Tackling Frustrations

Our Thursday notebook examines the need for a more physical week of practice, immediate goals, and the likely re-immersion of freshmen defensive ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt along the Irish defensive front.

Each week, Thursday's Notre Dame practice, at least its intent, is to achieve perfection.

Prior to Brian Kelly's admittedly fruitless pursuit of that goal, the second-year Irish head coach decided to use Wednesday as a day to shake things up for his 0-2 Irish.

"It was pretty spirited," said Kelly of Wednesday's practice under steady rain. "We went live today for the first time, since I've been here (on a Wednesday). We had some live tackling and it was a pretty physical day for us. There was some high energy out there."

Kelly was quick to add the end result – a promising, successful practice – wasn't out of the norm.

"I really like the way we practice, our problem has been Saturday – taking care of the football," he offered. "Attention to detail as it relates to specific assignments throughout the game. We've been hard on them this week. It's probably the hardest I've been on the guys during the week in terms of attention to the smallest of details, because that's what's getting us beat."

Specifically turnovers – red zone and otherwise – as well as 17 penalties and a sudden penchant for 3rd-and-short failures have been chief among several culprits in the team's disappointing start.

"As it relates (back) to the Michigan game, we wanted to prepare some 3rd-and-short stuff," Kelly said of the physical session, adding, "I don't think you can tag-off (not tackle) in 3rd-and-short. You have to go in there and you have to bang. Some of it was situational and some was we just need to continue to play more physical football…a mental approach to how we want to play."


With Notre Dame's seventh defeat in 15 games, the predicable reaction of fans and media – searching for someone to blame – has run rampant through Irish message boards, local newspapers, and television stations.

Kelly noted Saturday that the responsibility for removing the current malaise falls on the man in charge.

"I don't think that I look towards someone to bring the troops up after a loss. That falls on me; I set the tone out there," he said of the week's practice environment. "Our coaches follow my lead as to what I want and we wanted a pretty aggressive week. Players will fall in line."

As the top link in that chain of command, Kelly knows focus must remain (or in the case of the 2011 Irish, become) singular. There's no need to search for end goals. "I don't think you can look at it anymore about what's at the end of the season," Kelly said. "We have to be so focused right now on Saturdays – because we haven't played well. We can't think about what's in the future we have to focus on making money right now – that's winning for our guys."

Kelly still allowed for a ray of light at the end of a 10-game tunnel.

"It hasn't been hard for me to keep our guys focused because we're 0-2. We focus on one at a time. And hey, if we string together seven or eight in a row then we can start thinking about what it looks like at the end of the season," he admitted.

Freshmen Focus

Conspicuous in their absence from last week's loss in Ann Arbor, Irish freshmen defensive ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt are expected to join the fray again this week vs. the more traditional offensive attack expected from Michigan State.

"I think they have a chance to play a little bit more of a significant role; we hope so," Kelly offered. "Some of it is: they get their chance, and we have to see how they do. But our plan is to get them in the game."

Freshmen outside ‘backers Ishaq Williams and Troy Niklas both played one series vs. Michigan. Both will line up as the No. 2 options at their positions (Cat and Dog linebacker, respectively).

Kelly noted the pair, like the oft-discussed young defensive end tandem, is eager to help turn the Irish season around.

"I would say that they all want to contribute. They all feel like ‘Hey, coach, let me help as much as I can.' And that's a good feeling for us.

"Both of them are champing at the bit to play (he said of Lynch and Tuitt). I read that as a good thing and when they get their chance we'll see if they can make the plays we think they can."

One first time player guaranteed a key role Saturday is redshirt-freshman nose guard Louis Nix.

Fresh off his first career start, Nix's skill set appears tailor-made for Saturday's tussle with the Spartans.

"He'll do very well. He'll do very well," Kelly said of his run-stuffing pivot. "When you're 335 pounds and you play physical, you can set the style. He won't be our No. 1 pass rusher, but at the point of attack, he's very good."

Senior Sean Cwynar would aid Nix's cause after missing the Michigan game with a broken hand.

"Sean is having a very good week. He's gotten much better strength in his hand where he can lock on and really do a good job so that's going to help Louis as well in terms of keeping him fresh," Kelly said.

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