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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. R Irish - Sep 12, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    I will add this. Kelly is on the biggest stage of his coaching career and needs to talk more with Coach Ara Parseghian to learn from that man.

  2. Joe - Sep 12, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    Nice game Michigan, one for the books. As nasty as this rivalry can get, its a great one. The players were classy after the game – got the sense they realized it was well-matched and could have easily gone either way. Both fan bases should be cautiously optimistic – good things on both teams that will hopefully start a return of college ball to prominence from where it all started. Congrats on the W, see you next year.
    East Lansing, here come the Irish. Already fired up for this one.
    And please stop the complaining about the NBC contract. I wish there were enough channels for everyone to watch their own team too. If there weren’t so people out there that love to watch ND win (or lose), NBC wouldn’t want to put on us on TV. Not being pompous -its just supply and demand.
    GO IRISH. Have a great season everyone.

  3. djeg07 - Sep 12, 2010 at 11:57 AM

    I will add that the real 5 things we learned,
    1. ND is still not top 25 worthy
    2. brady quinn is back
    3. no staunch defense as ND has been accustomed to for years since late 90’s
    4. Nd is not using their big time players early in game wies used flyod and the kid was dynomite last year
    5. U of M is still the number #1 all time winningest team!!!

  4. Dustin - Sep 12, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    Not capitalizing on the oppurtinites given to us by defensive stops and missed field goals is what lost us this game, not 3 points at the end the first half.
    I have no choice but to be optimistic, I am a fan of Notre Dame football. Period.
    Excuse me for not jumping ship at the first sign of adversity, this is not 2009,CW is no longer here, our backup qb’s are weak, we lack depth on the d-line and in the secondary, all things we knew coming into this season.
    Nobody said this would be easy, nobody said we would be competing for the national championship in BKs first year, nobody picked us to win on saturday. This is a process. I have faith in BK, if for no other reason than the fact that he is the head coach now.
    This game would’t have been close last year, Robinson would have scored more often while the offense ran 20 screen passes and then heaved prayers down the field. If you long for CW so much become a chiefs fan, the rest of us are moving forward.

  5. irish in the hammer - Sep 12, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    @scubagolfjim…um you do realize that NBC has an exclusive contract with ND. They don’t show any other CFB games…guess that’s why they tend to feature them more on their website, eh?
    As for the game..ouch…losing Crist after 5 minutes was my worst nightmare for this season, thankful he was able to return. This team has potential to play in a major bowl if he stays in the game. With Rees or Montana, I am very worried.
    The D played their tails off and should be rightfully proud of the effort. Denard Robinson looks like he might be the kinda player who will make a lot of teams look bad this season (and for another couple as well!)
    Tough loss, but I still have faith that BK and ND are the right match.
    GO Irish!

  6. FightinMad35 - Sep 12, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    thanks for that insightful response. very sensitive i must say. not capitalizing on opportunities?? you mean like kicking a field goal with 3 seconds left in half or does that not qualify? Like putting a true freshman in the game and using a trick play for his first play, throwing int triple coverage after staring down the receiver.. does that count too? you are excused for not jumping ship but you won’t be excused for the rose colored glasses. a dumb decision is just that and BK made one. Your optimism is yours to have, as is my skepticism that BK looked eerily similar to CW yesterday. Your faith in BK is exactly that, yours. I hope it works out because I’m a fan too but my skepticism is again just that, mine!!!!

  7. #1irishfanatic - Sep 12, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    It was a great game! Both teams fought very hard and you knew just by the amount of effort exerted that this storied rivalry will only get better! My hat goes off to Michigan and DR I hope you finish the season undefeated (only for the obvious reason)! We will meet again in 1 year and before you know it we’ll be at the big house inflicting revenge and pain only this series can produce! You may have come out on top but I truly believe we needed this kind of game sooner than later, for it will only give us the strength and character to play harder and with more resolve!!! GO IRISH!!! BEAT SPARTAN!!!

  8. djeg07 - Sep 12, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    seems like wies all over again, just a thinner version, bad play calling, only exception weis got more out his players. we’ll see how long he takes to win against some major team, keep the glasses on irish fans, keep the pipe close, and beer full.

  9. Dustin - Sep 12, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    Maybe you should have read my previous posts a little closer, never did I say that not kicking the field goal was the right decision, all I tried to do is give some insight as to why BK didn’t.
    True freshman or not Reese had shown ability in practice thats why he was the next one in.
    Why not run the trick play? Everybody expects you to run when the 2nd string QB first comes in, had it worked it would have been praised as a gutsy call, but it didn’t so what.
    Once again 3 points at the end of the half did not lose this game, sure you can point to it now that the game has been played, but thats the difference in the perspective of the fan versus that of the coach, the coach doesn’t have the luxury of knowing how many points would be scored in the second half, you do.
    Forgive my sensitivity, I just don’t like hearing the fanbase for the team which I love being so skeptical at such an early point in the season.
    As for my rose colored glasses, I would not ask for forgiveness, especially not from you.
    GO Irish

  10. dan e. - Sep 12, 2010 at 1:10 PM

    very tough game to lose………five things ive learned this week.
    1, we dont have a great defense, but they play hard and hard work will payoff somewhere down this seasons road. im not looking at moral points just believing in these young men.
    2, dayne cryst took strides today that i thought would take until week 5 or 6 to reach, in terms of leadership and poise. yes he still has work to do, but he’ll be there faster than anticipated.
    3, kelly’s decision at the end of the first half was against my thinking. forget the reasoning of the injury situation and take the three. it did not cost us the game. michigan missed two f.g., nd gave up the 87yd run to denard, and a couple of defensive lapses along with our starting q.b. out of the game for the entire first half. how might the game turned out if denard missed the entire first half? anyhow, michigan leaves confident and we leave at 1-1 with high hopes of what could be.
    4, while carlo, mante, gray, armando, rudolph, the o-line, and d-line are holding their own brian smith, walls, macarthy, and the punter turk need to amp it up.
    5, michigan played a solid game in a hostile environment a came away with a victory, no matter the circumstances….congrats……go irish, beat state next week!

  11. Dustin - Sep 12, 2010 at 1:17 PM

    Agreed, Go Irish

  12. kryptonite163 - Sep 12, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    While giving up 502 yards to an individual player is nothing to be super excited about, I honestly loved most of what I saw from the ND defensive unit yesterday.
    In the first half they were completely hung out to dry by the offense. Drives weren’t being sustained, and every Michigan possession was a “must stop” to prevent the score from getting out of hand.
    On top of all that, they came out of the gate in the second half and had two HUGE stops. Moreover, they held Michigan’s offense to seven second half points. Seven! Unfortunately, it was at the worst possible time.
    Maybe I’m naive, but I was generally happy with the defense and the half-time adjustments. If you would have told me before the game that we’d hold the Michigan offense to 28 points I would’ve thought we’d get an easy win, and maybe we would have with Crist in for four quarters.
    Oh well. We just need to recover for Sparty.

  13. Tim - Sep 12, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    Have we fallen off so far that we are actually proud because they are fighting. That’s what they are supposed to be doing.These teams have some kind of mental block they are just expecting something to go wrong.We are light years behind Alabama and Ohio State. When are we all going to expect more from this team.There is talent alot of it but these coaches yesterday had no clue especially on defense. To many Irish fans are just happy they play hard. These are sad days indeed.

  14. Tim - Sep 12, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    Glad many of the fans love moral victories. Thats all we going to have. I guess as long as we look good losing.We have officially reached a new low.

  15. ND7667Rules - Sep 12, 2010 at 1:47 PM

    You’re clearly an idiot. Show other teams? Really? I guess you didn’t go to Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business. It’s called a contract you momo!

  16. Mario - Sep 12, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    Did you watch the same game as me? Bayock couldn’t say enough about Robinson. QUite frankly he was singing the praises of M mor than ND. But I guess that’s what bias gets you.

  17. wvNDfan - Sep 12, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    Actually if you would have watched the game you would know it WAS Mayock that pointed out the player dropped the ball early and subsequently showed a couple replays to prove it! Also how in the world is it an announcers fault that a play is not reviewed? About the rainbows an such I thought that was awesome. Obviously you are oblivious to the magic of ND stadium. Example; the game against USC where in the 4th quarter the wind clearly shifted directions when USC had the ball, even began raining if I’m not mistaken, only to go to no wind or rain minutes later when the Irish took over the ball. Chaulk it up to crazy weather patterns or push this as more ND magic. Let’s see, if I’m under contract to follow a single football program which one would I choose? hmmmm I see, every other school or product in the world can make unsubstantiated claims but when announcers of a football game make some comment about a rainbow possibly being good luck for ND look out. I just laugh all this off to the fact that you all can see exactly what we all see and that is Brian Kelly is doing one heck of a job and your afraid you’ll have to hear more about ND because they WILL be back on top. Go Irish!

  18. James - Sep 12, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    I don’t think we are as far behind as you all think. Let’s not forget that the first year Nick Saban was at Alabama, they lost 6 games including a game to Louisiana Monroe. Winning has to be taught. Our kids aren’t thier yet. It was so obvious when Crist went down the whole team sank. When he came back in the rose to the occasion. We did play much better defense the second half of his 258 rushing 174 came in the first half. Which is most of the offense of the whole team. You can’t compare Notre Dame 2010 version to Alabama 2010 version we are trying to revive a program they are the defending national title who has a fourth year coach and tons of depth. If you want to compare look at his first year there.

  19. James - Sep 12, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    And another thing. Last year we stormed out to huge leads only to give them away not the other way around. when we went down last year we never came back. We lost game late last year because the entire second half we collapsed. We need to be better yes but we didn’t collapse in the second half.

  20. sharkey - Sep 12, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    I gotta agree that moral victories are hollow for our team, especially after the 08, 09 seasons. These kids have GOT to start pulling out the close ones.
    However, I believe Kelly has the Irish well on the road to be able to compete with the Bama’s and Ohio states of the BCS. His recruiting, and the overall improved attitude of the team has me believing that he is the right man for the job. Those who followed this blog last year knows I was a big skeptic of BK.
    It is evident that Crist has the talent but not the polish of Claussen. Perhaps his accuracy issues keep him from throwing down feild and getting Floyd and co. active in the game. I don’t know. What I do know, Crist will improve and will be one of the top QB’s and this team will rise to the top again, if not this year, then next. Hang in there, its not over yet.

  21. Tim - Sep 12, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    Good points. Your right crist has the talent. This is more about defense. There just is no killer instinct. We have a way of making heisman canidates out of the other teams players. (Javon Ringer). Look unless this defense can develop some kind of toughness and attitude and start coming up big this team is going nowhere. I will be attending the Pittsburgh game i just pray we dont lose again. I have waited so long for this season and were still getting last years results.

  22. FightinMad35 - Sep 12, 2010 at 3:51 PM

    I couldn’t agree more Tim. How can a true fan be happy with that defensive performance.. 500 yards to one player? No way is that a good thing. Fighting and being competitive isn’t enough. Last year’s team fought and was competitive. They still lost games. I see talent and I know this team can win with the players they have. These are indeed sad days when playing hard is acceptable. BK got it wrong yesterday and so did Diaco. We all should expect better.

  23. FightinMad35 - Sep 12, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    edit to above post. These are indeed sad days when LOSING and playing hard is acceptable.

  24. Clearglide - Sep 12, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    I said before the game ever started that BK would HAVE to assign somebody, ie. Teo, to Robinson. He was way too dangerous to not make adjustments on defense just for him. Surely BK saw the film on Robinson.

  25. goblue92 - Sep 12, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    It was certainly an exciting game to watch, although as a Michigan fan perhaps easier to appreciate. Still,
    1) Neither defense appeared ready to play elite teams, both gave up over 500 yards of offense to QB’s starting for the 2nd time.
    2) Both teams did themselves no favors, with Michigan committing several terrible penalties and missing 2 FG’s, and ND giving up 3 TO’s. You have to question a flea-flicker with a true freshman QB who has never played though. Not sure if it is Kelly or the Irish OC who calls plays, but that seemed like a bad risk.
    3) Hard to criticize too strongly the decision to go for the TD at the half. I suspect Kelly had seen enough from Montana, wasn’t sure he would get Crist back, and wanted to go for as much as he could get. If they score there, the game maybe goes the other way.
    Overall, I think most Michigan fans expected to see a good offense this year, although no one expected DRob to explode. Defense is as bad as feared. We will see you next year at the 1st Big House night game.

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