think you've moved past that kind of self‑inflicted wounds, to come back and have those hit you again, it's disappointing."
Notre Dame was approaching the last six games of the season like a BCS-playoff scenario.
Win out and the Irish are in one of the premier bowl games. Lose and they are out.
Notre Dame lost Saturday to kick off the second half, falling to USC 31-17 in the first night game in Notre Dame Stadium since 1990.
Even thought a BCS spot probably slipped through their fingers, the players said there is still plenty to play for this season.
"I wouldn't say BCS is out of the picture," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "We just got to play the game. We have to come back, learn from our mistakes and get after it."
Tight end and former Bishop Dwenger standout Tyler Eifert didn't share Te'o's belief that a BCS bowl is still possible, but he believes Notre Dame can still finish the season strong.
"BCS is pretty much out of the question," Eifert said. "It's just kind of about self pride and pride in our team. We are not going to give up.
"We were kind of there last year, not knowing if we were going to go to a bowl and ended up winning out and getting there. It's a little bit lower goal, but we've got to set our eyes on something different and take care of what we need to do."
USC's final touchdown came against a curious matchup for Notre Dame.
With the Trojans up 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Irish sophomore cornerback Lo Wood was trying to cover USC's top receiver Robert Woods. Woods beat Wood for a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Kelly said Wood was on Woods because of an injury to safety Zeke Motta and because of how USC utilizes its top receiver.
"We lost Zeke to a concussion, which put our nickel situation in a very difficult personnel situation. The next best guy is Lo Wood," Kelly said. "As you know, they move Robert Woods around every where. Could we have done something different, well Robert is our backup nickel, the next best player for us is Lo Wood. If (Woods) lines up as the slot, Robert Blanton is on him.
"It's just one of those things when we lost Zeke and we went to second nickel the next best player for us was Lo Wood."