NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame must do something this week that is has not had to do in a long time - prepare for an opponent after a regular season loss. A total of 651 days passed between Notre Dame's Nov. 26, 2011 loss to Stanford and this past weekend's setback at Michigan since the Irish had lost a regular season game.
Even after that loss to Stanford, Notre Dame had a month to prepare for its bowl game against Florida State. The last time the Irish lost in the regular season and then had just a week to prepare for its next game was Oct. 22, 2011. The Irish fell to USC, but bounced back the next week with a 56-14 win over Navy. Brian Kelly sees no problem with his team making the quick turnaround this week.
"Purdue is going to be ready for Notre Dame," Kelly said of this Saturday's opponent. "We have no doubt about that and we respect our opponent. Look, we've gotta put blinders on and we've gotta focus on ourselves. We're not a finished product. We've got some work to do."
Kelly noted throughout his Tuesday meeting with the media that his team has to be better prepared and must play "smarter and more disciplined" than it did last Saturday at Michigan in order to win. Kelly says he has a feel for his team and will have them better prepared this weekend against the Boilermakers.
"We're going to practice and compete and do the things that we need to do to prepare," said Kelly. "Sometimes you're kind of feeling your way through that a little bit as you get your hands on your team (and) learning more about your group."
"I think we've got a good sense and feel for where we need to go in our preparation," he continued. "And we'll be better prepared as we play Purdue."
Run vs. Pass Distribution
Notre Dame ran the ball just 19 times, while Tommy Rees had 51 pass attempts against Michigan Saturday night. That means the Irish threw the ball on nearly 73-percent of its offensive plays.
"There (are) eight guys on the line of scrimmage," Kelly said of Michigan's defensive look. "If the box is plus-one and plus-two, there's not much of a running game. When we had two-shell and we had the ability to (run) the ball, we ran the ball effectively. Then we got behind. We were down two scores. We had to speed the game up and throw the football."
"Look, I want balance just like everybody else in America wants balance," he continued. "But look, we have to throw the ball effectively when we're called upon to throw the ball and we have to run the ball effectively when we're called upon to run effectively."
The freshman drop linebacker had one tackle after starting the season-opener against Temple, but he had five tackles, including four solo, Saturday against Michigan. Smith is far from a finished product though.
"The benefits of playing him (are) that you get a lot of experience early on," said Kelly. "Especially with our schedule, we're not playing easy squads. We're playing good football teams early on and he's getting an opportunity to learn a lot."
"You're going to have to live with some mistakes that are made," Kelly continued. "But boy I'll tell you what, he (has) made some really, really good plays for us as well. He's an athletic kid who loves to play (and) plays hard. Occasionally you're going to be put in some compromising positions, but he's a young man that makes up for some of those mistakes with the way he plays too."
The Defensive Line
"Louis Nix was a beast," Kelly said of his nose guard. "They couldn't block him. (He) played as well as he's played for us. They had no answers for him inside."
Nix finished the game with four solo tackles. He has also been a different person on games days so far this year as well.
"Last year and the year before he would come to the sideline and it was hard sometimes to communicate with him, because he got frustrated," Kelly said. "Now he comes to the sideline and you can communicate with him. He can give you the information that you need to get relative to what's going on out there. It's been really impressive - his maturity."
Kelly had high praise for Sheldon Day as well.
"When we're talking about play after play (and) fit after fit, Sheldon Day played outstanding," said Kelly.
Kelly said Stephon Tuitt played "well". He noted Tuitt's interception in the end zone as a highlight, but noted the defensive end missed a couple opportunities to do more. Kelly also said freshman Isaac Rochell and sophomore Jarron Jones need to play more soon.
Dan Fox led the Irish with 10 tackles, Carlo Calabrese had five and Jarrett Grace had three. The trio combined for three tackles for loss as well.
"We got better inside," said Kelly. "I thought the combination of Grace, and Calabrese and Fox - their play was considerably better from week one to week two. We'll continue to improve there."
Kelly noted his cornerbacks and safeties must get "consistently" better. He thought Matthias Farley made improvement from week one to week two, but he is looking for more improvement from the unit as a whole.
"They (have to) play the game the way they can play it," said Kelly. "In other words - more confidence. They've gotta go out there and compete. They've got the ability to do it (but) we've gotta get it out of them. We've gotta compete in practice and we've gotta carry that over to Saturdays."
Both sophomore KeiVarae Russell and senior Bennett Jackson took their lumps on Saturday in Ann Arbor.
"He's going to have to use that learning experience from Michigan and he's going to have to carry that over," Kelly said of Russell. "He's a very smart and competitive kid and he's going to use this as a great learning experience and he's going to benefit from it."
"Bennett Jackson's a captain for us and he has a responsibility to come back and bounce back from not playing his very best and we're all confident he'll do that. The key is to not make it two games or three games or four games - is to take this game and play at a higher level and I'm pretty confident that they will."
Carlisle has battled ankle injuries and a collarbone this past spring since transferring from USC. Any concerns about his durability seem unwarranted so far though. Carlisle has run inside and outside showing Kelly a physicality that has impressed the head coach.
"He ran over a linebacker that was unblocked one time," said Kelly. "His running after contact was probably the thing that I liked the most."
Kelly still wants to see how durable Carlisle is over the long haul of the season. He also wants to see both Carlisle and George Atkinson improve as receivers. Carlisle leads the Irish with his 19 carries, 132 yards and 6.9 yards per carry average through two games. He led the Irish with 12 carries for 64 yards against Michigan.
The third-string quarterback has been out of action the first two weeks due to a bout with mono.
"He's been cleared for cardiovascular work," said Kelly. "We're going to be able to get him moving (and) throwing the football. He has not been cleared for contact yet, and that's obviously a second level of the mononucleosis - the spleen enlargement and we haven't gotten to that point yet."
Luke Massa will continue to be the third quarterback until Zaire is completely cleared to play.