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Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Michigan

Sep 11, 2010, 7:39 PM EDT

Kyle Rudolph galloped down the field, looking over his shoulder for a defensive back that wasn’t going to catch him. He registered the second-longest play in the history of Notre Dame football, a 95-yard touchdown pass from Dayne Crist, who returned from a bell-ringing at the beginning of the game to ignite the Irish in the second half and lead them to a 24-21 lead with under four minutes to play.

With a rainbow emerging over Notre Dame Stadium and the sun breaking through the dark skies, this was supposed to be the opening chapter of the Brian Kelly legend, a signature win in only Kelly’s second game on the sidelines for the Irish.

Instead, it was snatched away by another hero, the electric Denard Robinson, who single-handedly won the football game for Michigan, bringing back the visiting Wolverines in the final thirty seconds for a game-winning touchdown run, the final piece of a incredible performance as Michigan defeated Notre Dame 28-24 in Notre Dame Stadium.

In a game that featured three Notre Dame quarterbacks, just as many Irish interceptions, and one of the all-time great performances by a visiting quarterback, the Brian Kelly era suffered its first setback. Here’s what we learned.

1. The Irish offense depends on Dayne Crist.

Notre Dame opened the game with a picture perfect drive, marching 71 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown in less than four minutes. The Irish offense balanced a nice mix of run and pass, even getting a big pick-up out of Crist on the ground, who capably steered the offense down the field for a touchdown in the game’s opening minutes, plunging into the end zone on a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line.

But a collision that looked unsubstantial ended up throwing the Irish offense into a lurch, as the sneak injured Crist and forced true freshman Tommy Rees and junior Nate Montana into the game. Rees’ first passing attempt was a flea-flicker that he put into the chest of Michigan defender Jonas Mouton, an inauspicious start to his career. After another incompletion, Kelly brought in Montana, who did no better, completing only 8 of 17 throws and forcing a poor interception into double coverage.

Crist is far from perfect as a quarterback — his inexperience showed often this afternoon. But the Irish offense needs Crist if they want to play at a level befitting of the Irish’s goals, and the Notre Dame offense was abysmal without their signal caller. Brian Kelly hasn’t minced words, the Irish need to keep Crist healthy to win football games. The first half showed that Kelly knew what they were talking about.

2. Denard Robinson is the most dangerous quarterback in college football.

Most thought Robinson’s performance against UConn was an aberration. Turns out it was: Unfortunately for Irish fans, it was underwhelming compared to what he did against Notre Dame. Robinson completed 24 of 40 throws for 244 yards and a touchdown pass. Those numbers would be solid for a drop-back passer, but Robinson controlled the football game on the ground — running for 258 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns. His 87-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half extended Michigan’s lead to 14 points and forced Kelly to play for seven at the end of the half, a decision that came back to haunt the Irish. His final touchdown run with 27 seconds left sealed the Irish’s fate, and pushed Robinson to the forefront of any discussion that involves college football’s most dangerous players (let alone Heisman candidates).

Michigan will go as far as Robinson takes them, or as long as he survives. His electric speed and “good-enough” throwing ability allows Rich Rodriguez to stretch opposing defenses to limits they haven’t seen, and the 502 total yards from Robinson were a Michigan record, the second for yardage in as many weeks for the sophomore. While people have been quick to claim that Rodriguez found his Pat White, Robinson offers an explosiveness that even White never had.

3. The Irish offense needs to engage its playmakers.

While Kyle Rudolph and TJ Jones made big plays, the Irish offense will only goes as far as its playmakers take them. For the second consecutive Saturday, Michael Floyd looked ordinary, picking up the bulk of his yardage on the games final two completions, and was kept in check and without a touchdown for a second consecutive weeks, something that never happened last season.

Kelly’s offense isn’t the fade and slant attack that Charlie Weis featured, but that doesn’t mean that the Irish can’t take advantage of Floyd’s inherent advantages. There’s no reason that the Irish offense doesn’t give Floyd chances to just “go up and get it,” even if it isn’t what this spread system does. For Notre Dame to make it to the BCS, they’ll need to get better production out of Floyd and Theo Riddick.

4. The Irish defense is a different — and better — unit than last year’s group.

While 533 yards of offense is nothing to be proud of, holding Michigan to seven points in the second half is something to hang your hat on. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco proved he could make half-time adjustments, and if it weren’t for the final three minutes of the afternoon, those adjustments would’ve been one of the best stories of the day.

Notre Dame couldn’t force the turnover they desperately needed this afternoon and gave up way more explosive plays than they could afford, but they certainly showed an impressive physicality and endurance when playing against a running threat like Robinson. It’ll be up to the defense to prepare for another gigantic test next weekend and prove that the first two weeks of the season weren’t luck. 

5. There is fight in the Fighting Irish.

Moral victories lost their value after last season’s 6-6 campaign, but Notre Dame’s comeback has to have people feeling good about a team that nearly won a football game where the Irish lost the turnover battle 3-0 and had to play with two quarterbacks with zero experience for much of the first half. While the end result was eerily similar to the stunning finish in Ann Arbor last year, the way the Irish got there has to be encouraging, and the football team has shown under Brian Kelly that they’ll put themselves in positions to win football games.

In many ways, the football season starts now. With a loss on the slate, there is no more wiggle room for the Irish to try and reach their goals, and if Notre Dame can rebound from this loss and win on the road next week, we’ll know that this team has forgotten the terrible second half of the 2009 season.

When asked after the game by reporter Alex Flanagan what this Notre Dame team’s breaking point was, Kelly never missed a beat.

“We don’t have one,” Kelly said.

This moral victory will only be worth something if the Irish prove soemthing next weekend against Michigan State. 

119 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. indy - Sep 13, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    I amazed at some of the comments made here. I was more impressed with this lose then the win last week versus Purdue. They looked like a better team. Take any starting QB out of a Div 1 school and that team is going to struggle.
    While Crist was out the Irish struggled. They could not go to the running game because Michigan was putting 8 in the box. You can’t run against that! They had to pass and hope for the best.
    Kelly had to go for the TD at the end of the 1st half because he had no idea if his starter was coming back or not. It was his shot to get closer and hope that Montana kept improving enough to get one more score in the 2nd half.
    While Crist was in the game ND was the better team. If Crist was healthy the entire game ND wins it. All around play was effected.
    The defense that gave up the 21 points was tired because they were out there too long in the 1st half. They did not get enough rest and that makes for poor play and the 87 yard run by Robinson. Yes they did give up the final death blow but holding Michigan to only 7 points in the 2nd half while Michigan has the best player in college football is amazing.
    ND doesn’t lose another game until USC.

  2. FightinMad35 - Sep 13, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    I don’t understand the fragile nature of ND football. It’s like the players are waiting on something bad to happen. I read where ND over the past 5 years has the 3rd best rated recruits behind Texas and Florida. Basically saying we have as much talent as anybody. The players on our team were all heavily recruited. That #1 or 2 rated recruiting class CW had in 2008 are all juniors now. Where is the on field production? BK is a college coach that won at Cinci with less heralded players..2nd 3rd and 4th string quarterbacks won at Cinci.. What happened here?? Very fragile our team is… I’m very nervous going forward about our defense. All the defensive guys have played alot of football. They were all big time recruits. They have to play better.

  3. Daniel - Sep 13, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    I didnt take time to read all the comments, only read a few of them and most said what i thought they would. for example new coach equals same outcome, notre dame sucks blah blah blah. a.) we are only 2 games in, michigan can run the table with DR, this loss will not look so bad. b.) no one could disagree with what indy said, “if crist was healthy, notre dame wins is.” absolutely different outcome if that was the case. this being said, i was the first one saying that BK was an idiot for switching quaterbacks until we heard that crist was hurt. nothing they could do. this loss is forgivable because of the way the irish fought back, it shows the coach has inspired the players. the adjustments made at halftime show the coaches can coach and the players respond. as a catholic i have learned to have faith, we should all have faith that ND is on a good path. no national championship this year, but then again no one could really say we expected that. we expect improvement and i think that is what we saw.

  4. Meggie2323 - Sep 13, 2010 at 11:08 AM

    Second that. I gave Weis four and half seasons before I jumped on the bandwagon to fire him. I’m more than happy to give Kelly the same amount of time. I predict this time next year anyone doubting him or the team is going to look quite foolish. BK is basically facing the task of undoing more than a decade of bad coaching decisions at ND.
    Stop acting like a bunch of melodramatic divas. With only two games into the first season there’s no need to start throwing yourselves off the cliff like a bunch of lemmings.

  5. indy - Sep 13, 2010 at 12:34 PM

    Fightin Mad, yes, during the Weis years your comments are correct, very correct. Lots of talent, very little outcome. This loss to Michigan, while a loss, was nothing more then a team losing a QB and a tired defensive let down in the 1st half. The team showed more heart in one half then in the last 3 years combined. Yes we lost but if we didn’t lose our starter in the 1st half, everyone would be singing the praises of Kelly and the Irish. Relax, it is one loss and it was to a team that might have the best player in college football. Even with that ND was the best team when our starting QB was in there.
    Good things happened in this game to really, really build on. They will only get better!
    Mark my words, ND does not lose another game until USC. And if they continue to grow, that outcome is not certain.

  6. indy - Sep 13, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    Fightin Mad, yes, during the Weis years your comments are correct, very correct. Lots of talent, very little outcome. This loss to Michigan, while a loss, was nothing more then a team losing a QB and a tired defensive let down in the 1st half. The team showed more heart in one half then in the last 3 years combined. Yes we lost but if we didn’t lose our starter in the 1st half, everyone would be singing the praises of Kelly and the Irish. Relax, it is one loss and it was to a team that might have the best player in college football. Even with that ND was the best team when our starting QB was in there.
    Good things happened in this game to really, really build on. They will only get better!
    Mark my words, ND does not lose another game until USC. And if they continue to grow, that outcome is not certain.

  7. Chucket - Sep 13, 2010 at 5:31 PM

    We also learned that the backup QB’s were not prepared. This is so, despite statements to that purpose since the Purdue week.

  8. irishfanintx - Sep 13, 2010 at 6:40 PM

    It is hard to prepare your back up quarterbacks who have never taken a snap on the college level when your starter has so little playing time at that level and you are 1 game into the schedule. I am sure that most of the time is spent preparing Crist. On top of that you have a totally different scheme.

  9. John - Sep 13, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    Try listening to USC’s Pat Haden for numerous years… Never said one good thing about the Irish during the game! Honestly I’ve been to both of ND’s games this year and haven’t heard the new announcer on NBC. But from what you say, I’m gonna LOVE him. GO Irish

  10. frank b. - Sep 13, 2010 at 11:56 PM

    no what is ridiculous is a sophmore who runs left, runs right and throws 6-10 yard passes for 95% of the game and racks up that kind of yardage. And who says the spy as to be teo? Dont give Rodriguez that much credit, he is just as predictable at M as he was at WVA

  11. kidmarc - Sep 14, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    Well this has been quite amusing. [Comments, that is]
    On with the show…
    > 1. The Irish offense depends on Dayne Crist.
    Nothing new there. However, what is interesting was the lack of a package for the back-ups. Considering Kelly is a head coach of 19 years, it is a bit perplexing that he forgot this so small necessity.
    … and for those saying it is difficult to do so, the former coach, Charlie Weis, did so, and he wasn’t a head coach of 19 years.
    > 2. Denard Robinson is the most dangerous quarterback in college
    > football.
    Arguably for the moment. 😉
    > 3. The Irish offense needs to engage its playmakers.
    True, but at the moment, Kelly is trying to build (or rebuild) a dynasty. He’ll get back to you on that one. 😀
    > 4. The Irish defense is a different — and better — unit than
    > last year’s group.
    Different? Yes. Better? Well… difficult to say when you have other variables in the mix that aided the performance last year: 1) You are back to a 3-4 (Prevent), 2) Current players were recruited for a 3-4 (comfort zone), 3) Schemes have been reduced/removed (basic/vanilla defense; no complexities)
    > 5. There is fight in the Fighting Irish.
    Too subjective; not worth a comment.

  12. DR Coppinger - Sep 14, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    I have been watching ND football for 28 years. I hear quotes like “BK is doing a good job”. He’s coached two games. On Sat he got out coached. Who ever scouted the Mich last game should be fired. Wouldn’t you have someone, maybe a line backer key on the
    Mich QB? They let him do what he wanted and could stop him, he was
    in the secondary quickly and ND defense was playing too soft. BK lost that game by not making thosd adjustments at half. Place someone that is killing you with yards gained. As far as I’m concerned the Mich QB, beat ND. Not the whole team. He had avenues you could drive a Mac truck through, ND couldn’t close them up. I’m
    sick and tried of excuses. When ND had the lead in the fourth quarter, how many of you figured the game was over? With a QB like
    Mich had, I knew Mich would score, there was no doubt. Typical ND
    defense, let one guy run all over you and score. Has anything really changed? I’ll give BK the benefit of the doubt. But this is
    not Cincy BK, this is ND. We will put up with this type leadership for a while, but four years seems to be the norm. BK said he’d like
    to stay at ND for at least ten years or more. Looks like another
    buy out to me. He’ll be looking for two men and a truck!

  13. frank b. - Sep 14, 2010 at 11:24 AM

    Congratulations to you DR, finally somebody it the nail on the head. When this team finally develops to its fullest potential (hopefully)this sort of nonsense will not occur. Right on target with the scouting comment. Rodriguez (the ultimate domer basher)played high school ball and escaped with a win.
    However, I do believe these are young kids and need to be brought along a little, especially Crist. He has the tools he just needs the game experience, you will soon see he has collectively, the best corp of receivers in the country. Also it is time for some smash mouth football with Jonas Gray and Robert Hughes, they need to play!

  14. Art Vandelay - Sep 14, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    Wow, with only the second ND game under his belt, people already are doubting BK. For those of you who thought he could walk on water, it turns out his shoes are a little soggy like the rest of us. I didn’t expect an immediate turn around but was looking forward to (and still am looking forward to) a 8-4 or possibly even a 9-3 season. Yeah I guess in the back of my mind, I was hoping for a perfect run this year but the odds of that are so remote, its kind of like buying a powerball ticket, expecting to win, fantasizing about how you’d spend all that money and then getting pissed when your numbers don’t come up. It was a major long shot and everybody should have realized that. We still have 5 tougher games ahead and I hope Crist remains able to play. As far as our Defense, I thought we made some good adjustments at halftime to prevent any more scoring, which we clearly did until that last drive. The only question I have about the coaching is why didn’t they elect to go for 3 at the end of the half? The old adage is “You never take points off the board.” I know it really didn’t effect the outcome of the game, but when you have a pretty sure 3 with Ruffer vs. a highly questionable 6 with Montana, you take the 3. No question about it. The trick play didn’t offend me because it’s genius if it had worked. Sometimes, to get the sweetest fruit, we must go out on a limb. In any case, I haven’t given up on Kelly. He is moving things in the right direction and even though CW had a win with the Chiefs last night, I was not sitting on my couch pining for his return. Not by a long shot. 8-4 is respectable and I’m willing to wait to see the full result. Now, if we continue to lose close games, have clock management issues, try wacky trick plays at inopportune moments, then I’ll hop on the bandwagon. In the meantime, let’s give this guy his shot. As an aside, I’m glad that BK has revealed himself to be human as this will militate against any impulse to immediately extend his contract.

  15. John E. Orr "Poppa John" - Sep 14, 2010 at 12:53 PM

    I have been a ND fan since I went there in 1954, but your thing about Crist is wrong. He was in his second start but I have seen several QBs play against ND in their second start and they beat us. Note Robinson was in his second start I believe. Kelly needs to find that quality of QB for his system to work. I am not completely sold on any of the QBs at ND at this time. The Defense is better in there ability to stay in the game over the long haul and seem to be feeling like winning for a change, but only time will tell. I believe this team has a 50-50 chance of going 8&3 as 6&6. I am praying for 9&2. Weiss took the heart out of ND football and Kelly is bringing it back. The question is how soon.

  16. NDfan in NY - Sep 14, 2010 at 2:54 PM

    Look…guys….I would love to be optimistic like all of you are, but I guess I want proof that things are truly changing for the better. I lived in Missouri for a while, so I will take their adage and use it here: “show me”. Show me that you can win the close ones. Show me that you are a great team by beating great teams. I don’t know if Michigan is a great team. They have a great quarterback, but the rest of the team accounted for thirty-some yards. To be honest, I don’t know if the Irish will be any better than last year. I hope they are. I hope that I will eat crow on this, but I don’t know if they’ll post a better record than 6-6. They need to prove it on the field that they are better. Close losses on the field don’t count. Last year was nothing but close losses. Winning the close games is what separates the losers from the winners. As Sean Connery said in The Rock, “Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and f@#& the prom queen.” It’s not just a soundbite morrise. It’s an attitude. Just look at the Longhorns and Trojans. New guys coming in all the time, same winning ways.

  17. The guy whose handle is NDfan in NY is a moron is also a moron and a douchebag - Sep 14, 2010 at 2:59 PM

    Nice handle idiot. By the way, nice job bringing politics into a blog about football. Big stretch.

  18. BearsBroncosIrish - Sep 14, 2010 at 9:17 PM

    Robinson is a big exception. He’s already putting up stats that dwarf Tim Tebow and Vince Young. He’s well on his way to becoming a legend. I can’t think of another college QB that you can even compare to Robinson at this point.
    Since Clausen left there’s been so much talk doubting Crist’s ability to come back from his injury and manage the game. (Just 20 snaps before he tore his ACL?? Oh ND is doomed without Clausen!!!)
    For all of Clausen’s talent I never saw a guy who was a true leader on the field and that’s what makes a difference in season. You don’t fall as far as Clausen did on draft night if there wasn’t some truth to it.
    A few months ago Kelly made some very thinly veiled references to ND players caring more about where they ended up on Mel Kiper’s board than being at ND. I had been getting that impression long before Kelly said it. I don’t get that feeling from this team now.
    There’s something different about Crist. He has the arm and the mistakes he’s made are correctable, rookie mistakes. I’m not about to throw him under the bus after two games. Part of Saturday’s first half debacle is related to losing not only the starting QB but the team’s leader on the field. Yes, that last throw into the band was awful and there were plenty of missed opportunities, but if his ability to come back after a scary injury (losing sight in one eye must have had him thinking concussion) while bringing the Irish back to put a win in striking difference is a sign of things to come in a few more games…I’m more than happy to wait.
    Personally, I had the Irish at 7-5 this season. I’m not so sure about that now. If they can beat Mich. I’m think 9-3.

  19. rick - Sep 17, 2010 at 1:41 AM

    What a pile of trash. The defence still gives up big plays, and the offence is your typical spread that will get stuffed by a good defence. Then you declare Michigan’s quaterback the best in football because he handled our defence, come on wake up.

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