SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly couldn’t avoid more fallout from a 31-17 loss to USC on the same day he announced the loss of a defensive starter.
The coach tried to steer the conversation to Saturday’s game against Navy (2-5) during a Tuesday news conference in which he announced that starting defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore’s season is over because of a detached medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Instead, Kelly responded to charges that Notre Dame (4-3) quit in the loss to USC.
Trojans linebacker Chris Galippo, who apologized for his comments Monday, said: At the end there, when they didn’t call those timeouts, they just quit. That’s what Notre Dame football is about. They’re not anything like USC after Saturday’s game. USC running back Marc Tyler and quarterback Matt Barkley echoed the sentiment that Notre Dame gave up.
We got beat, and they can say what ever they want, Kelly said Tuesday. I will say (USC coach) Lane Kiffin called me and apologized. I thought that was a very professional thing to do. It was appreciated.
But our guys know what happened. They got their butts beat. They didn’t play very well, and that comes with it. You get what you deserve.
Kelly also defended not calling for a timeout with his team down 14 after the Irish turned the ball over with 6:43 remaining against the Trojans.
I think we were in a number of second and shorts, and where the ball was, I don’t know, intuitively, instinctively, I didn’t pull the trigger on a timeout, Kelly said. It had nothing to do with, Hey, we quit,’ or We give up.’
The Irish will have to put the loss behind them without Lewis-Moore, who is tied for fifth on the team in tackles with 26 and has four tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks. He has a year of eligibility remaining after not playing as a freshman.
It was a very unusual injury, Kelly said. He actually detached the medial collateral ligament. It’s like an ACL repair. We’re still talking four to six months. But one that I haven’t seen in 21 years and our doctors have seen very rarely.
Notre Dame will rely on young defensive ends to help stop Navy’s triple-option offense, which ran for 367 yards in a 35-17 win over the Irish last year.
Freshman Stephon Tuitt will replace Lewis-Moore in the starting lineup, and freshman Chase Hounshell will back up Tuitt. Freshman Aaron Lynch has started the last two games at the other end position as senior Ethan Johnson heals from a high right ankle sprain.
The young guys are playing roles they really shouldn’t have to be playing right now, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said of the freshman ends. They’re really not ready to play the amount of reps they have to play each week, getting them ready to play this type of offense doesn’t suit that.
Johnson is expected to play Saturday, but Kelly said Johnson will likely be limited.
I feel fine, just improving every day, Johnson said. I’m just going to continue to improve.
Kelly did have some good news Tuesday as quarterback Tommy Rees (knee) and safety Zeke Motta (concussion) were cleared to play this week.