Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he let his team down Saturday in its 10-3 loss at NC State, but he wasn’t second-guessing a game plan that had the Fighting Irish throw the ball 26 times in tumultuous conditions that were brought on by Hurricane Matthew.
“I don’t think I would second-guess that,” Kelly said. “We still had 38 carries. I think it was pretty evident to me that we were in need of throwing the football when we did throw it. We just weren’t as effective as I thought we could be.”
Asked what he meant when he said he let his team down, Kelly alluded to a punt that NC State blocked and returned for a 10-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter — the game’s only touchdown.
“When your team is flat and not playing with that energy, you kind of sense it,” Kelly said. “They were excited to play today and you want to be there for them. You want to make the right call, you want to put them in the right position. You had two guys back there [on the punt], maybe you second-guess yourself. Maybe we should’ve been in a three-man wall there instead of rugby. You second-guess yourself in games like this where your team is ready to play and excited to play. That’s what I was meaning by that.”
Notre Dame drove to the NC State 16-yard line late in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie the game, but center Sam Mustipher snapped the ball early on fourth-and-8, the last gaffe in a game that saw 10 total fumbles in wet conditions at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.
“We’re looking for wins, not improvement on one side of the ball or the other,” Kelly said. “Although, I was very pleased with our physicality, toughness and tackling. I’m just extremely disappointed in the offensive execution and lack of ability to manage the snapping of the football — which was atrocious as well.”
Kelly was visibly upset with Mustipher on the sideline after the play, which was the final offensive play of the game for the Irish, who tallied just 113 yards of total offense.
“He thought he heard something,” Kelly said of Mustipher, according to Irish Illustrated. “We were trying to scan the play. Get a peek at what it was. He thought he heard something and the ball got snapped. I don’t know if you can prepare for this. All the wet-ball drills you do — and I thought the officials did a great job of getting us dry balls; it’s generally an 18-ball rotation and they gave us 36 — I thought from that point it was managed well.
“Both teams turned the ball over in very difficult conditions, both teams had a hard time moving the football. Both field goal kickers managed to eek one over the uprights in sloppy conditions. We gave up a flippin’ blocked punt for a touchdown. That’s the difference in this one.”
Notre Dame fell to 2-4 on the season, its worst six-game start since opening 1-5 in 2007. The preseason No. 10 Irish also became the first AP preseason top-10 team to start 2-4 or worse since Arkansas in 2012.
The Irish are 1-1 since firing defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder four games into the season and replacing him with analyst Greg Hudson.
Notre Dame hosts Stanford next Saturday before having a bye week.