Cleaning it up

Job one for Brian Kelly's squad in week two is to eradicate the mental mistakes made by Notre Dame's safeties as the Irish begin preparations for Michigan.

Thursday's practice injury suffered by 5th-year senior captain Austin Collinsworth had a direct impact on Saturday's on field performance. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly offered today that of the five explosive plays his defense yielded, three were a direct result of poor communication along the back line.

"Austin had been obviously a great communicator back there," Kelly said of his team co-captain. "Then with Elijah (Shumate) and Max (Redfield), we needed somebody to pick it up. Neither one of those guys picked up the slack. Need to be better."

Shumate appeared to be at fault for Rice's only competitive touchdown, a 26-yarder down the left seam -- on 2nd and 17, no less. Shumate also appeared to release the No. 2 receiver down a vacated left sideline in the second half with the Owls also gaining 26 yards as a result.

"Whatever we have to do, we'll get it better back there between those two guys, making sure that they communicate better," said Kelly. Even if we got to get them in film study, signaling everything during watching film, we've got to get these guys communicating better back there."

Asked if 2013 Florida safety-turned 2014 Irish cornerback Cody Riggs was an option, Kelly said no. Riggs though could chip in at the position for which he was initially intended, nickel, should suspended junior Keivarae Russell return.

Also unlikely to return to safety is current nickel Matthias Farley -- by any reasonable measure one of the team's 10 best players in the opening day win.

"We just think with Shumate and Max, we just got to get them communicating. We like their skill set. We think they're the two best players back there," Kelly said of the safety position sans Collinsworth.

"Again, we got into a very unique situation where we had 24 hours really to get them communicating more effectively. We gave up five explosive plays, four passes, three of them directly related to poor communication. We can get that corrected. Both those guys are the kind of skill players we want back there. We have to address that issue, which we will this week."

Lending a hand

Pat Eilers, a starting wide receiver for Notre Dame's most recent championship team in 1988, and a five-year NFL veteran safety, has joined the Irish coaching staff for the remainder of 2014. Eilers will work with the team's safeties as defensive graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy continues his battle with cancer.

"It's great to have Pat," Kelly said. "We were granted a special exemption from the NCAA when Kyle McCarthy (had) fallen ill with his battle. So Pat has been able to take a sabbatical from his work (Madison, Dearborn Partners, LLC). He's got great knowledge of the game, obviously playing here, playing on a championship team. Played in the NFL. It's been great to have him around. He provides a lot.

"He'll be helping us a lot this week with those young safeties, too."

Kelly said Eilers' main goal is to offer aid to McCarthy when necessary.

"Kyle still wants to be on the field. As he goes through his treatments, we didn't want to pull him off the field," Kelly offered. "Pat said, 'Hey, you know, if we can make this work, I'd be happy to stay off the field. When Kyle can't go, I'll fill in for him.'

"It was just a great gesture on his part to make a situation work and allow Kyle to stay on the field when he can."

Kelly admitted Eilers doesn't have a coaching resume. "But, as you know, he's bright, he's great with the kids. He's already shown himself to be pretty effective."

On the bright side

It wasn't all bad along the back line. Notre Dame's cornerback tandem of Cole Luke and Cody Riggs shined throughout the contest. So too did senior nickel Matthias Farley. Luke was making his first collegiate start, Riggs his first start for the Irish, and Farley his first start at a new position after 19 at safety over the last two seasons.

"I liked Cole's presence. He didn't seem to be affected by his first start," said Kelly of the sophomore cover man. "I thought he played with confidence. Really liked just his demeanor. I think that's really big at that position. That stood out to me.

"Matthias is a guy that can do a lot of jobs for us. He's a valuable player for us. He continues to do that -- had the interception right before the half. It was a big picture. He's a guy that does a lot of jobs for us. He's outstanding in special teams, as well."

Asked if Farley needed a jolt of confidence after a rougher-than-expected 2013 season, Kelly offered, "I think everybody needs a little bit of boost. But he's a guy that has a lot of pride in his work, in his craft. I would say for him it's more about whatever he can do for the team more so than him needing a boost of confidence."

Farley finished with five tackles including a half sack in addition to his interception. He also recorded (unofficially) a quarterback hurry in tandem with senior linebacker Joe Schmidt. Luke broke up a pass and denied a deep ball with sound position on an afternoon in which he was not often challenged.

Don't Bring the Heat

Much was made in the pre-season of Notre Dame's need to bring consistent pressure in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's scheme. That theory did not present as a reality Saturday against Rice -- and it was apparently eschewed by design.

"Most of our calls were to take away the quarterback runs," said Kelly. "We wanted (noted runner Driphus Jackson) to be a quarterback. So we were quite okay because we were trying to take away some running lanes from the quarterback. If they were going to have any success, we were going to make them throw the football. So it really wasn't, you know, pin your ears back and speed rush up the field and let this guy kind of run.

"The thing we weren't okay with were the explosive passes that resulted in some miscommunication. But we were fine with the pass-rush. We could have brought some pressures if we felt like we wanted to do that. But we were more interested in making that kid drop back and throw the football."

Jackson finished 13 of 24 with 163 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He ran for 61 yards on 11 carries, though 19 occurred on one second quarter scamper.

The Irish were officially credited with two sacks and one hurry though film review showed at least two more of the latter. Top Stories