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Thursday, September 29, 2011
Irish hope to curtail penalties

By Matt Fortuna

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- An eight-penalty-for-85-yards outing at Pitt would not have Brian Kelly changing his tune at practice this week.

"We won't do anything different," he said in the aftermath of Saturday's win. "We'll keep coaching our guys, we'll demand attention to detail. We do not accept penalties as being part of the game. We demand our guys to pay attention to those things. We'll go back and reiterate the same things over and over again and hope that it turns out better next time."

The mistake-plagued effort was not out of the ordinary for Notre Dame this season, which has had at least eight penalties in three of its four games so far this season. With an average of 7.75 penalties per game, the Fighting Irish are tied for 13th-worst in the nation.

The Irish have been penalized 31 times. Only 10 teams have accumulated more penalty yardage than the 286 Notre Dame has been responsible for, though the Big Ten later acknowledged that T.J. Jones' 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for putting his gloves together after a touchdown in Week 3 should not have been called.

Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly knows his team needs to cut down on the penalties.
Still, there's a balance to be had in teaching discipline to a group going full-speed in the midst of the season.

"You have to be confident in yourself," left tackle Zack Martin said. "If you get a penalty here, you can't dwell on it. Just like if your guy makes a tackle or you give up a sack -- the next play you can't sit and think about, 'Oh, I should've done this the last play,' because it's moved on. So that's the biggest thing in the mental game, and I think as you get older and more confident you kind of get past that and can be able to move forward."

Martin, who has three penalties on the season, committed a 15-yard personal-foul penalty late in the third quarter Saturday. The offensive line as a whole committed four of the Irish's eight penalties at Pitt and has 11 on the season.

Playing to the right of Martin, Chris Watt has been flagged just once in his first year as a starter, a false start in Week 2 at Michigan.

The left guard, whom Kelly said has been too aggressive at times, acknowledged the difficulty in maintaining his tenacity while trying to curtail mental mistakes.

"Last week we had a little bit of a problem on penalties on the O-line," Watt said. "So trying to get rid of those and keep those under, hopefully zero this week, would be good. But I haven't had too bad of a penalty yet. I think I had a false start in the Michigan game, so I guess I wouldn't really know how it would affect me yet."

Watt said avoiding getting lazy in practice, such as not holding a defender who gets by him, is a key to eliminating bad habits.

Kelly reiterated his stance earlier this week on maintaining consistency in his message, so long as it yields results.

The head coach's last two teams, Notre Dame in 2010 and Cincinnati in 2009, were the seventh- and 12th-least penalized teams in the nation, respectively.

His five teams before then, however, ranked 68th or lower in penalties, with four of them ranking 94th or lower.

"Well, I think if the message has been, you know, one that has brought success for me within our system and program, that's a message that we'll continue to talk about," Kelly said. "I'm not averse to changing the message if I think it's gonna help our football team. As it relates to penalties, we're simply not gonna allow our kids to feel like they can have a penalty and it's not impactful for what we're doing. We've gotta clean those things up and that's just a matter of discipline, and we'll continue on that road of discipline and attention to detail.

"So my response was pretty much, 'When it comes to penalties, are you an undisciplined team? Are you an undisciplined player?' And I won't tolerate either one of those."