Irish licking wounds after loss to Navy

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is off to a frustrating 4-4 start after a loss to Navy on Saturday. AP Photo/Rich Schultz

How damaging is a loss to Navy for the head coach at Notre Dame? Charlie Weis knows. So does Brian Kelly.

"Let's put it this way… if we play like we played defensively, there won't be a Year 5 or 6 for me,” Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference, a day after the Fighting Irish were throttled, 35-17, in New Jersey. “We have to execute better, clearly, on both sides. We see glimpses of it. But we haven't been able to grasp it in a consistent form."

A defense that did little to stop the Midshipmen’s triple-option attack now may be without two starters this Saturday against Tulsa. Nose guard Ian Williams left the game in the third quarter and was seen on the sideline wearing a full leg brace and inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese apparently pulled a hamstring -- the default injury, so it seems, at Notre Dame this season.

Both were scheduled to have MRIs Sunday.

"We'll probably have better information first thing in the morning," Kelly said of Williams’ injury. "He wasn't able to finish the game. It'd be really too soon for me to give any injury update until we get the full report.

“We're going to have to look at Carlo, he had a bit of a hamstring. He could have come back in the game, he wasn't 100 percent. … Then T.J. [Jones has] a little bit with a hamstring, he was fatigued more than anything else. We didn't see anything else today. And we upped his reps a lot. Clearly there was a bit of fatigue there."

Here are some other topics Kelly addressed Sunday:

On Robert Hughes seeing little action: "Armando [Allen] and Cierre [Wood] are 1-2. If we were going to go to a third back, he'd be the third back. This is still pretty consistent in terms of who the top three guys are. We got behind in the game and Cierre gives us a little bit more out of the backfield."

On what he saw from the film: "Other big picture items would be turnovers on the offensive side of the ball. If we just take care of the football getting out of the half, we come out in the second half and make some adjustments and we're in much better position. If we get off the ball on the one-foot line and score... there are so many little things to point to in the game and they're not just all about defending the option."

On if there are growing pains with the coaching staff: "I don't know if I'd call those growing pains. By and large, plugging in a new tight end in Tyler Eifert, a new 'Z' receiver, a new 'W' receiver, Armando has been less than 100 percent… I thought our coaches did a pretty good job getting those kids ready. There's an accountability and responsibly for how we execute on both sides of the ball. The coaches take that seriously. There's no finger-pointing in this room. This is about a collective group that understands why we're here at Notre Dame. We're here to win football games."

On what he sees behind the scenes that makes him optimistic: "I'd probably say trust more than anything else. Coaches trust each other, players trust the coaches. If you have trust in any business or organization on a day-to-day basis, you can't help but to continue to grow in the right direction. There's a great deal of trust in what we're doing and how we're doing it."

On team leadership: "We're still a work in progress as relates to leadership skill. Those weren't prevalent when we got here. They're emerging every single day, but I couldn't give you a guy and say he's it."

On quarterback Dayne Crist: "Here's what I can tell you: It's understanding that first and foremost, he's the one that makes the big decisions. Those are the things we spend a lot of time on. Understanding the flow of game, time and place, how important it is to take a shot at this point. Those are conversations that are happening on the sideline, at practice, at dinner. Recognition of so many different coverage variations he's not used to. Some things are clicking. He's being a lot more physical when he puts the football under his arm and runs. There are so many moving parts to get him to be the complete player. That dialogue takes place every day in every circumstance."

On backup quarterback Tommy Rees: "We went no-back the whole time with him. We feel like he's a guy that can distribute the football, he recognizes the field pretty good in the spread, he's comfortable back there. It's more about finding what his strengths are. This is more about developing who those guys are and their strengths more than anything else. We have a lot more confidence now that, if our quarterback is dinged up, we can insert [Rees] or Nate [Montana] and run a particular package that can be effective."

On Saturday’s breakdowns: "Let me make it clear: We're responsible for option. Whether it's mid-line, veer, speed, load, it doesn't matter. If we run against an option football team, we're responsible for all those phases. Our kids played really, really hard. They did what we asked them to do. This is accountability and responsibility that we have as coaches to make sure our players are well-prepared. We can't use the excuse that we haven't seen that before. We're responsible for option. We're going to make sure we're prepared against all forms of option moving forward."