Here is the last of the bye-week series, as we take a look at the coaching staff's work so far.
Summary: This category is mostly in the eye of the beholder. Some will see a team that has two more losses than it did all of last season and say that is the staff's fault, and that is partially right. Others will say this team has been hamstrung by transfers, suspensions and injuries, and that is partially right, too.
We'll go in-between here. This is, after all, the same full staff that got Notre Dame to the BCS title game last season. And it spent much of last season, and all of the spring, entrusting the future of the offense to a quarterback who then got in trouble, forcing him to leave school for the fall semester. In came Tommy Rees, again, whose physical limitations stand out when compared to Everett Golson's, and who does not appear to have a first-round draft pick to throw to this fall, though TJ Jones has done everything he can to follow in the footsteps of Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert. Still, Rees and the offense are doing what they can. The defense, meanwhile, has underachieved.
Despite all of the hoopla, we might have underestimated Manti Te'o's importance last year. He made a really good defense a great one, and his void simply cannot be filled, despite seven starters and plenty of key reserves back from this year's unit. Though the depth of this defense has taken several early hits -- and none might be bigger than the season-injury leg injury suffered by Jarrett Grace -- this unit has to get better in the second half of the season, plain and simple.
Two areas that stand out in this category are slow starts, and, of course, comparisons to last year's outfit, which were inevitable. The first part has been a sour point for Notre Dame this year, as the Irish have fallen behind 10-0 at Michigan, 10-0 at Purdue, had a punt blocked early against Michigan State, fallen behind 14-0 against Oklahoma and, this past week, were trailing 6-0 and 13-7 early against Arizona State. It is tough to pinpoint why slow starts have plagued the Irish, but they are certainly an issue this team needs to fix moving forward.
The latter category, the comparisons to last year's outfit, are a bit ironic. Brian Kelly took the team off-campus to Camp Shiloh in Marion, Ind., to open camp, with an emphasis on separating this year from last year. But after a 3-2 start, Kelly showed the team clips of close wins last year against Purdue, BYU and Pitt to emphasize how thin the margin for error was and is in both seasons, and the team responded with an upset win over ASU. Kelly stressed going into that contest that the team needs to do the ordinary things better. And by taking the lessons from last year's success, this year's team notched its best win of the season — a much-needed one going into a bye week before USC — and something to build off going into the season's second half.