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October 4, 2013

ND's ordinary out of order

Last season, everything went Notre Dame’s way, and when it didn’t, the Irish found a way to compensate for it.

Five games into the 2013 season, Notre Dame’s “ordinary” is sub-standard, and anything extraordinary is archived in last year’s record book.

“We’ve got to go back and look at how we’re coaching it and demand from our coaches to do a better job,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “If your players aren’t doing it, it’s a reflection on the coaching. That’s why we have to demand the ordinary things.”

Last season, ordinary - at least by Notre Dame’s 2012 standards -- was the ability to bend but not break. That’s how the Irish limited their 12 regular-season foes to just one touchdown drive of 75 yards or more. Notre Dame has allowed a shocking 10 such drives in five games this year.

In 2012, the Irish routinely stifled the opposition after halftime, limiting foes to 24 points in the third quarter (17 during the regular season). This year, the Irish already have allowed 23 points in the third quarter, including scores in each of the last four games.

Last year, the Irish allowed 11 passing touchdowns; they’ve already surrendered 10 this year. In fact, Notre Dame has given up more touchdowns total in the first five games (14) than they allowed in 12 regular-season games last year (10).

Sacks? Thirteen through five games last year; three this year. Turnover margin? A sparkling plus-nine through five games last year; minus-two this year, including a game-deciding minus-three last week against Oklahoma. The Irish have just four forced turnovers in five games this season.

There are numerous examples individually as well, most notably players such as Cat linebacker Prince Shembo and DaVaris Daniels, specifically in the last two weeks for the Irish wideout.

Shembo had 10 tackles for loss and 7 sacks during his junior year in ’12. So far this year, none and none. Daniels had 17 receptions for 299 yards and four touchdowns in the first three games, including an 82-yarder against Purdue. In the last two games against tight man-to-man coverage by Michigan State and Oklahoma, Daniels has four catches for 19 yards.

“He’s got to do the ordinary things much better,” said Kelly of Daniels.

Quarterback Tommy Rees completed 65-of-107 (60.7 percent) for 969 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions through the first three weeks; 23-of-58 (39.6 percent) for 246 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in the last two weeks.

One could argue that the numbers the Irish posted in 2012 were far from ordinary, and that’s true. But Notre Dame is having difficulty forging a consistent advantage in any major area of their game, and the end result is a very average football team.

It’s still a step-by-step process back to the top. Add a few components together and the results will come.

“It can absolutely help if our defense takes the football away,” Kelly said. “It’s not a stat that I could put my finger on and say, ‘Listen, if we do this, we’re going to take the football away.’

“But if we’re sitting on a curl, we’re going to get a deflection. If we’re over the top of the cut and you’re trying to throw the ball deep, we’re not going to get a (pass interference) when we should be over the top.”

Doing the little things will add up to big things, according to Kelly.

“Those things are going to translate at the end of the day, and we just have to be more disciplined,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to be doing those little things right. We’re running a follow route and we’re running into the underneath dig route. Little things like that just make no sense.”

Little things that have turned the Irish from extraordinary to ordinary.

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