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Notre Dame defense falters again

Published September 25. 2010 09:00AM

I wrote last week that the Irish football team could be 1-4 before they host Pittsburgh on Oct. 9. That possibility is real after last week's loss at Michigan State.

Myself and other Irish fans thought after the Purdue game that the Notre Dame defense has come back and the Irish were able to hold onto leads and finish off opponents. That was missing in the last two years of the Charlie Weis era at ND. But after losses to Michigan and the Spartans in which ND took the lead but couldn't hold it, it appears as of right now we got ourselves another Weis in Brian Kelly, only in a much smaller scale physically. Kelly knows offense, but like Weis, he gets an "D-" for his defense.

Sure the Irish are playing better defense, but until your defense starts to hold onto leads provided by the offense, you're just another college football team, and not a high-profile program that is expected at Notre Dame.

Kelly and company talk a good game but now he and his staff have to show some progress. So far the hope generated by the Purdue win is quickly disappearing and the thought of another subpar and losing season is not out of the question. The only saving face is that Western Michigan, Tulsa and Army are on the schedule this year.

Today the Irish face a Stanford team that scores a lot of points, makes the big play and has one of the best quarterbacks in the country. All this points to another long day for ND because of the late game play of the defense.

Stanford enters ranked 16th in the AP poll and 17th in the coaches rankings. The Cardinal is led by All-American QB Andrew Luck, who has one of the best passing percentages in the country. His top receivers include RBs Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney and WRs Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen and TE Konrad Reuland. Reuland is a former Irish player who transferred to Stanford in his junior year.

ND leads the series, 17-7, and has won 11 of the last 15 and is 10-2 at home against the Cardinal. Stanford owns wins this year ofr Sacramento State, 52-17; UCLA, 35-0; and Wake Fores last week, 68-24. Obviously, the Cardinal can score points.

The game will will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 3:41 p.m. kickoff.

IRISH NOTES:The Big East officials who worked the Michigan State game blew a call at the end that cost the Irish a win but they will never admit to it. The play clock clearly expired before the Spartans snapped the ball on the fake field goal that led to the winning score in overtime. But that is history and nothing is going to change. As Kelly said, to his credit, the game is over, the Spartans won and it time for the Irish to move on....After three games the big thing noticed by many Irish followers is the rushing defense. The Irish are now 99th in the country among the 120 Division I-A schools in that category. The rushing defense stat is the one used the most to measure whether your team is BCS bowl caliber. The Irish, simply put, are not consistent against the run and that has led to two straight losses. Things have to change....Give Michigan State a lot of credit for the fake field goal. The 46-yard attempt would have been a stretch for their kicker so the Spartans tried the fake, something they had worked on in practice the past two weeks, according to coach Mark Dantonio. Also, the personnel was right. Holder/punter Aaron Bates, who threw the TD toss to tight end Charlie Gantt, is a former oustanding high school quarterback.....As noted in the South Bend media another part of the loss that doesn't sit well is the fact that star receiver Michael Floyd fumbled twice in three weeks in the red zone including last week. "Star" receivers don't do that....Kelly said the Irish need to establish a running game yet last week QB Dayne Crist attempted 55 passes, the fifth-most in Irish history....Only injury of note from last week is a dislocated finger for runningback Armando Allen that prevented him from punt return duty. It will not keep him out of the lineup....A poll taken by the Virginia-Pilot newspaper asked 60 Associated Press voters to gauge who is college football's best active coach without a national championship. Kelly finished fifth in the poll in which 36 voted. The vote was taken before the start of the season and Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer finished first by a wide margin. Beamer started the season at 0-2....Seven freshmen made ND's first travel roster of the season. They were QB Tommy Rees, CB Lo Wood, LBs Danny Spond and Prince Shembo, and WRs Bennett Jackson, Austin Collinsworth and TJ Jones....Some MS game stats. Crist was 32 of 55 for 369 yards and four TDs and one interception. Allen had 71 yards on 13 rushes, Jonas Gray 2-12 and Chris 6-8. Receiving has Theo Riddick with 10 catches for 128 yards and a score; Kyle Rudolph eight for 80 and a score; Floyd six for 81 and two scores; and Allen six for 70. Defensively, Zeke Motta had 11 tackles; Manti Te'O 10 and Harrison Smith nine.....The starting time for the Boston College game has been set. Kickoff will be just after 8 p.m. on Oct. 2 at BC. The game will be televised by either ABC, ESPN or ESPN 2. BC was the only game left on the ND schedule that did not have a start time....Junior Jamoris Slaughter, who was injured in the Purdue game, will return as starter at safety today....Allen's replacement at punt return, junior John Goodman, could make job permanent....Another former ND player will see action for Stanford today. Kicker Nate Whitaker, a fifth year senior, was a walk-on at ND but left two years ago. So far in three games he is three for three in field goals for the Cardinal....One person who isn't worried about the 1-2 start is former All American Irish QB Terry Hanratty. Hanratty's son, Conor, is a senior offensive lineman at New Canaan High in Conn., and is a member of the 2011 ND recruiting class. Hanratty had this to say about the 2010 Irish so far. "I really like what I see, forget about the wins and losses. Everybody wants to win, but I am seeing so much more life on the field. It's going to take a while for these kids to get ingrained in Brian's system. But it works, and you can see it each week getting better. I don't think he even thinks they are up to the speed that they should be at this point, because with football you have to take a lot of the thinking out of it, and it has to be much more reactionary." Hanratty thinks the second half of the season is when Irish fans will really begin to see an improvement because he believes by that time Kelly's system will be fully understood and in place....In my preseason picks I said today's game would be a "shoot-out" because of the offenses both teams can generate and an ND win. But after watching the ND defense being unable to stop teams in the last quarter, I'm going to pick the Cardinal today. Too much offense for the Irish "D" to handle. I'm in South Bend for the game today along with an estimated 75 plus fans from the Schuylkill and Carbon county area.

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