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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. TLNDMA - Sep 11, 2010 at 9:10 PM

    I don’t mean to disparge the coach, as a matter of fact, I’m thrilled with him thus far. I do question a couple things. I think you should always take points early and feel it was not sound to not kick the field goal at the end of the half. Also I hope he realizes, I’m sure he does, that his defense will always play better the less time they have to be on the field. Two games in a row where the time of possession greatly favored the other team.

  2. Jim - Sep 11, 2010 at 9:31 PM

    I Think your right always take the points. Another thing When you put in the freshman QB Don’t throw the ball on his second play run the ball or throw an out screen. give the kid time to get his feet wet. If we go three and out so what were still up 7-0. Bad call gave up 7 for no reason!!

  3. NDfan in NY - Sep 11, 2010 at 9:34 PM

    Disclaimer: Keith, I love your blog. This is the best Irish blog on the internet. Now that that’s out of the way… I guess I don’t know what to say. Frankly, I don’t agree with your optimism. The Fighting Irish went 6-6 last year and every single loss was a heartbreaker. There were no blowouts. But 6 losses is still 6 losses. The truly elite teams find ways to win those really close games. There’s a reason why Texas and USC (two teams I can’t stand) have been so good over the last decade. People come in; they play; they win; they leave; other people come in and do the same exact thing. It doesn’t matter who comes in, they still get the job done. The Irish haven’t figured out how to be winners in 17 years. Additionally, the guys on this team are leftovers from the Weiss regime, and many of them (even Kelly’s prospects) are leaving in droves. Kelly can’t win with these guys because they don’t seem to mind losing. They don’t have the winner’s persona of achieving success even on bad days. So, I guess I don’t see a substantial difference between this year’s team and last year’s team. Over 500 yards allowed to one player is not a good showing regardless of the scoring outcome. The offense appears to be considerably worse than last year, and Brian Kelly teams usually put up ridiculous numbers. And they can’t close it out. Indeed, the Rudolph touchdown was a miracle play, but it should have broken the spirits of the Wolverines. Instead, Michigan drove quite easily down the field and scored without much trouble. And the bad thing about it is that I could see it coming. Rudolph should have fallen down on the ten yard line so the Irish could milk some clock because I knew the defense was going to give up a game-winning touchdown. Frankly, I don’t think there’s any way the Irish go into East Lansing and win next week. In fact, I see the Irish in the exact same place at the end of this season as last season: 6-6. Although, this time they’ll elect to go to some small-time bowl and beat up on an overmatched opponent like Hawaii again. That reminds me. Maybe Notre Dame should join the MAC. Maybe then they’d have a chance at winning something even if is a bottom-of-the-barrel conference. I’m so tired of being disappointed by my favorite team. I would love to switch allegiances if I could, but I’m just too loyal. That’s why I repeatedly say, “Go Irish!”

  4. John - Sep 11, 2010 at 9:48 PM

    I have to put the game aside for a moment but I am thrilled with the outcome. I watched the game on NBC and I have to say that Mike Mayock is ridiculous. I am a Michigan fan but the bias he showed Notre Dame is unprofessional and stupid. I realize NBC and Notre Dame have a long running relationship but this guy was unbelievable. Dayne Crist could do no wrong although he overthrew 3 or 4 receivers. He finally praised Michigan’s Robinson at the end of the game after the kid put up 500 yards of offense.
    If you are going to broadcast these games you don’t have to totally kiss ND’s ass all the time. Give credit to the opponent…You will get more respect. Another homer ND broadcaster – come on Mike your better than that.

  5. d schultz - Sep 11, 2010 at 9:52 PM

    Irish offense is scary. I mean that as a compliment. When Dayne came in I didn’t think we could stop him. And we almost didn’t. There was far less mistakes for a second game under coach Kelly than we had here at Michigan 2 years ago under RR. Now it seems exciting for us with some of the speed we have with these guys RR has recruited. But all in all it was a good win for Michigans program. We needed this a lot more than ND. ND will win their share this year. I thought your QB was very good. We are just fortunate to have a QB that used to be the type that would cuase us fits.

  6. #1irishfan - Sep 11, 2010 at 10:09 PM

    Disagree with a capitol DDDDDDDD!! You had him but if you watched we dominated in all ways possible you got the win but the best lost today! !st half 2nd and 3rd string QB and we still were there at the end come…on bud give it a break!! And I predict a loss for you also when your 1st string QB goes out after your first series!

  7. BearsBroncosIrish - Sep 11, 2010 at 10:13 PM

    This is only the second game for the first year of a new coach and while ND fans are notorious for demanding wins right away we’ve lost that privilege awhile ago. Lets wait another week or two before we declare ND a bunch of hapless losers. Kelly is essentially rebuilding a program and so far I’m liking what I see from him and a quarterback who today played only his second game as a starter. If Crist hadn’t gotten hurt we would have seen a very different outcome today.
    Once Crist went out I was pretty sure Michigan would easily ride into the sunset with a blowout. Didn’t happen. It was the defense — which as KA points out is not only a different beast but a far improvement over last year — helped ND stay in the game Considering all the mistakes I’m impressed with a team that hung in there. And I have to agree with KA — the Irish have fight. That’s a basic, basic building block for any football team and the Irish have been lacking it for awhile. Lets be honest last year ND could barely make it into the fourth quarter before collapsing from exhaustion.
    @NDFan in NY —- ND has broken my heart many times since the 1993 season (I was ten then) and it has never crossed my mind to “switch allegiances.” Win or lose they have been and will always be my team.

  8. frank b. - Sep 11, 2010 at 10:17 PM

    Still encouraged about the offense. However, Michigan offense reminded me of pop warner football. Why wasnt a “spy” planted on Robinson? If he got 500 total yards when was the defense going to figure out it started and stopped with him? Incredibly lucky on two pass plays, completing and falling down at the same time. I agree with fan from NY the irish are still losing on purpose, winning by accident. Second week in a row they played a secondary that is terrible they should have taken advantage of this. On the bright side, Crist will be a good quarterback, you have to give the kid a chance. This offense is much much better than Charlie’s. Many, many more weapons….by the way where was cierre wood? Did I miss an injury?

  9. TLNDMA - Sep 11, 2010 at 10:18 PM

    John, Mayock started the broadcast pretty much saying “I have a woody for DR”. As I,an Irish fan, listened, I got a little tired of listening to his undying love for Denard. I guess that means he was probably somewhere in the middle.
    Congrats on your win, too bad our Qb got dinged up. Good luck agaist UMass(you should be ashamed). Better hope DR doesn’t get hurt, he’s great, rest of team, not so much.

  10. TWood - Sep 11, 2010 at 10:40 PM

    Talk about sour grapes John. Easy there skippy…just remember who your starting QB was hurt by. He was fine before the game, and yes, he has the makes to be a great QB in the future. All that being said, he was still injured during the game by Michigan. It happens. Get over it. You lost. So sad. If you dominated you would have won, but you didn’t. Remember?

  11. TLNDMA - Sep 11, 2010 at 10:45 PM

    Before you’re 33 we’ll be toasting a NC. I was 10 when ND won(MY 1st) in 66′. It’s gonna happen, I knew it in 86 and I know it now.

  12. ljmcm - Sep 11, 2010 at 11:22 PM

    OK first off I can’t believe the way Crist lets fly with what would have been a touchdown by Jimmy Clausen. What the heck was that air ball anyway? If he wants to float a ball to his talented receivers he needs to practice it. I thought I was watching last years field goal team the way they zinged past the uprights and missed.
    That being said, he is a good QB with talent. They really need to spend some time with his back-ups. I’ve got to say Nate reminded me of his father there for a while. He looked a bit like Joe “Cool”.

  13. TLNDMA - Sep 11, 2010 at 11:24 PM

    Have to agree with Irish Illustrated, Kelly needs to accellerate process of either Luke Massa or Andew Hendrix the other FROSH qbs. Whichever is further along should get more reps, both are physically more gifted than Reese or Montana.

  14. ScubaGolfJim - Sep 11, 2010 at 11:30 PM

    Game would’ve been much better if Michigan had outscored the irish 68-0 in each quarter. Really nbc, if you wouldn’t force feed everyone that views your network or goes to your website with so much irish bs, they wouldn’t be so hated. Kinda like the Yankees have the largest fan base, and a much larger anti-yankee fan base, larger than any other sports team. Why? Because so many outlets seem to bow at their feet and give them a little kiss. You just seem to suck up to an often mediocre team for no apparent reason. When they begin to win, show them. Otherwise show other teams.

  15. Matt - Sep 11, 2010 at 11:31 PM

    6th thing: as at least one person has already noted, the announcers need to rein in their mouths so as to not make ND look any sillier when they lose. By the end of the game, I wasn’t routing FOR either team anymore — I was routing AGAINST the announcers. You would have thought that the final ND touchdown was the Second Coming, with all of the drivel about rainbows, Irish Magic, and whatnot — such flowery language was surely missing when Michigan subsequently scored, nor when Michigan won after the final ND play failed to deliver (even aided by a previous penalty by Michigan, who defense seemed to go out of its way to help ND down the field on that push). Yeah, I know you guys have had a “deal” with ND for over a decade (which doesn’t seem to have done much good for ND — their decline as an admittedly overwhelming powerhouse dates almost from the day of the first agreement), but remember that much of your audience isn’t a party to the “deal.”

  16. NDfan in NY - Sep 12, 2010 at 12:09 AM

    routing? You were determining a path that the announcers couldn’t use? If that’s what you mean by routing against them, then great. Otherwise, you should use the term “rooting”.

  17. Jon from Columbus - Sep 12, 2010 at 12:19 AM

    Notre Dame wasn’t the only one dropping passes or overthrowing wide open receivers. While Robinson was spectacular, he overshot receivers on three separate attempts where the secondary was beaten by two or more yards. In addition, on the drive that ended in the 2nd missed field goal, if the receiver hangs onto the ball, this game isn’t close.
    Also, did they ever say why they didn’t review the 2nd ND touchdown? The receiver dropped that ball a full yard before he crossed the goal line. And when that ball skittered out of the back of the endzone, it should have been 1st and 10 on the 20 going the other direction instead of 21-14.
    As scary as Michigan’s secondary was, Michigan’s offense stopped Michigan with horrible penalties more than anything the Irish could manage. Notre Dame’s defense had zero answers for Robinson. I don’t know too many teams that will this season.

  18. Mark - Sep 12, 2010 at 12:26 AM

    I agree most particularly with points 4 and 5. The defense IS different, and there clearly was and is fight in the Irish, all game, even after giving up gains and/or points. They don’t quit. If the Irish didn’t get blown out on the scoreboard last year, they definitely got blown out on the field. I don’t see that now.
    I liked the call at the end of the first half to go for the TD rather than take the field goal. Brian Kelly builds attitude. It’s what this team has needed.
    But for the two completely non-thinking plays by the quarterbacks to end the two halves (passes uncatchable by anyone, out of the back of the end zone – what were they afraid of? an interception?), this game could have been ND’s. I have to believe the quarterbacks’ miscues then were the result of their inexperience, and that Brian Kelly will get that squared away in short order.
    Despite the loss, the Irish played a game I greatly enjoyed watching.

  19. Art Vandelay - Sep 12, 2010 at 12:41 AM

    Five things I learned today:
    1)Armando Allen really wanted this game today. He was hitting the defenders with the force of a bulldozer.
    2)Calabrese is the real deal kid, he’s full on Italian. (Line courtesy of Grandma’s Boy).
    3)Kelly had this team believing they could run the table. I hope he can pick them back up for Sparty (God I hate that nickname).
    4)Mike Floyd has to start contributing at some point. If you want a burger named after you, you’ve got to pick up the pace.
    5)If you have 6 seconds left on the clock and you don’t want to try and get closer than the 27, you have to throw a jump ball, Hail Mary or whatever you want to call it, Dayne. Sailing it out the back of the end zone doesn’t do anybody any good.
    6)Remember, we were all thinking 8-4 or 9-3 on the year and this was one of those questionable games. Don’t throw in the towel on the season just yet.
    7)Keith still eats chicken tenders which he thinks are “timeless”.
    8)We freakin clobbered Shoelace and he kept getting back up. As Ali G would say, “Respeck.” I hope you can last, it is a long season. You must give this kid his props.
    Keith, BK said that Crist hurt himself on the run before the QB sneak for a touchdown, it was not on the TD play. Hope you enjoyed the Palms pool, it is quite a scene.

  20. wvNDfan - Sep 12, 2010 at 2:51 AM

    I’m not sure what everyone’s problem is with Mayock. He’s a good announcer that actually points out good things about the Notre Dame team. ie Brian Smith’s “compression” of the fullback last week. Why is this a problem? Who said the announcers have to be unbiased? Just giving credit to players for making good plays does not mean he is “rooting” for them and so what if he was. Is this a new rule or something? No one ever told Mr. Whoa Nelly Keith Jackson he couldn’t kiss USC’s rear every chance he got. I for one am sick of anti-ND fans coming to an ND board just to whine about something that doesn’t concern them or have anything to do with the actual game. Get your own network contract then you can cry to them about making these special rules about announcers not getting caught up in the excitement of a great game. Obviously not too many were affected by this since NBC’s ratings are up for this season. That said I give mad props to Denard Robinson he is one tough player. Go Irish!

  21. Chucket - Sep 12, 2010 at 5:30 AM

    Denard Robinson won over the Irish team, with only moderate help from his entire team. He is one blistering sensational player, and seems able to go on improving. The only caution with his prowess is that the things he does put him at risk for getting hurt. But he seems entirely able to take care of himself.
    It also obvious that Notre Dame bashers have nothing else to do but doo doo instead of celebrating. Their way of life is bashing, instead of celebrating anything good that comes their way. That is a miserable way to live.

  22. Jimbo - Sep 12, 2010 at 6:08 AM

    And exactly what has changed from last year? The defense gives up 28 points and 533 yards and 2 easy missed FG’s, can’t get a defensive stop on the last drive and it is better than lst year? I had the Irish 7-5 and I am sticking to that prediction. After watching Alabama’s defense yesterday just how far is ND from a BCS team? I think the answer is very evident.

  23. terry - Sep 12, 2010 at 6:11 AM

    I predicted the Irish would win in the 4th quarter – They lost in the 4th, but they didn’t give up. Robinson is incredible – 502 yards and you held your breath whenever he came on the field.
    This team is a work in progress and there is a ways to go. It’s obvious that they will go only so far on offense as Crist takes them, and his pass into the Michigan Band to end the game was pretty bad. But that’s his second game at the helm, it’s Kelly’s second game, and I see nothing but encouraging signs. They have to find a way to get Floyd the ball and let him do some damage, Mayock knows what he is talking about, the announcers are all a bit obsequious when it comes to Notre Dame, as in how wonderful Notre Dame is, ad absurdum, yada, yada, yada, but that too is nothing new.
    IMO Kelly was a good hire and this is going to take longer than I thought, but better days are here and BETTER days are ahead.
    But ND still needs to work on their humble, and that shows no sign of changing

  24. ezryder - Sep 12, 2010 at 7:15 AM

    Why aren’t you willing to admit that Mayock has his head up his a&*. No official review of the touchdown that shouldn’t have been. He dropped the ball on the 3 yard line it ends up in the end zone. Touchback…….hello. Not much out of Mayock on that one was there? That score did not reflect the game, not even close. Michigan’s missed field goals would have put 6 points on the bard that no one is talking about. I’m a Notre Dame fan or atleast trying to be one but the hoopla that Mayock put on is to much. Dark skies, rainbows…come on guys. Michigan put up a good game and they won. The anti sediment that college football fans hold against ND is fueled by such actions as Mayocks. Keep your feelings to yourself Mike. You are making us all look bad. Go Irish

  25. #1irishfan - Sep 12, 2010 at 7:38 AM

    Your Right!

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