ANN ARBOR, Mich. - It was ugly, it was uninspired, it was a head scratching night for Notre Dame Saturday night in a 41-30 loss to Michigan in what could be Notre Dame's last trip to the Big House in a long, long time. An Irish defense that allowed less than 13 points a game during a 12-0 2012 season yielded the most points to an opponent in a regular season game since 2009, but head coach Brian Kelly was more frustrated with his offense after the loss.
"I felt that we missed some opportunities offensively that could have given us the opportunity to win this football game," Kelly said as he began his postgame remarks. "Take everything that happened - all the situations - you can analyze, overanalyze (and) pick through it - I felt like we had two opportunities to score (and) we (have to) make those plays."
"This is one of those games where our offense needed to carry the day for us," he continued. "We just came up short in a couple of key plays for us. (It was) one of those games you've gotta win and we weren't able to come up with the key plays offensively."
Notre Dame was 3-of-5 in the red zone on the night, while Michigan was a perfect 4-for-4. Tommy Rees threw a late interception on one of the red zone chances after the Irish had turned the ball over on downs prior to that.
While Kelly's outward annoyance was with missed offensive chances, the Irish defense still yielded 460 yards of offense and 41 points to the Wolverines (the second-most points scored by a team in 41 meetings between the two rivals).
"Overall, we want to be smarter and more disciplined," Kelly said of his defense. "I'm not going to get into the specifics, but I want my football teams to play smarter and more disciplined and that's what we need to get to."
Notre Dame's defensive calling card last season was a "bend but don't break" approach, but Michigan broke the Irish with big plays throughout the night. The big one was a 61-yard Devin Gardner touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon, who ended the night with eight catches with career bests of 184 yards and three touchdowns.
The Irish trailed just 34-30 with 9:15 to play and looked like they were back in the game after an interception by Bennett Jackson on third down. A pass interference was called on that play and Matthias Farley was flagged for another three plays later on another third down to keep Michigan's drive, which ended with Gardner's fourth TD pass of the night, alive.
"We don't coach penalties," Kelly said when asked about the calls. "But we want to coach guys to be smarter and more disciplined on a day-to-day basis. That falls on me. I don't want my football team to be in a position where games have to be decided in that regard. We have to be smarter and more disciplined as a football team."
Rees did not have a horrible game, but he did make a pair of big mistakes on interceptions in the waning moments of each half. Rees was 29-of-51 for 314 yards with two touchdowns and the two interceptions.
"Obviously, he's like to have the one throw before the half back," Kelly said of Rees' pick with 1:29 to play in the first half. "But he did some really good things. I think he feels like there's just one or two throws there that could have put 44 points on the board. I mean really, really close (but) not good enough."
Irish tight end Troy Niklas scored a touchdown for a second straight week with his 20-yard grab from Tommy Rees in the third quarter. He wasn't much of a target though in the first half.
"He's part of our read," Kelly said. "If you're going to take away T.J. Jones then the tight end gets open. It's just part of our progression."
Niklas finished with six receptions for 76 yards. Jones led the Irish with nine grabs for 94 yards and a TD.
Kelly was asked if he took over play calling duties from offensive coordinator Chuck Martin during the game, but he dispelled the notion.
"No, no, no, no, no," said Kelly. "Chuck Martin is calling plays. He will continue to call plays. He called every single play. That hasn't changed."
Brindza handled kickoff, field goal and punting duties during the game. He was 3-of-3 on his field goals from 44, 24 and 40 yards and averaged 40 yards on two punts.
"I thought he performed extremely well," said Kelly. "(He) punted effectively with great hang time. (He) kicked the ball off extremely well. I don't know what his numbers were, but he clearly impacted the game."
Kelly on whether Amir Carlisle has separated himself from other running backs...
"No, we'll evaluate that on Tuesday," Kelly said. "I thought that he did some good things, but we're still a work in progress there. We made way too many mistakes in the passing game tonight that were critical at times, but we ran hard. I think all the backs did that got in."
Carlisle ran for 64 yards on 12 carries and had two receptions for nine yards. George Atkinson ran for 37 yards on five carries and added a 16-yard reception.
Kelly on Michigan QB Devin Gardner...
"We went up against a really good quarterback tonight that really made a lot of plays," Kelly said of the QB who accounted for 376 total yards and five touchdowns (four passing and one rushing). "He's difficult to defend. He can run it (and) he threw with efficiency. They keep their option principles involved within their structure. They're difficult to defend."