Notre Dame defense needs to rebound after poor performance

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) While the focus will be on new quarterback DeShone Kizer when eighth-ranked Notre Dame faces No. 14 Georgia Tech on Saturday, the pressure will be on the Fighting Irish defense.

After all, Georgia Tech has the nation's top-ranked rushing and second-leading scoring offense.

The veteran Irish defense is coming off a disappointing performance against Virginia. After holding the Cavaliers to no points, 28 yards and one first down in the first quarter, Notre Dame surrendered 27 points, 388 yards and 21 first downs over the next three quarters before Kizer's game-winning TD pass bailed the Irish out.

Even more troublesome, the Irish defense looked confused at times, with cornerback Devin Butler bumping into linebacker Joe Schmidt on Virginia's first touchdown and safety Drue Tranquill running into linebacker Jaylon Smith on another play.

The Irish (2-0) also had missed assignments, which is especially worrisome heading into a game against Georgia Tech's triple option offense, where playing assignment football is essential. The Yellow Jackets (2-0) are averaging 457.5 yards and 67 points in games against Alcorn State and Tulane. The good news for the Irish is most of the problems against the Cavaliers came against the pass, not the run.

Coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday that the problem was Virginia had a lot of motion and misdirection that confused Notre Dame's secondary.

''We got lost in the misdirection and they didn't pay attention to what our specific responsibility was,'' Kelly said.

He also said cornerbacks weren't aggressive enough, giving receivers too much room. It wasn't the type of performance expected by the Irish, who have nine returning starters and another, KeiVarae Russell, who started a year earlier before being suspended. The poor play was especially surprising after dominating in a 38-3 victory against Texas.

Most alarming, though, was the defense's inability to hold onto a 26-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter after quarterback Malik Zaire went down with a season-ending broken ankle. With the Irish now playing a redshirt freshman at quarterback, they likely will need to depend more heavily on the defense as they did in 2012 when Everett Golson was a redshirt freshman and the defense carried the Irish to the national championship game.

Kelly said he doesn't think the problems against Virginia are similar to last season, when the Irish struggled to understand defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's complex system. He said players just need to understand and perform their assignments.

''If you're lost out there, you can be the greatest athlete in the world and if it doesn't make sense to you, you can be a liability trying to defend the triple option,'' he said.

The Irish face the option twice in the next four games, with a game against Navy on Oct. 10. Kelly said because of that the Irish coaching staff spent extra time this offseason on preparing, with much of the responsibility falling on Kelly's assistant, Bob Elliott, who last season coached outside linebackers.

''We are not trying to reinvent anything, but trying to really make certain that we are doing the right things and preparing our football team,'' Kelly said.

Kelly said experience from playing an annual game against Navy should help the Irish a bit against Georgia Tech, but not significantly.

''The ACC sees Georgia Tech each year and that doesn't seem to help them very much,'' he said.

Notes: Starting tight end Durham Smythe tore the MCL in his right knee late in the fourth quarter against Virginia and is out for the season. Kelly says Smythe had surgery Tuesday and also underwent surgery for an injured right shoulder. .. Kelly said freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush, the backup to Kizer, will play this season.