Notre Dame defense needs to regroup with Miami showdown next

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The Fighting Irish travel to Miami as the rivalry between the two programs has added sizzle. Laken Litman / IndyStar

North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Chazz Surratt (12) is tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Drue Tranquill (23) in the second quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium.(Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

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  • Notre Dame at Miami, 8 p.m. Saturday, ABC

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SOUTH BEND – linebacker Drue Tranquill wore his hat low over his eyes. His hands were stuffed in his pockets. His facial expression was solemn.

The senior captain looked like his team lost. Except No. 3 to become 8-1 and stay alive in the College Football Playoff discussion.

“Obviously we won and we’re excited for that,” Tranquill explained. “Thankful for the opportunity we had to get humbled defensively. It’s not the way we wanted to play, but we’ll learn from it moving forward.”

Up until last Saturday, it was safe to say that Notre Dame’s defensive success, led by new coordinator Mike Elko, . The unit takes the ball away, limits opponents‘ points and doesn’t allow teams to run the ball into the end zone.

But against Wake Forest, where Elko had previously coached for three years, Notre Dame allowed a season-high points (37), yards (587), 20-yard runs (five) and rushing touchdowns (three). Before Saturday, no team had scored more than 20 points on the Fighting Irish and they’d only given up six rushes of 20 yards or more and one rushing touchdown all season.

Now perhaps comes the biggest test of the season when the Irish visits No. 10 Miami on Saturday in prime time (8 p.m. ET, ABC). The Hurricanes are coming off their most emotional victory of the season after beating No. 13 Virginia Tech 28-10. The Hokies have the No. 11 total defense, and Miami racked up 429 total yards and averaged 7.4 yards per play.

Running back Travis Homer ran for 95 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Malik Rosier amassed 277 total yards and three touchdowns of his own.

After watching film from Wake Forest, what did Brian Kelly learn about his defense that needs to change ahead of this week’s playoff elimination game?

“Preparation needs to be better,” he said. “We didn’t quite prepare the way we had prepared in other weeks. If you were in our meeting yesterday, you would have seen that Wednesday wasn’t the same Wednesday practice as it was the previous weeks, and it showed itself in the way we played against Wake Forest.

“(Wake) didn’t find the key to unlock the secrets of the Elko defense, there’s nothing like that. This is really about playing with the right intensity and the right mental approach to the game.”

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The offense racked up 700-plus yards … without its Heisman Trophy candidate. Laken Litman / IndyStar

Kelly points to a number of factors as to why his team was unprepared. He says there were distractions — . Notre Dame‘s players had exams last week and therefore didn’t get much sleep during the week. He said Tranquill, a mechanical engineering major, had three projects last week and was up until 2 or 3 a.m., for example.

Kelly also took responsibility for coaching errors.

“Maybe (we) got too cute in terms of what we were trying to accomplish,” he said. “Maybe trying to cover up some things that we thought they knew about us. Didn’t do what we normally do. We’ll take some of the blame for that in terms of coaching.”

Notre Dame led 41-16 late in the third quarter and allowed Wake to drive 75 yards down the field in six plays over 1:34. The possession had two runs of 20 yards or more, including a 24-yard rushing touchdown. The tempo — Wake ran 88 plays, the most any team has run against the Irish this season — frustrated Notre Dame consistently throughout the afternoon.

“We haven’t played against a ton of tempo this year, but we‘re trained for that, we’re conditioned for that,” Tranquill said. “It‘s not a frustrating thing, it’s frustrating when you‘re not getting off the field.”

In the fourth quarter, the Irish led 48-23 when the Deacons converted on third and fourth down to keep a touchdown drive going and further cut into the lead. And on Wake’s final scoring drive, it converted twice on third down.

“You saw missed tackles that you haven’t seen all year,” Kelly said. “You saw some play that hadn’t shown itself at times, and that’s not who we are 75 percent through this season, so let’s go back and look at how we can improve on that.”

Does Kelly see the defense’s performance as a silver lining for what lies ahead? The Irish have no room for error in order to make the four-team playoff with games against No. 10 Miami, Navy and No. 21 Stanford remaining.

“I don’t,” he said. “No, we use them as great learning and teaching opportunities for our guys.”

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Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) scores a touchdown in the second quarter against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Tony Jones Jr. (34) celebrates after running for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Fans gather outside Notre Dame Stadium before the game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Students receive a free hat with the logo 33 Trucking, in recognition of Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Josh Adams, as they enter Notre Dame Stadium for the game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback John Wolford (10) trips up Notre Dame Fighting Irish cornerback Julian Love (27) after Love intercepted a pass in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Nic Weishar (82) celebrates after a catch for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback John Wolford (10) runs the ball in the second quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) hands off to running back Josh Adams (33) in the first quarter against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson watches from the sideline in the second quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Heavy rain falls on Notre Dame Stadium before the game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Josh Adams (33) is hit by Wake Forest Demon Deacons defensive tackle Zeek Rodney (93) in the first quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly checks on quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) after Wimbush was injured in the second quarter against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Chase Claypool (83) celebrates in front of Wake Forest Demon Deacons safety Cameron Glenn (2) and cornerback Essang Bassey (21) after a catch in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons running back Matt Colburn II (22) runs the ball as Notre Dame Fighting Irish safety Nick Coleman (24) attempts to tackle in the first quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports Nov 4, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Josh Adams greets fans as he enters Notre Dame Stadium before the game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports  Matt Cashore, Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

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