It would be a stretch to say that Brian Kelly got overly defensive when asked point-blank Tuesday if Brian VanGorder was the right man for the job as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame.
But he certainly backed the man who served as Kelly’s defensive coordinator at Grand Valley State way back in 1991, and then rejoined Kelly at Notre Dame in 2014.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said Kelly when asked if VanGorder is the right man for the job with the Irish.
“It’s great conversation for everybody to have, but it’s so short-sighted of what really happened in the Texas game.”
What happened in the Texas game, however, was a continuation of what has been happening for the past 22 games VanGorder has served as Kelly’s right-hand man. Since then, opponents have consistently put together long touchdown drives without many turnovers, without many sacks and a whole slew of explosive, long-distance touchdown plays.
Add a couple more – a 72-yard touchdown pass and a 68-yard pass play that set up another touchdown -- in Notre Dame’s 50-47 double-overtime loss Sunday night in Austin. There also was what would have been another lengthy score had it not been for a John Burt drop.
Kelly cited the NFL personnel losses from the 2015 season, which includes a second-round pick (Jaylon Smith), a pair of third-rounders (Sheldon Day and KeiVarae Russell) and a free agent (Romeo Okwara) who landed on an NFL roster to open the 2016 season.
“If we’re 10 or 11 games into the season and we have to out-score everybody, I’ll take the questions, and I would say fair enough,” Kelly said. “We’re in game one of a brand new (Texas) offense that we saw for the first time and we have 10 guys that went to the NFL.”
And yet even with those NFL-caliber players in 2015, the Irish allowed 28 touchdown drives of 70 yards or more. Texas added four more Sunday night within the first 30:31 of the game.
Kelly did admit that he and his coaching staff have to do a better job of getting the message across to a mostly inexperienced 2016 defense.
“We have to coach better,” Kelly said. “If we’re not playing Cover 3 well, we’re not coaching well enough. If we’re coaching better and we’re getting that from our players, we’ll be a better defense moving forward.”
Kelly also admitted that the Irish have to be better fundamentally, which means running less scheme if that’s what it takes.
“We have to say, ‘Okay, what can these guys do and what can’t they do, and let’s maximize what their strengths are,’” Kelly said.
“Instead of saying, ‘Hey, we love this, we want to do this, we want to do that,’ we can’t do those things in certain situations. It’s knowing our personnel moving forward and accentuating the things defensively that they do well.”
Kelly said after the game and again Tuesday that some blown coverages contributed to the explosive plays.
“The balls that got over our head, we were in Cover 3, except for the one time we got beat on the seam because our safety was obviously way too wide,” said Kelly, referring to the 68-yard pass to Jerrod Heard with safety Drue Tranquill playing man-coverage.
“Primarily, if we just did the ordinary things ordinarily well, we’re in good shape.”
Kelly said in retrospect, the Irish would have had bigger personnel on the field to defend the running rampage put on by 249-pound Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who rushed for 53 yards on 13 carries, including three touchdowns, two of which came in overtime.
“Other than that, we had the right defensive structure our there.”
Kelly defended VanGorder further by saying it will take time for all the new defensive pieces to mesh.
“We’re jumping the gun,” Kelly said. “If we’re 10 games into this and we’re giving up 50 points a game, I’ll have to answer your questions.
“Right now I think you should all just relax a little bit. Our defense is going to be fine. Our defense settled in enough in the second half for our offense to extend itself and score some more points, and we didn’t execute well enough in that phase.
“You’re going to have to play some games where you out-score people.”