Clean it up

Job one for Brian Kelly's Notre Dame squad entering Week Two? Clean up the myriad correctable mental and physical mistakes that plagued the Irish in an opening loss to USF.

Brian Kelly's 2011 Irish encountered a hurdle experienced by just five of Notre Dame's previous 25 teams: beginning a season 0-1.

"There's nothing like getting back to work for our football team, especially after a loss," Kelly said. "Our focus is Michigan; it's going to be a great atmosphere and (its) exciting to continue this rivalry. We need to start winning some of these games in this rivalry," Kelly noted of the Wolverines two-game streak and wins in four of the last five matchups between the teams.

"Getting our players focused on Michigan will not be difficult at all. We know the challenge in front of us. We're excited about getting an opportunity to play in a grand stage in a great atmosphere, in a night game atmosphere at Michigan for the first time in their great history."

The Wolverines recent series dominance will continue if Notre Dame doesn't protect the football better than it did in a five-turnover opening defeat. Exacerbating the miscues were more than a half-dozen dropped passes by normally reliable receivers.

And at the root of those errors were Kelly's upperclassmen and most experienced players.

"We certainly didn't expect it, let's put it that way. We did not expect to have the kind of mistakes that we had," Kelly admitted. "But we're clearly committed to playing those guys and playing through it. Those are our guys, those are our leaders, and they've got to play through it. Players make plays, and they've got to step up this weekend and make some plays."

Why the continually mental mistakes from team leaders such as Gary Gray (personal foul and end zone pass interference), Ethan Johnson (personal foul) and Harrison Smith (back-to-back 15-yard face mask penalties)?

"I just think we were pressing a little bit…all of those are very correctable," Kelly said. "Most of that correcting comes in the individual, but it's also coached. We don't say, ‘Well, it was really a bad call; don't worry about it.' All of those things are talked about and coached.

"I'm certain that the way they play the game, those guys individually, they understand the importance of playing clean."

From bad to worse

Immersed among the maddening string of errors was punt returner and slot receiver, Theo Riddick. Counted upon heavily by Kelly and his offensive staff entering the season, the junior athlete has no choice but to respond following the disheartening outing.

"The thing that he has to work on, obviously, is his body language," Kelly said of Riddick. "He can't get down on himself; we're going to keep coming to him; he's going to our guy. He's got to fight through a very difficult set of circumstances that were presented him."

Touted in August as a major upgrade for Notre Dame's struggling punt return unit, Riddick muffed the catch and lost the football attempting his first career punt catch. It was all downhill from there.

"That was very difficult for him because it seemed to affect his play on the offensive side of the ball," Kelly said, adding, "We're going to make that a very competitive situation this week relative to punt returns and see how that plays out."

Riddick's fumble wasn't the only error in the return game. Notre Dame's blocking has been consistently poor in that particular special teams aspect since Kelly's arrival (and related or not, long before as well).

"One way to look at it is have a short-field punt return guy who is probably not going to be able to return the punt anyway. You know, fair catch it and let's move on." said Kelly noting that four of Riddick's six returns were "short-field punts." That is, the chances of a return effort were negligible, turning the catch into the only relevant moment.

"He had two opportunities in a long field, and in both of those opportunities we didn't do a very good job blocking up front."

Riddick has also been asked to wear many hats, serving not only as the punt returner and slot receiver, but as the lead kick returner, and – we assume – the team's wildcat quarterback option, though that formation was not shown vs. South Florida.

"It's got to be a consideration; I didn't think that going into the game," Kelly said of the possibility that Riddick has too much on his plate. "He had shown me no cause for that. I'm thinking it's an aberration. We're all hoping that. But we'll continue to evaluate the situation to see. If that's too much for him, then we'll scale back.

"I don't know if we went into the game saying, ‘Wow, this is a roll-the-dice deal.' We didn't feel that way going in."

Oh yeah…THAT guy

USF quarterback B.J. Daniels is a solid player (at worst). But considering the Bulls 254-yard offensive performance Saturday, Daniels performed the bare minimum en route to victory.

Polar opposite was Michigan's Denard Robinson in last year's Wolverines victory over the Irish.

In one of the five greatest opposing performances in Stadium history, Robinson danced and sprinted past Notre Dame's defense for an astounding 258 rushing yards while maintaining offensive balance to keep the Irish honest, throwing for 240 yards without an interception.

Robinson is back to guide new head coach Brady Hoke's offense. The scheme and approach is different from 2010 – and though Week One presented evidence to the contrary, it's a safe bet the team's focal point remains.

How can Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco simulate what they'll face under center Saturday night?

"You don't. I mean, we really couldn't simulate B.J. Daniels either," Kelly admitted. "What we did is we used (Everett) Golson and (Andrew) Hendrix because they're both really athletic, and we'll probably use them both again this week to help us with that. Hendrix is more of a physical kid, but extremely athletic. Then Golson can get out on the pocket, the perimeter, and be that run-pass threat guy," he continued. "Probably use a little bit of both to help our defense."

Robinson accounted for just 46 of the Wolverines 190 rushing yards in a weather-shortened win over Western Michigan. (The game was called in the third quarter with Michigan leading 34-10.)

It's not what you say...

A prevailing theme for Irish fans in the wake of Saturday's opening loss was Kelly's heated reaction to his team's errors throughout the contest.

Its an issue that surfaced early last season as well. Kelly was asked Tuesday about his sideline behavior.

"Did I hit somebody? Did I strike somebody? Is that what you're referring to?" Kelly said. "I'm asking specifically what you're referring to."

When told several articles took exception to his sideline bursts of anger directed toward his players, Kelly's tone changed.

"I think I was extremely frustrated with the game. What I have to recognize is that I'm on TV all the time...do a better job of understanding when that camera is on me.

"Seems like it's on more than I'm used to," he admitted in reference to previous non-high-profile stops at Cincinnati, Central Michigan, and Grand Valley State. "So I'll have to do a better job of controlling my emotions.

Not sure they make those…yet

Lost in Saturday's three-point defeat was the solid effort put forth by Notre Dame's defensive line. Redshirt-freshman nose guard Louis Nix was one of three debut players among the line's six combatants.

His head coach was pleased with the first-timer's effort.

"His play exceeded that," Kelly said of his expectations. "He played very well."

More than 40 pounds trimmer than September 2010, Nix's appearance was noted by members of the gathered media, especially on a play in which he chased Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels from the far hash to the sidelines.

"I think it's the new TechFit adidas," Kelly joked of Nix's nimble effort in the team's new jerseys. "We just need TechFit hands. If we can get those, we'll be in great shape."


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