Kelly still looking for 4 quarters of play from Fighting Irish defense

Notre Dame gave up a huge yardage total to USC.
Matt Cashore/Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame enters an off week 6-1 and coming off consecutive wins against Navy and USC. 

The Fighting Irish are ranked 11th in the Associated Press poll, and a look at the national stats would seem to indicate a top 20 offense is mostly to thank for that as they are averaging 38.3 points and 498.9 yards per game, ranking 19th and 16th respectively. 

Defensively, the numbers are more average as Notre Dame checks in 51st in total yards (370.3) and 41st in scoring (22.6). 

A look at the advanced stats from Football Outsiders reveals a similar picture overall with one big red flag: Giving up big plays has been a major issue for the Notre Dame defense, which ranks 119th in "IsoPPP," a stat that measures explosiveness. Meanwhile, the Irish are 31st in defensive efficiency. 

The run defense (121st in isoPP) and pass defense (112th) have been just about equally to blame, and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly spoke after the 41-31 win over USC on Saturday like a coach who knows his team needs to tighten up when the other team has the ball. 

"We play at different times really, really good football," Kelly told reporters in South Bend. "We saw it against Georgia Tech where we were dominating at times. We just haven’t put together four quarters of football defensively, and then there are simply issues of fundamentals and tackling and doing your job and not somebody else’s job." 

The Trojans finished the night with 590 total yards, including 440 through the air. 

The scored on pass plays of 75 and 83 yards in the second quarter to tie the game after Notre Dame had opened up a 24-10 lead. 

Running back Ronald Jones also had a 65-yard run that did not go for a score, but things were a lot different in the second half for the Irish defense as USC. 

After the Trojans went 80 yards in five plays on their first possession of the third quarter, their final five drives resulted in two punts, two interceptions and the end of the half. 

"I’m very, very confident that we can put four quarters of this kind of play together," Kelly said. "So if we had not put together second-half performances in the fashion that we have — for example, 132 yards in 33 plays against USC in the second half — I would be less optimistic. 

"But we did that against Clemson, as well, against very good, talented teams, we’ve been able to put these quarters together. So we are going to keep plugging and we are going to keep coaching the fundamentals, and we are going to get it for four quarters."

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