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Irish look to improve secondary play vs. Michigan

Published on NewsOK Modified: September 2, 2014 at 5:25 pm •  Published: September 2, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is sounding a bit this week like the prison warden in the 1967 film "Cool Hand Luke," who famously said: "What we've got here is failure to communicate."

Fighting Irish safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate failed to make sure the Notre Dame secondary was lined up correctly against Rice, leading to several big plays by the Owls last week before Notre Dame won 48-17.

"We've got to get these guys communicating better back there," Kelly said.

On the Owls' first scoring drive alone, the Irish let two different receivers get wide open, leading to a 30-yard pass on a third-and-6 play and a 26-yard TD pass on second and 18. Communication problems could mean even more trouble this week when the 16th-ranked Irish (1-0) face Michigan (1-0) on Saturday in the last scheduled meeting between the two programs.

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who threw four touchdown passes and ran for another last season as the Wolverines beat Notre Dame 41-30, opened this season by completing 13 of 14 passes for 173 yards with three touchdowns in a 52-14 victory over Appalachian State. Despite those impressive statistics, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he wants to see better precision in the passing game.

"That's mechanics, that's route running, that's your spacing that you need to have," he said.

Kelly on Tuesday didn't want to talk too much about his secondary but said his players "have to be more demonstrative and take more control back there."

The problem was created when safety Austin Collinsworth, one of the captains, sprained his right knee on practice Thursday, leaving the Irish without a veteran to make the calls.

"Austin was very good at it. It was part of his DNA. That was his strength of who he was," Kelly said. "These guys are going to have to take control as if they have that same kind of ability and they're going to have to do it right now. Michigan is on them and it's going to have to happen immediately."

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