Unless it turns out that Stanford is a BCS bowl team and a notch ahead of Michigan and Michigan State, the Irish took a significant step backward Saturday. When the defense is hanging its hat on holding Stanford to field goals on five drives, that's a problem.
''I think I would point out our defense battled. We had two interceptions,'' Kelly said. ''Not making any excuses for our kids, but we played four really good physical teams [so far] and our kids have battled each and every week.
''We came up short this week. But they're going to be back next week and strap it back up and fight. We're going to build this program to where it needs to be.
''So I think it's important to point out that Stanford deserved today's win and that is a fine football team.''
Not a big deal -- I don't think -- but worth noting that this is two weeks in a row now Kelly has credited his team for playing hard after saying in the aftermath of the loss to Michigan that playing hard isn't good enough anymore.
Most disconcerting for Notre Dame fans is the way Stanford clearly baffled the Irish and quarterback Dayne Crist with a pass-rush scheme they clearly weren't prepared for. Stanford often rushed three defenders and left eight in coverage.
On Notre Dame's first possession, Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov appeared to jump the snap count and go offsides when he sacked Crist for a seven-yard loss. But replays showed he timed it perfectly.
From that point on, it was a struggle for Crist and Notre Dame. Crist was sacked three times. He was 25-of-44 for 304 yards and an interception. But nearly half of it came in garbage time when the Cardinal led 34-6. Until then, Crist was 15-of-30 for 153 yards and an interception that linebacker/fullback Owen Marecic returned 20 yards for a touchdown that made it 34-6 with 7:45 to play.
Asked if he expected that kind of coverage, Crist said, ''No. They hadn't shown it. They hadn't really shown it at all in the film that we had.''
The best face you could put on that scenario is that Stanford hit Crist with something he is not ready to combat.
''Offensively we had a hard time fitting the ball into tight seams,'' Kelly said. ''When they drop eight, you've got to make some accurate throws.''
Asked about all the different ways Stanford put pressure on Crist and whether or not they were missed assignments, Kelly said, ''I could give you each one of them, but we'd be here for a while.
They blitzed the will linebacker [and] our back did not step up to meet him. He got driven back into the quarterback. Another time they fired the same linebacker and we missed a hot throw by the quarterback. Then the other one was a third-and-long where we were looking for a dig to come open. It was just a three-down rush [that] was more a coverage sack than it was an individual [screwing up].''
I'll give this much credit to Kelly: He not only has a photographic memory of the game like many coaches do, but he has an analytical memory of the game as well. Hard not to appreciate a coach who doesn't always have to see the film. Pretty impressive.
That said, he knows that W's are all that matter. That makes the next few weeks as big of a challenge as he's faced in a long, long time.