FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly isn’t panicking after a 41-30 loss at No. 11 Michigan (2-0) on Saturday night.
But he also knows things will need to change for the Irish (1-1), who dropped from No. 14 to No. 21 in The Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday.
I think if we are in a position where we don’t understand what it takes to win at Michigan, we are missing the boat, Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. I think if you look at the game, we have to play better, we have to coach better.
Notre Dame didn’t look like the team that could rely on its stiff, playmaking defense like it did last season.
The Irish, who fell 42-14 in the BCS national championship game to Alabama, gave up 40 points for the second time in three games. Notre Dame didn’t give up more than 26 points in any regular-season game last year, including games that went to overtime.
Michigan’s 460 offensive yards, which included 294 passing yards from Devin Gardner and 184 receiving yards by Jeremy Gallon, were more than anything Notre Dame gave up in a regular-season game last season and just 69 yards less than Alabama gained in the national title game.
Kelly said the defense has a different look this year after the graduation of linebacker Manti Te’o, safety Zeke Motta and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore moved players into new roles. But he said he believes the defense can perform at the level it did last season.
We’ve lost some talented players for sure, but I think we’ve got some guys that are learning some new roles, Kelly said. Dan Fox is in the Mike linebacker position. We’ve got a true freshman (former Bishop Luers star Jaylon Smith) playing drop (linebacker). We’ve got a new safety combination. You’ve got some new players that are growing.
We’ve got to clean some things up fundamentally. I like our players, and we’ve just got to continue to develop who we are. I think I would feel a lot differently moving forward if I didn’t feel like we had the players necessary to have a good defense and the level of the defense that we’re going to need with the schedule that we’re going to play. We’ve got to clean some things up, and I’m confident that we will.
While Kelly is optimistic the defense will get better, he also said the offense will need to be a bigger factor in winning games than it was last season.
Last year, we had to rely on our defense to win football games, Kelly said. I don’t want to have to do that week in and week out. I think there are going to be some times where our offense is going to have to win some ballgames.
Kelly also said there was plenty of time for Notre Dame to resemble what it was last year as the Irish prepare for their third game of the season when they travel to play Purdue (1-1) on Saturday.
We’re only two weeks into this thing, Kelly said. So our expectation is that these guys that are now the starters that had not started before and those guys that have been playing a lot, have got to take hold and ownership in this defense. I think that’s going to happen. It’s a gradual process, but if we’re better in November than we are right now, I’ll be happy. We just have to continue to move forward.