Still searching for a complete game from his squad, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly at least left his native Boston having ended a three-game skid. And a day after a 31-13 victory over Boston College, Kelly broke down all facets of the Irish's ongoing evolution in his first season.
"We have coined the phrase 'work in progress,'" he said. "That is what we're about. We really have to spend most of our time and thought process on being more consistent. You saw our offense, it can be very, very efficient and then at times just have no answer for some things."
Now at 2-3, Notre Dame begins a four-game stretch during which a clean sweep is certainly realistic. The Irish host Pittsburgh and Western Michigan the next two weeks before taking on Navy in New Jersey and returning home against Tulsa.
"This is really so much about a smaller picture that we won't really have time to think about our opponents," Kelly said believably. "We'll be so focused on the things that we need to do to get better and that's the honest truth. We're just so far from being a complete team that we can't even look at it any further than having a good day on Tuesday."
Here are some snapshots from ND's second road trip:
Nowhere to run
Safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Robert Blanton each came away with an interception against the Eagles and the Irish defense limited quarterbacks Chase Rettig and Mike Marscovetra to only one touchdown. But it was Notre Dame's determined effort against the run that made the biggest impact. The Irish held BC to five net yards -- the lowest total by an opponent since Rutgers in 1996 (negative-six) -- due in part to the omnipresence of inside linebackers Manti Te'o and Carlo Calabrese, who combined for 20 tackles, including four for a loss.
"I think any game that you play and you limit your opponent in the rush game to, you know, five, 10 yards of total rush any time you do that, to me, that's the foundation of building a championship football team is you've got to have great run defense," Kelly said. "I think everybody knew they that were going to run the football with not [being] certain about their quarterback situation. Still being able to defend the run, you know, that's a good first step for us."
Crist on the move
So his 12 yards seem, well, hardly worth mentioning. But quarterback Dayne Crist, still learning to embrace the mobility aspect of Kelly's spread, rushed for a seven-yard touchdown on Notre Dame's opening drive. The read option is what Kelly's been looking for and Saturday was at least a move in the right direction.
"It's part of the spread offense and you've got to have some plays where he's got to read out a defensive lineman or a linebacker to allow us to do the things that we want, and that's spread the field and create open space for our skill players," Kelly said. "Essentially what was happening by not running Dayne, we weren't creating enough space on the floor, if you will, for our guys that can make things happen. This spreads the defense out more and allows us now a little bit more breathing room in the running game, especially when we're in our spread sets."
Jackson a thriller
Freshman Bennett Jackson, in his debut returning kicks, peeled off 111 yards on four attempts, including the opening kickoff that went for 43 yards. Energizing the Irish with great field position, tailback Armando Allen ran for the team's longest gain of the year (30 yards) to set up the first score. Kelly said Jackson might soon work his way into the rotation at receiver.
"The offense has been a lot for him, I will tell you that," Kelly said.
"T.J. Jones benefited from spring ball and allowing him to be here all summer. But Bennett's coming. He's making progress each week. He's moving in that direction to take that next step and that is playing some wide receiver."
Anyone seen Rudolph?
Junior tight end Kyle Rudolph, a 2009 Mackey Award finalist, caught one ball for one yard against Stanford and had just a two-yard touchdown reception Saturday versus Boston College.
"No, there wasn't anything specific [the defense did]," Kelly said. "He's getting better, too, at learning where he fits within the offense as well. There's some things he has to continue to work on; he knows about them. Ball placement of our quarterback is very crucial with the tight end; he's usually in tight coverage situations. It's a process for Kyle as well."
Notre Dame returned to South Bend with four more sacks than it left town with. Getting time in dime situations, freshman linebacker Prince Shembo recorded two of them, with Blanton and sophomore lineman Tyler Stockton pocketing one apiece.
Offensive linemen Chris Stewart (contusion), Taylor Dever (hamstring) and Braxston Cave (ankle) should be good to go this week, Kelly said.