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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, October 16, 2016 1:02 am

Irish lament inability to finish

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND — Two weeks ago, Notre Dame probably needed a fresh start, and a blowout win over Syracuse on a neutral field was supposed to represent just that.

But on Saturday night, the Irish dropped their second straight since the not-so-fresh start, falling to 2-5 for the first time since 2007, the pre-Brian Kelly era. The 17-10 home loss to Stanford yet again underscored the team's penchant for prolonged in-game funks. That does fall on the coaching staff. But the problems go beyond Kelly & Co.

It's an inconsistency thing. It's a lack-of-playmakers thing. It's a confidence thing. And, oh yes, the schedule gets tougher. They face three ranked teams in their final five games, and another of those is on the road against improving and talented rival Southern California.

At 2-5, Notre Dame's bowl hopes are now remote. That's a calamity for a program whose mantra is "College Football Playoff or bust."

"Sometimes the results just don't yield what you want," starting safety Drue Tranquill said. "Loss after loss, we've asked, 'Why are we losing?' We make adjustments. You look at all our losses. They're less than eight points. It comes down to finishing."

Indeed, Kelly has the team in almost every game, but they can't finish. Closing out games is the biggest problem. If the Irish could just tap into their inner Aroldis Chapman and close out games the way they did a year ago, they'd find themselves in the postseason.

"I mean, this is a bitter pill to swallow, certainly," Kelly said. "You know, losing our fifth game now, (all) by one possession. I love those kids in there. They just came up a little short again. You've got to keep fighting, and we'll get out on the other end of it. It's a tough spot we're in right now, but they're committed. Coaches are committed, and we'll find a way. We'll get through this rough spot."

Where was Adams? Josh Adams took a handoff on Notre Dame's first offensive play, and he then pretty much spent the rest of the night in bubble wrap. What gives? The Irish essentially removed their top weapon from the running-back rotation, giving him just eight carries. Yeah, Tarean Folston busted a 16-yard run in the first quarter and looked sharp after missing time with a sprained ankle, but with Adams we're talking about a guy who averaged 7.1 yards a carry in 2015. The offense needs to feature Adams to recharge the run game.

In a snap: Basically, center Sam Mustipher is in a slump. Everyone can see it. The early sense is they will stick with him.

"Listen, Sam is a great kid," Kelly said. "He wants to do it right. He feels terrible. We'll just keep working at it and just an unfortunate situation."

On the bright side: Quenton Meeks' interception return for a touchdown and the safety on Mustipher's bad snap accounted for nine Stanford points, and those nine had nothing to do with Notre Dame's defense. So throwing out last week's 10-3 loss to North Carolina State that left both offenses literally stuck in muddy water, this was the best performance of the season by the Irish defense.

"I think we played amazing (in the first half)," starting cornerback Cole Luke said.

What's ahead: The Irish mercifully enter a bye week. "Just try to get back to work," starting wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. said.