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Notre Dame

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Dead zone: Notre Dame struggling when they get close

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is searching for a way to cut off another season of frustration in the red zone.

The No. 21 Irish (1-1) enter Saturday’s game at Purdue (1-1) tied for 111th in red zone efficiency, scoring on 4-of-7 trips inside an opponent’s 20-yard line in the first two games

Notre Dame’s slow start comes on the heels of two disappointing years of red zone scoring. The Irish finished 2011 ranked No. 88 in red zone offense, scoring on 37 of 48 trips (77 percent) and they were No. 70 in red zone efficiency last season, scoring on 48 of 60 trips (80 percent).

“I could give you five or six different scenarios why we didn’t execute, but it comes down to performance,” Kelly said during his Tuesday news conference. “It comes down to practice and preparation. You know, we have to continue to work on those things.”

Notre Dame missed two chances inside Michigan’s 20 in the fourth quarter in last week’s 41-30 loss.

The Irish got to the Wolverines’ 15-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter as they trailed 34-20.

Irish receiver DaVaris Daniels was taken down by Michigan cornerback Raymon Taylor for a 2-yard loss on third-and-2 from the 15, and quarterback Tommy Rees’ pass fell out of the reach of receiver TJ Jones’ attempted diving catch on fourth-and-4.

Notre Dame got back into the red zone late in the fourth as it trailed Michigan by 11 only to have Rees try to force a pass to running back Amir Carlisle on first-and-goal from the 6. The ball went off Carlisle’s hands, bounced off Taylor’s leg and was intercepted by cornerback Blake Countess in the end zone.

Notre Dame relied heavily on it passing game in the red zone as the Irish threw on 12 of 13 plays inside the 20. Rees completed six red zone passes with touchdowns to Jones and tight end Troy Niklas with one interception.

Kelly said Rees’ ability to make better decisions would help Notre Dame in the red zone this year, and the coach was quick to point out that not all of the Irish’s red zone deficiencies fall on the senior quarterback’s shoulders.

“There’s a number of different situations. When you’re in the red zone, you never want to turn the football over,” Kelly said. “But you know, you want to run the right routes. I could give you a number of scenarios where it wasn’t just Tommy Rees. There’s a number of scenarios in that game where we didn’t execute properly to win that football game. And we had our chances. You know, it’s 34-27, and it’s first-and-10 from the 25-yard line, we throw a corner route, and we step out of bounds. You know, and there’s little details within why we’re out of bounds, and that wasn’t Tommy Rees.

“So there’s a number of little things that go into execution, and it’s attention to detail. It’s the little things that decide ballgames. We catch that, we’re first-and-goal from the 3. So we go on here for 45 minutes about things we’ve already turned the page on; it’s about execution and the details and of that.”

tkrausz@jg.net

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