Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

Brian Kelly challenges Notre Dame defense to play 'nasty'

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Earlier this week, Irish coach Brian Kelly said his defensive players were playing as hard as they could. But with a Stanford offense that is averaging 51.7 points a game up next, he's asking them to play harder. He needs them to take it to another level.

''What I've been talking [to them] about is, just have that nasty kind of tenaciousness to us that we've got t pay with,'' Kelly said after practice on Wednesday. ''No matter what happens we have to find a way to win.

''We play hard. We're doing the right things and that's all well and good. Now ... we've got to fall on our sword. We've got to play this game with more toughness and more tenacity than we've ever played with before.''

So far, the Irish have lived down to their reputation on defense: talented but overrated, athletic but not mean. It's not that they don't play hard or even hit hard. But mean players instinctively hit hard. It seems like Notre Dame's players have to think about it. And when you do that, you leave yourself open for fundamental flaws -- like when Manti Te'o put a big hit on Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell on a key third-and-11 play in the third quarter, only to forget to wrap up and watch Bell bounce off for a 12-yard gain that led to a touchdown.

When Kelly inherited Mark Dantonio's defense at Cincinnati in 2007, the Bearcats not only played faster, but hit harder. They dropped from 31st to 50th in yards allowed; but they went from 36th in points allowed to 13th -- mostly because of big jumps in interceptions (26), fumble recoveries (16) and sacks (42).

Trying to change the mentality at Notre Dame might be proving problematic for Kelly. Asked about the importance of increasing their takeaways after getting just three in the first three games (three interceptions, no fumble recoveries), Kelly put the onus on his offense to improve the turnover-differential.

''If there's one statistic you can take a lot from it's turnover-takeaway,'' Kelly said. ''We've turned it over and haven't taken it away enough. We had two huge turnovers [on offense] against Michigan State that I think stand out more than not taking it away enough on defense.

''So when you talk about it from a defensive perspective, I think offensively we have to do a better job of not turning the ball over.''

Kelly doesn't want to put any more pressure on the defense than there already is. With Stanford and other potent offenses coming up, the key to improvement on defense -- for now, anyway -- is to lower the bar.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on September 23, 2010 2:25 AM.

Jamoris Slaughter expected to start for Notre Dame vs. Stanford was the previous entry in this blog.

TJ Jones committed to Irish, but still likes Harbaugh, Stanford is the next entry in this blog.

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