Kelly seeing progress in defense

No one said replacing four starters from a dominant defense would be easy. No one thought it would be as difficult as the last two weeks have made it out to be, either.

Still, coach Brian Kelly sees things starting to come together on that side of the ball for Notre Dame, especially in light of several big plays late Saturday night to seal the win at Purdue.

"​Obviously the fumble late in the fourth quarter, our defense comes up huge and holds Purdue to no points," Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. "Obviously Purdue's inability to run the football, 38 yards rushing. A touchdown. Back-to-back weeks our defense now has scored touchdowns."

David Ash


Kelly remains pleased with one of the scorers of those touchdowns, Stephon Tuitt, who has registered just one assisted tackle in his last two games — however meaningful or meaningless that statistic might be.

"This is probably his best game of the year in terms of just being on every play, just physically at the point of attack, two-gapping, doing the things we want him to do, effort level," Kelly said of his preseason All-America end. "I really liked his play up front. ​Tuitt, [Louis] Nix III, Sheldon Day, [Prince] Shembo. An offense predicated on running the football, they can't run the ball, your front four, those guys in particular, have to be doing something right. They played very good football for us."

They will need more of that as they ready for Michigan State, the Irish's third and final Big Ten opponent, which has a freshly minted No. 24 ranking in the coaches' poll.

"​We're still evolving," Kelly said. "It takes time. Even if you've got guys that are veterans, we have some key positions that have some new players in them. They're coming together.

"We're playing great competition. We're getting tested. We're making progress. I like to make progress through winning."

Notes: Freshman quarterback Malik Zaire (mononucleosis) tweeted Sunday that he was cleared, though Kelly sounded less than thrilled about the announcement of the news: "Yeah, but he might be suspended for violating the rules relative to information, so we'll have to get back to you on that." ... Kelly said Kendall Moore and Eilar Hardy will return this week after not traveling to Purdue because of a violation of team rules. ... Notre Dame fell one spot to No. 22 in the AP poll. It stayed at No. 21 in the coaches' poll.