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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. jeremy sanders - Sep 12, 2010 at 8:15 AM

    why did notre dame go to a prevent defense they should have just played like they was the 2nd half

  2. terry - Sep 12, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    IMO the ND TD that shouldn’t have been was hot-dogging which should have resulted in a penalty – fumble – and the TD disallowed, but Michigan didn’t catch it, the refs didn’t catch it, Notre Dame DID catch it and got to the PAT asap and kicked it so the TD couldn’t be taken back.
    All that having been said – Michigan was the better team because of Robinson. He accumulated 502 yards, and aside from that they got 31 yards rushing.
    They also got 4 more points, game over, see you in E. Lansing.
    BTW – Anyone who goes to the game and likes acoustic instruments get to E. Lansing early in time to go to Elderly Instruments – world class place. The last time I was there (don’t ask) I saw a 1949 Martin D-28 on the wall for $125,000.

  3. squeeze77 - Sep 12, 2010 at 8:42 AM

    DR was a phenom and just wait till the true triple option is installed by Rich Rod. It’s scary to think about. The D was vastly improved even giving up the 500+. Some real hitting going on. And Crist in only his second start. It’ll be all all right.

  4. SEAN - Sep 12, 2010 at 8:51 AM

    I HAVE BEEN AN IRISH FAN SINCE I HAVE KNOWN WHAT FOOTBALL WAS AND I PRAY FOR THEM EVERY GAME BUT IRISH FOOTBALL HAS CHANGED,IT USED TO BE A DREAM TO GET EXCEPTED TO ND ON A ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIP I MEAN YOU HAD A BETTER CHANCE OF GETTING HIT BY LIGHTNING THREE TIMES IN A ROW,BUT NOW U GOT A BUNCH OF LAWYERS AND DOCTORS RUNNING AROUND ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD…GOD DO I MISS LOU HOLTZ WE NEED A COACH THAT WILL SAY “HEY,I WISH YOU WOULD THROW AN INTERCEPTION YOU’LL BE THE HIESEMAN TROPHY WINNER WHEN I GET DONE WITH YA”.THESE PLAYERS AREN’T TAKING ANY PRIDE TO PUT ON THE BLUE AND GOLD.SO TILL I DIE I WILL ALWAYS SAY…GO IRISH

  5. terryb - Sep 12, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    one thing is certain, just like years past, when the game is on the line the defense will fold faster than a 2/7 unsuited..man they need to learn the basics of tackling..number 22 still stinks up the joint

  6. NDforever - Sep 12, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    Good one! Matt is clueless. ND announcers are certainly not on the side of the Irish at all times. I have watched every game on NBC for years and have felt like there aggainst us half the time. Of all the BIG games yesterday this was by far more physical and more exciting despite the outcome. Let’s hope Crist stays healthy If he improves it will be a good year. DR was outstanding and we lost to a less talented team because of one player.

  7. Avon Domer - Sep 12, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    A few observations:
    1. Denard Robinson’s output of 502 yards of total offense adds up to one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen in college football. This young man is tough, smart and has an amazing feel for the game. As a lifelong Notre Dame fan, I find some solace in realizing that it took a super-human performance to beat the Irish yesterday, and as of this morning I don’t know of any other super-humans on Notre Dame’s schedule.
    2. Notre Dame’s defense impressed me in one respect only. It held Michigan to a shockingly low 3 of 16 on third down conversions.
    3. Here’s a stat that bodes well for the future of Notre Dame football. With Dayne Crist missing the entire first half except for the opening touchdown drive, the Irish actually posted more total yards than Michigan (535-532).
    4. I understand why Kelly went for the touchdown at the end of the first half with Montana as quarterback. He didn’t know if Crist would play in the second half and probably didn’t believe that with Montana and Crist as his quarterbacks that they’d return to the red zone very often.
    In conclusion, after seeing ND lose six games last year all by 7 points or less (two in overtime), I am sick to death of these heartbreaking loses. However, Notre Dame showed a great deal of heart in storming back from a 14-point deficit. I hope they can pick themselves off the mat and produce a strong effort against Sparty next week. The whole season rides on it.
    Additionally, all credit to Michigan for a great win. Robinson is absolutely amazing and he’ll take them a long way. I attended the game yesterday and I saw nothing but respect and goodwill between Notre Dame and Michigan fans, which is how it should always be between these two great schools. Go Irish! Go Blue, Beat OSU!!!

  8. irishfanintx - Sep 12, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    ND lover or hater you have to admit the game was exciting. ND haters,love the comparisons to the NY Yankees. We appreciate your watching the game and taking the time to comment on an ND blog. It might be time to get over the hatred because of a TV contract. It has been well documented that ND makes less that several of the conference teams do from those contracts. Will you have as much hatred for BYU now as well?
    As for the game, this is a team that is still learning a new offensive and defensive scheme. The D held Michigan scoreless until the final minute of the second half. They gave up a lot of yards and they did give up the TD at the end but they look like an improved unit over last year. As long as this team continues to improve each week they are going to do well.
    Officiating–best officiating of an ND vs Big Ten team that I have seen in some time.

  9. jan - Sep 12, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    I typically root for Michigan except of course when they play ND. I fear that Robinson will get injured and knocked out for at least one game before the team survives their conference play. As Frank B. noted above, why wasn’t a “spy” assigned to him on viritually every play – especially the last 2+ yard TD run? I kept screaming at the TV (and Keith’s blog) to have Manti be that “spy”…Legally hitting him on every play certainly couldn’t have hurt ND chances. I suspect conference opponents may try that strategy.
    Perhaps the Michigan offense and his elusiveness will protect him from a bone crunching direct hit and injury….a la Michael Vick.
    Though we probably will never hear the full story, I would truly like to learn the details of the Crist injury. I hope that his right eye wasn’t intentionally gouged by a Michigan defender during the pileup following the QB sneak TD run….such behavior is reserved for Miami and USC teams/defenders.
    I’m disappointed that the Michigan fans blogging on this site can’t be better sports in their victory. Complaining that the announcers didn’t give you equal or fair air time in addition to getting the win is a bit much. If you were tired of hearing about rainbows and comeback talk, trust me that I was tired about hearing about how Robinson does or does not tie his shoes….

  10. dustin - Sep 12, 2010 at 9:59 AM

    why would anyone talk about 6 points on missed field goals, failing to execute on a field goal is no different than overthrowing a ball down the field, if you dont execute you dont get the points. Why are you trying to add points that you did not score?
    Yes TJ Jones dropped the ball before the endzone and yes it should have been a touchback, calls were missed by the officials all day just like in every other game around the country, get over it. I dont hear anybody talking about the play were Robinson scrambled around in the backfield then flicked a pass at the last second for a key first down, even though his linemen were farther downfield than some of the receivers, it doesn’t matter the game is over. You won a hard fought game Michigan, now move on to your next opponent, we’ll see you next year

  11. swd - Sep 12, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    As the announcers said while Kelly was berating Crist following the forced pass, tipped and intercepted in Q4, “Kelly is telling him not to force it, take what they give you.”
    Ok, so why has nobody questioned Kelly why he didn’t take what Michigan gave him at the end of the second half? Three points. Instead he forced Montana to try to make a play with much great chance of failure than a 20 yard field goal. I saw no questioning of that in any press report or sideline reporter. What poor decision making against a storied rival and one that Notre Dame must beat. Where was Kelly’s head? What was he thinking?
    Gee, if ND kicks a field goal after getting down to the 27, and they make it, they win.
    Nobody asked Kelly. Is the NBC and the press afraid? Or is it ok to lose to Michigan?
    Here is the clip from Lou Holtz’s first game against Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium. ND went on to win 6 of the next 8 against Michigan.
    1986 – Michigan 24, Notre Dame 23
    Faust resigned at the end of the 1985 season and was succeeded by Lou Holtz. In the 1986 opener, the Irish did everything but beat the Wolverines. They never punted and amassed 455 yards of total offense as the Michigan defense, not knowing what to expect, was on its heels all afternoon.[citation needed] Several turnovers deep in Michigan territory proved costly for Notre Dame. Tight end Joel Williams caught an apparent touchdown pass in the back of the end zone, but was ruled out of bounds even though it appeared otherwise. Ultimately, it all came down to a field goal attempt. Unlike 1980, John Carney’s attempt was off the mark and Michigan escaped with a 24-23 vistory. Irish fans gave the team a standing ovation as the teams left the field and Notre Dame was voted #20 in the polls the following week, the first time a team had ever ascended into the Top 20 after a loss.
    Good luck to Coach Kelly and the Irish.

  12. GoBlue04 - Sep 12, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    DR is an amazing qb, but he did not win the game for Michigan single handedly. Our O-line is a solid group of mostly 4th or 5th year guys that are very mobile and effective at getting to the 2nd and 3rd levels to spring DR’s runs. Also, they generally provide DR with a good amount of time on passing plays, which allows a young qb to make smart decisions and develop confidence. Our D is terrible outside of a couple of D linemen and a linebacker or 2. However, the entire D seemed to run out of gas for most of the 2nd half. I agree that it would have been a different game if Crist was in the whole time (he looked good), but it also would have been a different game if 1) we made one or both of our missed fg’s; 2) if our punter didn’t shank every punt; and/or 3) if we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot with so many personal fouls.

  13. Bill - Sep 12, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    Ho hum…
    you have one hell of a coach – he has taken all his teams to the top, check his history. ND will be there soon. Not a good thing, being a Michigan native…

  14. Little Tommy - Sep 12, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    Rudolph fall down on the ten yard line??? How often have you seen that??? What are you smoking???

  15. jan - Sep 12, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    I also was screaming “Take the Points”….but as noted above, Coach Kelly may have assessed that with the possibility (or perhaps probability?)that only his 2nd and 3rd string QBs would be available for the rest of the day, it was our best chance for a win. I trust his judgment. Hindsight is 20-20.

  16. IrishRevival - Sep 12, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    Waaa Waaa….They show the Irish too much :( If you hate it so much and by hate i really mean JELOUSY. Watch another channel; go to another website, read a different paper. What must really make you mad is that win OR lose they still cover our games. Get over it, the nation care more about the Irish than your team.

  17. Ted - Sep 12, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    Guess I don’t know what broadcast you were listening to. Personally, I felt Haden was the most unbiased, this guy switches back and forth with ‘love’. His voice is annoying…wish NBC would have picked someone with a bit more than what he has.

  18. Dustin - Sep 12, 2010 at 10:33 AM

    I can’t speak for BK, but he is paid to make tough decisions, down 14, kicking to Michigan to start the 2nd half, BK went for it, had we scored it would have been a turning point, not just for the game but an offense that was struggling anyway. Had crist not been able to play the second half maybe a touchdown would have sparked somthing, plus with montana at the helm how many more oppurtunities would we get, sure 3 would have been safe, but BK plays to win. I feel like we had far to many missed oppurtunities in the second half to get points, but failed to execute. I am no less confident in the future success than I was a seek ago, the guns are loaded, we just need to sight in the scope. GO IRISH!

  19. TLNDMA - Sep 12, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    I’d love to know what Mich. fans were listening to. Mayock must have called Robinson the best athlete on the field a dozen times, starting in the pre game. He also had praise for other players on both sides of the ball for Mich.. NBC covers Notre Dame football, duh? Do you expect them to not have a little bias, if only from familiarity? Most ND fans would like to see Tom Hammond go, but we put up with him. Mayock is an x’s and o’s guy from BC, I doubt he’s in love with the Irish.
    Exciting game, ND still a flawed team. Defense has to get off the field better, gassed at end of game.

  20. R Irish - Sep 12, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    Notre Dame’s offense literally wasted most of the 1st half. No team can do that and be expected to win a football game against a quality opponent.
    Kelly’s decision to pass up an easy 3 to conclude that 1st half only magnified matters of no offensive point production.
    Rees and Montana were disastrous. ND needs a backup quarterback who at least can handle the situation and produce some points while he is in there. Think backup quarterback Coley O’Brien who played for ND in the memorable ND-Michigan State game in November 1966. At least that kid was able to lead the team and put points on the scoreboard to match and ultimately tie the Spartans.

  21. R Irish - Sep 12, 2010 at 11:23 AM

    Notre Dame’s offense literally wasted most of the 1st half. No team can do that and be expected to win a football game against a quality opponent.
    Kelly’s decision to pass up an easy 3 to conclude that 1st half only magnified matters of no offensive point production.
    Rees and Montana were disastrous. ND needs a backup quarterback who at least can handle the situation and produce some points while he is in there. Think backup quarterback Coley O’Brien who played for ND in the memorable ND-Michigan State game in November 1966. At least that kid was able to lead the team and put points on the scoreboard to match and ultimately tie the Spartans.

  22. FightinMad35 - Sep 12, 2010 at 11:33 AM

    I disagree with all the optimism. BK should have taken the points at the half. Charlie Weis made these same decisions and ND ends up losing 6 close and winnable games last season. The backups struggled so getting points would have been something positive versus nothing at all. You expect him to throw a touchdown when completing a pass was beyond them all first half?? You don’t walk away from easy points until the 4th quarter. Period. ND on that final drive could have been moving into winning field goal range versus needing a TD… unbelievable.It was 2009 all over again. I also don’t understand why the corners can’t play tighter coverage. They are both seniors with tons of game experience. They play too far off receivers on short yardage downs. It’s very hard to watch. The glaring lack of speed on our defense is very obvious. Where is Steve Filer? Every time I see Brian Smith it’s looking at the back of his 56 jersey running behind a player from the other team heading untouched to the endzone. It is very hard being an Irish fan these days watching games we could easily win slip away.

  23. Tim - Sep 12, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    Did we really get rid of Weis for this clown. You always take the points especially before half time. This defense just stinks. No pride and no passion. A flea flicker with a brand new quarterback. Diaco stinks as a defensive coordinator. when the game is on the line this defense will fold like a chair. Hey defense how bout showing some pride and basic manhood. Another long season awaits. Hey Grand Valley want your coach back.

  24. djeg07 - Sep 12, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    gotta love the over hype that ND gets every year, they could have a one armed kid back there at QB and he would be hiesman canidate preseason to these people, they could have a kid with peg legs at WR and he would be POY canidate. ND is the most over hyped team each year, only The Ohio state F-ckeyes are gaining on them. Michigan has had a few down years, and I dont want to sound a UM fan but ND had it coming either from UM or one of the other better teams ND will play so ND keep playing purdue, MSU, and some other lower d1 schools and stay on that platform a lil longer, just don’t play James madison or app state.

  25. R Irish - Sep 12, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    I will add this. Kelly needs to talk more with Ara Parseghian and learn from that man.

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