After losing a must-win, `sloppy' Irish go into salvage mode

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—They're still putting the finishing touches on the latest renovation at historic Notre Dame Stadium.

Gould Headshot square

And barring a miracle, the Fighting Irish put the finishing touches on their national championship hopes on Saturday night with a 36-28 loss to Michigan State that wasn’t, as they say, as close as the score indicated.

After scoring an opening touchdown, the Irish surrendered 36 straight points and trailed 36-7 late in the third quarter.

In another statement about sports media's role in the modern world, the press box has been moved to the east side of Notre Dame Stadium. That way, big-bucks suite holders won’t have to look into the the sun. That dubious distinction goes to the media, which needs to squint through sunglasses at those late-afternoon kickoffs.

The Michigan State game was at night, so that was pretty much a non-issue. Then again, it might have been better if critical observers were not shown many portions of this contest.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Only the excellence of quarterback DeShone Kizer, who passed for a career-high 344 yards with two passing TDs and two rushing TDS, allowed the Irish to lose respectably.

But with no conference title to pursue, the fiercely independent Irish now find themselves playing for. . . what?

``Do they take any pride in their own name?’’ senior linebacker/captain James Onwualu said when asked what his message will be this week. ``We are the Univerity of Notre Dame. Even though we have two losses, another loss is unacceptable. . . just getting the guys focused for the next game, and try to make a couple changes to fix from what we’ve seen the first couple weeks.’’

The next opponent is Duke, which ought to receive its second straight Bad Timing Award.

On Saturday, the Blue Devils went to Evanston to face a desperate 0-2 Northwestern. Now they face another week of ``Welcome to the Midwest. Please hand over your valuables.’’

When I asked Kizer, as gently as possible, how Notre Dame, with no conference race, refocuses its 2016 goals, he wasn’t ready to go there.

``I have no idea how to refocus,’’ he said glumly. ``We just got done losing. I have to evaluate the situation and figure out what we have in front of us, We’ll game-plan tomorrow and figure out how to go about it.’’

Given the all-around skills of the 6-4, 230-pound redshirt sophomore, it wouldn’t be surprising if he were playing on Sundays next fall.

I certainly would advise Chicago’s beloved Bears to snap him up.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was feisty and determined after being flattened under the Sparty steamroller just two weeks after being caught in a Longhorn stampede.

``When you get yourself in that kind of [36-7] hole, it's hard to dig out against a really good team,’’ Kelly said, turning aside the suggestion that his defense is the culprit. ``Look at college football. Defenses give up points all over. What we have to do is clean up some things. There is not a referendum on who's got to carry who. `The defense can't do that.’ We're too sloppy overall as a football team.

``This is everywhere, and this is on me. We have to clean up everything. We are a sloppy football team.’’

No doubt, Notre Dame will correct some things. Pass defense would be a good place to start.

A quick scan of its schedule shows troublesome games remaining against Stanford, Miami and at USC. And everybody always gives ND its best shot, so Kelly's heroes are advised to keep their Irish up.

If hitting on all cylinders, Notre Dame is capable of salvaging some things this season. But it is not. And after seeing its defense get drilled twice in its disappointing 1-2 start, that defense is far from hitting on all cylinders. It is leaking oil.[/membership]