Only One Antidote

Notre Dame needs a victory. Not to return to the mythical top 25 or reenter the national conversation, but because losses weren't considered acceptable entering 2013 and they shouldn't be treated as such today.

Notre Dame is 3-2, an ugly 3-2, with but one of its three victories over a team with a fighting chance to be decent this fall.

Fans as a result feel frustration, disappointment. Media notes unmet expectations.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his team?

"I would say this: They have been in the National Championship Game. They have been to Florida for Bowl games. What they are more interested in is playing well the next game and for the rest of the season," said Kelly.

"One Bowl game or one game does not make it for these guys. They are more focused and we are more focused on being better as a football team and playing better week-to-week than the one game that we get at the end of the season."

The next game is against Arizona State in Dallas. And while Notre Dame's offense struggles to find something on which it can hang its hat, the Sun Devils put up 62 points on weakened USC over the weekend -- silver-spooned Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin fired as the result.

Neither development is good for Notre Dame.

The Irish defense has issues. They struggle to defend modern football's weapon of choice, the horizontal pass, largely because defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's scheme allows for it to be completed. It did last year too, but the 2012 defense was one heck of a group of open-field tacklers.

"Those are long handoffs, all those plays we're throwing it out, they're called runs," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops of his team's repeated success on field-side (wide) throws. "They're not designed as passes, they're called runs.

"And the way they're defending it, they're weak out there to stop the run. That's the game you play. Sometimes you get them right. Blake (Bell) threw those with good precision. I'm really proud of our receivers and how they blocked out there to get those seven, eight. Those are long handoffs. To us, those are run yardage."

Run yardage, pass yardage, it's all academic for a defense yielding too much of both. Notre Dame ranks 45th in rush defense at 133 yards per game. Its pass efficiency defense is 58th. Both numbers would be worse if the Irish hadn't faced three putrid offenses among their first five foes.

As for the team's scoring defense, the main statistic on which it hangs its forever bending hat? 53rd. Tied with Wyoming, just ahead of Ball State. (Though it should be noted, ahead of national contender LSU. The Tigers though, can score.)

And therein lies the rub: Notre Dame can't score with the big boys this season. It couldn't last year either, but it didn't matter until the end. It couldn't in 2010 or 2011, and it mattered 10 times total.

If the Irish offense doesn't improve, its defense -- a unit with real promise going forward -- won't be able to win games against the likes of the Sun Devils, BYU Cougars, Stanford Cardinal, a future bowl opponent, or maybe even a USC team with a competent leader in tow.

"I think we found that we can push the ball down the field vertically. We have some receivers that are young and growing and emerging. We have a guy (Troy Niklas) that continues to get better at tight end. I think we saw George Atkinson's ability to grow as a running back," said Kelly in reference to what his current offense brings to the table.

"You know, all these pieces are growing week-in and week-out. When we talk about hanging your hat on one thing, certainly a veteran quarterback that can get us in some good plays, a solid offensive line, (receiver) T.J. Jones is a veteran player."

"But I would say that we haven't been able to put all 11 together on a consistent basis and I think that's why you've seen the inconsistency that we've had as a football team both on offense and defense."

No need to reevaluate: the weekly goal remains

The best game of the season by both units will be necessary Saturday in the House that Jerry Built. Notre Dame opened the week as underdogs of 5.5 points. (They began the season favored by more than a field goal vs. the Sun Devils.)

A win won't put them back among the elite -- that chance doesn't exist until after Thanksgiving, with plenty of goodwill to be engendered previous (aka, six straight wins). But victory would provide some respite heading into the team's bye week.

"We know it can't be a National Championship, and we are disappointed that that's the case," said Kelly of the season's end game. "But to say, 'Hey, there's nothing to play for.' What, for one game in Florida? What we are more interested in as a group and that's why we play this game, is as a team, to play better, to be more consistent; to challenge ourselves, each and every week to be better, and that's the group that we have here.

"That's the goal for this group. And I'm sure they probably articulated that to you guys in some fashion: that the most important thing is to get better as a group and play better football week-in and week-out. That's really what they want to be able to do." Top Stories