Rees Seeing Red?Seven red zone trips, three touchdowns scored in two games. Add to that two forays inside the Michigan 25-yard line with field goals the end result last week and the frustration over yards gained vs. points scored is exacerbated.
Brian Kelly and the offensive staff expect 7 points scores for every 80 yards of total offense gained.
With 951 yards accrued through two contests, that's 12 (offensive) touchdowns expected. They've instead scored just six, and that lack of red zone and in-close execution is Reason 1B why Notre Dame will enter Ross-Ade Stadium at 1-1 rather than 2-0 and among the nation's top 10 teams.
"When you're in the red zone, you never want to turn the football over," said Kelly. "But you know, you want to run the right routes. I could give you a number of scenarios where it wasn't just (the fault of quarterback) 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.
"It's 34-27, and it's 1st-and-10 from the 25-yard line, we throw a corner route, and we step out of bounds. There's little details within why we're out of bounds and that wasn't Tommy Rees.
"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 three. It's about execution and the details and of that."
The Irish scored just two touchdowns in five red zone trips vs. Purdue last season, a 20-17 victory, though one of the three remaining instances included a game-winning field goal with 11 seconds remaining.
Fringe BenefitSacks, interceptions, tackles-for-loss, passes defended. Maybe a cornerback that allows nothing with regularity.
Those are the accepted staples of great defense from a fan's perspective.
Filling the right gap, being assignment correct, setting the edge defensively -- those are the principles of the craft that make a defense sound and potentially great.
Freshman drop linebacker Jaylon Smith is tasked with each, the latter -- setting the edge -- perhaps his most important duty each snap.
He's predictably been less effective than his upperclass predecessor, Danny Spond, at the task, but Smith's preternatural skills could soon close the overall gap between he and Spond, the 2012 season's most undervalued defender and a player whose career ended this August due to a severe migraine condition.
"The benefits of playing (Smith) are that you get a lot of experience early on, and especially with our schedule -- we are not playing easy squads. We are playing good football teams early on and he's getting an opportunity to learn a lot," said Kelly.
Along with defensive end Stephon Tuitt, Smith was responsible for a vacated edge that afforded Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner a 35-yard sprint in the second half Saturday night. Smith however also nearly picked off a Gardner pass and made two diving stops near scrimmage including one of which he fought off a late block.
"You're going to have to live with some mistakes that are made, but I tell you what, he made some really good plays for us as well," said Kelly. "He's an athletic kid that loves to play, plays hard. Occasionally you're going to be put in some compromising positions. He's a young man that makes up for some of those mistakes with the way he plays, too."
Check, Check, CheckTwo sacks allowed in 80 pass attempts. A 5.3 yards-per-carry average on the ground. Just two false starts.
Notre Dame's offensive line is comprised of two new starters and three players in different positions. They've assimilated well to the challenges of early-season play.
"I couldn't be more pleased with (center) Nick Martin under the circumstances," said Kelly. "We had one illegal snap in probably one of the most dynamic atmospheres that we'll play under, just did a tremendous job.
"Again, as you know, we checked almost 40 percent of our plays (pre-snap), just an incredible job, great snapping all night. Handled himself very well up front."
Martin's illegal snap caused a false start on his line mate to the immediate right, Christian Lombard. A senior who started at right tackle last season, Lombard allowed a sack in Week One but rebounded with an outstanding effort in Ann Arbor.
To Lombard's right is true sophomore Ronnie Stanley, thrown to the wolves on the edge this season for an offense that will likely fire 30-plus passes per game.
"Ronnie continues to get better, he's learning the game," said Kelly. "We had a couple early missed assignments, but did a very good job. One sack let up, but he continues to get better and better. We only see that offensive line improving from week-to-week. But Nick Martin, outstanding, and Ronnie continues to get better."
Still StoutNotre Dame's 2012 defense allowed just 124 points in a 12-game regular season.
It's 2013 version? 81 surrendered in just four halves of football.
But if you're looking to assign blame, it appears a nationally touted front wall is not a main culprit in the unit's early struggles.
"Louis Nix was a beast. They couldn't block him," said Kelly of his senior nose guard. "Played as well as he's played for us. They had no answers for him inside.
"I thought physically, we're talking about play after play, fit after fit, (defensive end) Sheldon Day played outstanding. I would point to those two. Stephon (Tuitt) played well. Missed a couple of opportunities. Obviously had a great interception in the game. You know, he continues to play more and more for us.
"But those two guys in particular were outstanding. Probably got to play a little bit more. We've got to get more guys into the game. We're probably going to see (Jarron) Jones a little bit more. We've got to see (Isaac) Rochell a little bit more to keep these guys fresh. But those two guys in particular were outstanding."
Jones and Rochell rotated with the Irish defense in each of the game's four quarters during the season opening win vs. Temple. Neither appeared from scrimmage vs. the Wolverines in Week Two, with senior backup Kona Schwenke and linebacker/defensive end hybrid Ishaq Williams logging the entire workload of defensive line snaps in reserve.