SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Three days after an eviscerating defeat in overtime at Michigan State, a moment of levity Tuesday provided insight as to how much Notre Dame's confidence has been shaken.
With No. 16 Stanford's cross-country trek to South Bend looming, Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly admitted regrouping against a less formidable foe in Week 4 would have been satisfactory.
"I'd rather be playing St. Joe's High School, no question, so that one is out of the way," he said honestly.
However, Kelly clearly still believes in himself and in his "five-minute plan." He also understands that Irish fans have heard this before.
"We're in the first quarter of our season, first chapter of the book," Kelly said. "It's a little frustrating to read right now, but I'd stick with the book. I think it's going to be a good read."
This week's game notes read like a warning in bold-face type. The Cardinal is averaging 51.7 points per game (third in the nation) and 242.33 rushing yards per contest. Notre Dame's ranked 99th overall in rushing defense, allowing just over 197 yards each Saturday thus far.
Coach Jim Harbaugh's squad is tied for sixth in the country with a plus-five turnover margin and ranks third with 3.67 sacks per game.
Kelly feels the Irish have learned enough lessons, now it's a matter of putting their hard-earned knowledge to use against the toughest opponent of the early season.
"I've had teams that didn't know how to win," he said. "You could just tell. That's not this group. They need to play cleaner. They've got to do some things during the game that obviously puts them in a position to close out games. No, this team does not have that sense, from me, if you will, that they don't know how to win. They know how to win. They have to play cleaner, and championship teams do."
Kelly touched on a number of areas in need of a thorough scrub:
Crist's short passes: "The areas of his improvement, which will be publicly stated, and he knows it, and we're not hiding anything -- his ball-control throws. He had 13 incomplete passes that were all ball-control throws. When we clean that up, he will possess the things necessary to lead our football team as far as we can go, and that's the area in his maturation. He is making the big throws. He is making the big field throws, the vertical throws, the dig routes. He's doing a great job on his progression reads now. It's the ball-control throws that we have to make, and those are the ones that consequently can end up winning the game for you."
Kickoff returns: "Those guys got blistered yesterday. It was awful. Our kickoff return -- we've got to run better. Cierre Wood has been put on notice that he'd better hit that thing with some enthusiasm. And we have some guys that, quite frankly, have got to do a better job or they're not going to find themselves on the bus. It's an effort thing, it's attention to focus and detail from our guys on special teams that we're going to demand from our guys."
Punt returns: "We're going to be careful. I thought [John] Goodman did a great job coming in on the road, handled the punt. [It was] the first time this year, which drove me crazy in the first two weeks, that we aggressively ran up and got the football without letting it hit the ground and giving 30 yards of advantage in special teams. So that was really good on Goodman's part. I liked that. He's in the mix."
Harnessing disappointment: "I knew what I was going to get from them after the game. Look, you can't fake losing, OK. You can't fake hurt after a game. So, when I looked through the locker room, I could tell who the phonies are, and I know the guys that it really hurts, and those are the guys that play for me. Because if it really hurts, they want to change the way they feel about it. If it doesn't hurt, it doesn't matter what you say to them anyway. You can say anything and it doesn't really matter to them. This group, it hurts. They want to win, and that's why for me we just kind of stick with what we've been talking about since Day 1, and that's stay together."
Manti Te'o's progression: "He's tackled better more than anything else from Week 1 to Week 3, though he had a key miss on the third-down situation where he had the back in the backfield. That's probably a little bit of that young exuberance, where he wants to go for the knockout blow instead of taking the guy down. But he's improved on his tackling. He certainly now can communicate as the captain out there. He's got to get everybody lined up, him and Harrison [Smith]. We're putting a lot on him, but there's definitely a maturation to the third week."
Zeke Motta, who stepped in for injured safety Jamoris Slaughter: "It's all about attention to detail with Zeke. Zeke is going to give you everything. You ask for his arm, he'll give you his arm. He'll give you everything. That's not good enough just to run around and be tough, you've got to be in the right position. So for Zeke, the development is we know you're going to compete, we know you're going to play hard. You've got to be in the right position. ... We've just got to have him pay attention to detail, and he wants to do that. That's a good thing."