By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
Coming into the 2013 season, one vital area of improvement head coach Brian Kelly identified for his Notre Dame Fighting Irish was scoring in the red zone.
Last season, the Irish were a disappointing 70th in the nation, converting on just 80 percent of their scoring chances inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
How’s that quest for improved red zone efficiency going so far?
Not well. In fact, the Irish have regressed in that area instead of getting better.
After the first two games of the 2013 season, the Irish (1-1) are 111th in the nation in red zone efficiency. Notre Dame has converted on just four of seven red zone chances so far in 2013 — three of those touchdowns.
Lack of execution is the problem, Kelly said Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
“It comes down to practice and preparation,” Kelly said. “You know, we have to continue to work on those things.”
Despite senior quarterback Tommy Rees throwing a key interception late, Kelly was adamant about not laying too much of the blame for the Irish’s 34-27 loss at Michigan on Rees.
“I could give you a number of scenarios where it wasn’t just Tommy Rees,” Kelly said “There’s a number of scenarios in that game where we didn’t execute properly to win that football game. And we had our chances. You know, it’s 34-27, and it’s 1st and 10 from the 25 yard line, we throw a corner route, and we step out of bounds. So there’s a number of little things that go into execution, and it’s attention to detail. It’s the little things that decide ballgames.”
Kelly got a little bit testy Tuesday when he apparently felt too many questions were being asked about the Michigan loss. At one point, he said, “I would like to move on here, sooner or later.”
The Irish are moving on to face in-state rival Purdue. The game against the Boilermakers will be another prime-time affair, set for an 8 p.m. kickoff Saturday night at Ross-Ade Stadium.
The Boilermakers are coming off a 20-14 win over Indiana State.
Kelly said the in-state rivalry will mean the Boilermakers will bring their A-game.
“Again, when we talk about Indiana schools playing against each other, you know, it’s going to be on ABC television, it’s going to be a big crowd, great atmosphere,” Kelly said. “We are going to have to handle ourselves in a manner that allows us to win the football game down the stretch.”
Kelly said not to read too much into a high number of early touches for junior running back Amir Carlisle. Carlisle was involved in seven of 15 third-down plays Saturday night against Michigan. “I wouldn’t look too much into Amir being the guy,” Kelly said. “We are two games into this. Really too early. We like the way he ran. Ran hard. Had yards after contact. Obviously we like that a lot. But we’re still a work in progress there.” ... Kelly also said freshman quarterback Malik Zaire has been cleared for a partial return to practice after a bout with mononucleosis. “Yeah, he’s been cleared for cardiovascular work. We’re going to be able to get him moving, throwing the football,” Kelly said. “He has not been cleared for contact yet, and that’s obviously a second level of the mononucleosis, the spleen enlargement.”