Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

Brian Kelly on the spot after after Navy outcoaches Notre Dame

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Brian Kelly eschewed the standard general comments and immediately opened his post-game press conference for questions as soon as he stepped to the podium after Notre Dame's 35-17 loss to Navy on Saturday at New Meadowlands Stadium.

''Fire away,'' he said.

A very apt choice of words after the most discouraging loss of Kelly's first season as Notre Dame's head coach. The Irish were so clearly outplayed and outcoached by Navy that Kelly is almost certain to be on the receiving end of more criticism this week than in the previous seven weeks combined.

And he knows it. His team couldn't have looked any less prepared for Navy's triple-option offense than it did Saturday. Navy fullback Alexander Teich gained 210 yards on 26 carries. Teich started the first six games last season, but he's Navy's backup fullback who only started because of an injury. His 54-yard run up the middle in the first quarter eclipsed his previous long run this season by 41 yards.

Notre Dame couldn't stop quarterback Ricky Dobbs (20 carries, 90 yards, three TDs) or Gee Gee Greene (eight carries, 56 yards) or Delvin Diggs (two carries, nine yards) or John Howell (one carry six yards).

The only running back the Irish had a handle on was Andre Byrd, who was stopped by Manti Te'o for a two-yard loss on his only carry of the game. at the end of the first quarter.

Unfortunately, that was Byrd's only carry of the game. It was almost like Navy had a team rule: anyone other than the quarterback who lost yardage against Notre Dame wouldn't see the field again.

Te'o, by the way, was unblocked on that rare negative play -- an important distinction, because Navy beat Notre Dame soundly in the most basic area of the game: blocking. Anyone Navy blocked was all but out of the play.

''Look -- you get what you deserve,'' Kelly said. ''We got beat today. Navy was the better football team today. Scheme or no scheme you still have to win those one-on-one matchups. It still comes down to being able to defeat a block.''

But Kelly still will face the most heat after this one. Many of the significant red flags or disappointments in Kelly's first season have been related to the fact that he was teaching an inexperienced quarterback a new system -- not much he cold do about that, unless another Ben Mauck fell into his lap like in his first year at Cincinnati.
 
But this one had little to do with an inexperienced quarterback. Kelly put an emphasis on preparation for the Navy's triple-option -- even revealing that his scout team has been spending free time in practice the past five weeks learning Navy's offense so it could give the Irish defense the best triple-option simulation possible. And when the bell rang it looked like he had spent the entire week working against the run-and-shoot.
 
''I have great trust in my staff,'' Kelly said. ''Defensively we didn't have a great answer today. But you know what -- we've had answers all year defensively. We didnt have the answers today. We're going to have to go back and look at the film and find out [what went wrong].

''I've got smart coaches. I've got dedicated coaches. They're not dummies. You can all write what you want, because the first thing I'd look at [is Teich's numbers] and go 'Shoot, basic fundamentals is you stop the fullback.' Well, he had 200 yards today and I don't have a bunch of dummies on my staff. We know that.

''So you can write what you want about it. My guys didn't have the plan today. Adn we've got to go back and look at the plan, evaluate the plan and if we have to change the plan, we're going to change the plan. But we're going to get it right. We've got too many guys committed to making sure Notre Dame gets back where we believe it should be.''

That was Kelly's impassioned defense of his coaching staff that ended his post-game press conference. After being thoroughly whipped by Navy -- a program Notre Dame had beaten 43 consecutive times through 2006 -- there's not a lot to back it up. You don't win games just because the coaches are committed. Then everybody would win.

But there was something in there that separated Kelly from many other coaches: he allowed for the possibility that his plan might have been wrong. Kelly's popularity and trust-factor numbers surely are at a lowpoint. But a coach with his track record who is that open-minded always has a chance. It's at least good to know he saw the same game we did.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on October 23, 2010 11:36 PM.

Could 'Next Man In' have prevented Irish TE Kyle Rudolph's injury? was the previous entry in this blog.

Brian Kelly: Notre Dame can win the last four -- or lose the last four is the next entry in this blog.

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