Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 26, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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32 SEPT. 26, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED F ollowing a crushing dou- ble-overtime loss to Texas in the season opener, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly spoke at length about his team's resilience in its second- half comeback. It was more of the same after the team's defeat against Mich- igan State, with Kelly high- lighting Notre Dame's ability to "battle" back from a 29-point second-half deficit and have a chance to tie the game. The common threads were a faulty offense too reliant on junior quarterback DeShone Kizer and a physically taxed defense. That combination has led to a pair of early sea- son losses that already has re- moved the Irish from College Football Playoff contention and prompted questions about the team's arc. "Obviously going into the second half you like to be up, but we were definitely in a position to win the game coming out of the tunnel, to start the second half, and those first couple of drives were unacceptable from the quarterback position," Kizer said. The reality is that Notre Dame's defense is not good enough to hold up when its offense is struggling, and the offense can't take the pressure off Kizer. Notre Dame's long dry spells in both of its losses — its scoring drought against Michigan State lasted 21 min- utes and 27 seconds — put too much pressure on third-year coordinator Brian VanGorder's maligned defense. The Irish lost the time of possession battle in a big way against the Spar- tans. Head coach Mark Dantonio's physical, ball-control offense held the ball for 37 minutes and 57 seconds, draining the clock and keeping Kizer and the offense off the field. "I thought we needed to win on toughness," Dantonio said. "I thought we did that. We had to be able to run the football, and we were able to do that." And though VanGorder watched his players get physically dominated for long stretches of both the Texas and Michigan State games, they were able to string together stops in the second half of both games to keep the Irish with maintaining a pulse. It happened against the Spartans in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame lim- ited Michigan State to just 26 yards on 13 carries in the final period and forced three punts while the Spartans were trying to drain the clock. But the comeback effort required a lot of energy. When it counted most, Notre Dame could not get off the field, and Michigan State fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler O'Connor ended the game by taking a knee in the victory formation. "We've been down twice big against two really good football teams, and we put ourselves back in a position to win both games, and we couldn't because we made too many mistakes," Kelly said. "We're sloppy as a football team. There is not a ref- erendum on who's got to carry who. The defense can't do that. We're too sloppy overall as a football team. "This is everywhere, and this is on me. We have to clean up everything. We are a sloppy football team." Notre Dame's offense came alive late in the third quarter once it was forced to abandon the running game. The Irish tallied just 57 yards on the ground, but Kizer threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns to bring Notre Dame back. A stat to illustrate the of- fense's dependence on Kizer: Notre Dame has 15 offensive touchdowns this season and Kizer has rushed or passed for 13 of them. The Irish did not score an offensive touchdown against Texas or Michigan State that the Toledo, Ohio, native did not have a hand in. Kelly was asked after the game if the team is too reli- ant on the big, right-handed quarterback. "No," Kelly said. "Look at col- lege football. Defenses give up points all over. What we have to do is clean up some things, and we're going to continue to work on it. But, no, DeShone Kizer is not going to be asked to carry us. "The entire football team, and my coaching staff in particular, is in a position where they have to coach better. I've got to coach better. We've got kids that fight and have resolve." Some questioned Kelly's deci- sion to put the game in his defense's hands when he elected to punt with 3:37 left in the game. Kizer, who took a costly sack on third down to set up the punt, said he was "100 percent" on board with the call. In his mind, the offense left too much out on the field. "What's frustrating is when you go out there and you don't execute your job," Kizer said of the offense. "I was asked to do a couple things, and they weren't done right today. That's the frustrating part. "We can go out there and score every drive and put up 70 points. I truly believe in that, we fell short of that, and that has a lot to do with me. "We went out and had a great first drive and a decent second drive, and a bad third, and then were sporadic from there. To define a point where it went wrong, you can't. We've just got to execute what we do." ✦ ON THE IRISH BEAT MATT JONES Matt Jones..... Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2016. He can be reached at mjones@blueand- Notre Dame Isn't Good Enough To Fall Behind Big Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer and the offense stalled for a long stretch against Michigan State and could not complete the comeback. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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