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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. Mark Dillon - Sep 12, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    I agree with Keith about the defense. They are a different story in their tackling, their play at the line, and the ability to put pressure on the passer. Moreover, I sense a much – I would say say deeper – morale.
    The one thing happened yesterday that theoretically – going in – the Irish could least afford: giving Robinson more rather than fewer touches. Crist’s debilitation was key in that regard. I believe Robinson’s numbers would have been 2/3’s what they were had Notre Dame’s offense had its main cog – or at least a good backup.
    The foregoing is not to make excuses. There are no excuses, just what happened. But did Notre Dame play good football – good enough to put them on a par with Michigan with their game breaker? Yes. And were I a gambler, based on what I saw, I would put my money on ND if they were to play again next Saturday with Crist in the game.
    It appears things are moving in the right direction.
    Another point. Michigan is going to get less and less out of misdirection if they continue to have Robinson keep the ball 40 out of 41 times. They will just key on him until Michigan proves someone else can hurt them badly enough.
    Mark Dillon

  2. ryan - Sep 12, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    i quite frankly, while a agree with some of whats being said, think that people already passing judgement on BK and co. is absolutely retarded. two games in people, lets wait a little bit. remember what happened when we passed judgement on weis after 6 weeks? he got an undeserved 10 year contract. haters are always gonna hate, no matter what. would the outcome have been different had crist played the whole game, or had BK called the field goal at the end of the first half? id like to think so, but thats not how it works.
    so please, lets not all go out and damn the BK era because of 1 loss. theres still 10 regular season games to go IN YEAR ONE! regardless of what he says about “5 minute plans” it will take time to rebuild to what he needs. lets be good fans and grant him that time.

  3. morrise - Sep 12, 2010 at 5:03 PM

    I think the only question that we have to ask is why you claim you are a ND fan? I have seen this happen for the past 17 years also. I also know that the past three coaches have had outstanding records in their first year as coach at Notre Dame and thye were the worst coaches that we had. I look at Brian Kelly and I see more confidence than they other three put together. When a coach can smile after the game knowing that the other team across the field will have their day will be coming when they meet the Irish year in and year out I feel confident with him. I know that they are Wies’s kids but I have never seen a quarterback like Crist look so confident. The offense is better except for the backup quarterback. the defense is better. They spent a lot of time on the field. I think that what upsets me more than anything is people that claim to be Irish fans look at all the negatives instead of what is really happening. Remember Lou Holtz was 5-6 in his first year. Great job this year.

  4. thinkirish - Sep 12, 2010 at 5:18 PM

    My two cents,
    This team is very close.
    Robinson is Batman.
    The D can hit.
    TJ Jones won’t ever do that again.
    Why hasn’t Robert Hughes carried the ball? I think after Crist went out that would have been a good time, since they did try and establish the run.

  5. 60sDomer - Sep 12, 2010 at 5:35 PM

    I’ve been watching and attending ND games since the mid-50s. I’ve seen a lot of good, great, and ugly teams over the last half century. Most of you who say you’ve seen it all before aren’t old enough to have seen it all. You certainly didn’t see the same game I did. What I did see was a game where ND outplayed, outgained (400+ to 150 yards), and outscored (24 – 7) the Skunkbears when Crist was available to play. This is a good team that is getting better every week. Our lack of depth at qb and on the d-line can only be blamed (yeah, they gave up a 4th quarter touchdown late, but they were gassed) on the previous coach. Let’s see how the next four games go before we start waving the white flag.

  6. Tim - Sep 12, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    Didn’t people kill Charlie Weis last year because of his dumb coaching decisions against Michigan last year. Why do you except it for Brian Kelly.I think we all drank the Kool aod to soon. If you don’t realize that giving up 502 yards to one guy is not bad you got some serious football issues. Sorry but i will not except this from any coach and you should not either regardless of how many games he has coached. Do you realize an entire generation of kids has grown up believing that Notre Dame stinks. Demand more from your players and coaches. This is not exceptable PERIOD. And please telling everyone Lou Holtz went 5-6 is not inspiring the Irish nation. All i care about is what is going on today. Brian Kelly ran his mouth and told everyone we were going to have a tough football team. Now i want him to shut his mouth and deliever the goods. GO IRISH

  7. thinkirish - Sep 12, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    Coach Kelly is getting more out of this team then Weis ever would. It’s only week two.

  8. Todd - Sep 12, 2010 at 5:55 PM

    I am disappointed with the loss but I’m excited with the future at ND. This defense is way better than last year. If this game were last year mich would have scored 60 pts. Any team suffers when there starting qb goes down, there is a reason he is the starter. This week at mich st. will tell us more about where this team is, personally I feel good about our chances. I’m tired of hearing how drob got 502 yards all by himself, didn’t someone catch the ball on his passes or did he pass it to himself. With this analogy Dayne Crist is better, he got almost 300 yards all by himself in 2 quarters of play. Yes the kid is fantastic but enough of he’s the greatest and a one man team. I know one thing I will bet there are some really sore mich players today because the ND defense put some serious hits on those boys yesterday. GO IRISH!!!!!

  9. Tim - Sep 12, 2010 at 6:02 PM

    Really lets see last year 1-1. This year 1-1. last year collaspe against Michigan. This year collaspe against Michigan. Crappy defense last year. Crappy defense this year. Give me a Damn break. You are one of the fans who believe in moral victories and it’s okay to lose as long as we look good doing it. Do me a favor follow Stoney Book college they don’t have any standards and either do you. You will fit right in. oh yeah i forgot. Crappy coaches last year and crappy coaches this year

  10. Tim - Sep 12, 2010 at 6:13 PM

    Todd your right that was a great hit the defense put or Robinson on his 86 yard touchdown run. NOT. You must be talking about the “79” game.Remember that one when Bob Crable was on the team. When the defense actually has guys with testicules.

  11. irishfanintx - Sep 12, 2010 at 6:16 PM

    Since 1988 Irish and Michigan are tied at 9-9 and 1 tie. Don’t know that this classifies Michigan as a better program. As for scheduling…Massachusetts and Bowling Green, MSU, Purdue, and Indiana.

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

    You have no idea what you are talking about!
    Kids leaving in droves? Who? The 5th string QB? Anybody who left was 3rd and 4th stringers.
    “Winning attitude” is a stupid soundbite that lazy people use to explain talent, good coaching, preparation, or luck. Did Jordan have a ‘losing attitude” when he scored 58 vs Boston but lost in the playoffs? No, he didn’t have enough talent on his team. Did the patriots suddenly change their mentality when they were 19-0 and lost to the Giants on a few lucky plays? Just look at Michigan, Denard Robinson is going to make RichRod seem a whole lot smarter than last year.
    Kelly is doing a good job- his kids are well coached, play hard the entire game, and hit people. They don’t execute the offense to its maximum yet because it is a completely different system. But it is easy to see that things are moving in a positive direction.

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

    Is the 9-9-1 record against Michigan since 1988 gonna help you sleep better tonight. Wow you have created a new way to spin this loss. I bet the P.R firm you work with is proud of you.

  14. ourlady$ - Sep 12, 2010 at 6:43 PM

    Great game guys, Coach Kelly wasn’t joking when he said EVERYBODY on the roster better be ready to go in and play. Tommy and Nate were not, but everybody knows how to win, a true champion knows how to lose, correct the problems and do not do the same mistake twice. Coach Kelly promised us the boys would give us four hard fought quarters, and they did that. It was a tough loss, ours to lose. Lesson learned, now we move on.

  15. wvNDfan - Sep 12, 2010 at 7:00 PM

    On the “spy” thing. This is a ridiculous idea. Rich Rodriquez is way too smart to play that. He would have assigned a big body to take out the spy then where does that leave you. Wide open every time. Not to mention that it takes away a defender in the passing game. Funny that you would want to cover someone that good with a LB no freakin’ way he’d probably beat him every time. Sorry but Diaco is the real deal. The defensive scheme was very well put together not executing and falling down(Harrison) are the only reasons for the long TD run. Without that ND wins and everyone sings a different tune. As for “legally hitting Robinson on every play”, whatever that means, did you not watch the game? We hit that kid hard quite a few times. Teo smacked him right in the chops. He’s just a really tough player. Rodriguez even mentioned he was hurting at the end of the game and did you notice how fast D.R. went to find Teo, wouldn’t even speak to that reporter until he found and congratulated him for a game well played. Pumped for next week in East Lansing! Go Irish!

  16. irishfanintx - Sep 12, 2010 at 7:09 PM

    No, Tim, I sleep fine with out having to “spin” anything. The points were that: 1) the 2 programs are comparable. The game yesterday could have gone either way it just happened to go Michigans way 2) The sceduling for both teams is similar. If that amounts to PR than so be it. I am die hard Irish fan that respects Michigan and the Big 10 programs. I didn’t expect the Irish to win out this year and Mich. played a good game so congratulations to them. Irish played the 1st half without their QB and the d held Mich. scoreless in the second half until the final minutes. A game well played by both teams and it just so happened Mich. came out on top this time.

  17. Tim - Sep 12, 2010 at 8:25 PM

    Sorry Todd i still can’t feel you. Are you actually saying that giving up 502 yards to one guy was a well played game. I guess your expectations for life just are not as high as others. Do you not see that this is unacceptable. That this is Not Notre Dame football. I can tell by your post you are kinda young. In your world everyone is a champion as long as you try hard. You are very confused. The 88 team was what Notre Dame football was all about. Great defense and a sense of pride. Those 2 things are lacking on this team. And who cares about holding them scoreless until the last minute of the half. That’s when this team needed to man up and get the job done and they failed again. You are probably good with a 6-6 season but i expect and want more. This is Notre Dame not Michigan State.

  18. pbirish1 - Sep 12, 2010 at 10:15 PM

    Irish Catholic Michigan Alumni.
    Cudos to the fans that understand this was a Great Game Period! I was there yesterday and my hat goes off to both teams. You want to root for something important?? Root for both of these teams!! They played the game yesterday.. not you. And they played it with mutual respect and sportsmanship while liteally knocking the snot out of each other. My first trip to Notre Dame (I’m 57) left me with nothing but respect for everyone involved. Both of these teams are young but growing up fast. Let em mature. ND, you has a great coach, hopefully we do too. You want to win at all cost.. move to Miami or LA.
    Thanks to all the ND fans who teated me with respect.
    P.S. The “Rainbow TD” scared the hell out of me!

  19. ljmcm - Sep 12, 2010 at 10:40 PM

    I have a few wants after this game. Want #1 is a victory and I mean a large rout of USC. Want #2 is a bowl game against Florida and a nice victory there also. Want #3 is to place in the top 10 this year. Be interesting to see what I get.

  20. Nate - Sep 12, 2010 at 11:44 PM

    Irish fans we need to relax and be patience. Kelly is the answer and will lead this team back to prominence. If Crist would have played the whole game I believe it wold have been a different outcome. I personally think D Robinson is the best athlete in college football. He is Chris Johnson that can throw the ball. He is a must run a legit 4.3. The defense for the Irish was on the field too long and got tired. One comment from someone about shading him. That is logical but who has the speed on the field to really do that? Cierre Wood? doesn’t play defense. Give them a break it will be interesting to see how they come back next week against an always scrappy MSU team. Let’s be positive and GO IRISH!!!

  21. TrueIrish - Sep 13, 2010 at 12:04 AM

    Stop acting like you have a stick up your butt. Not a single Notre Dame fan is “ok” with a 6-6 season. We all want Notre Dame to win the National Championship every year. But these things don’t happen instantly. After years of mediocrity and no life, Notre Dame is finally starting to remember what playing for Notre Dame means. No one wins every single game. It is how a team handles a loss that defines them. So save your criticism til the team has a few more games under its belt. You want results now? Go jump on the Alabama bandwagon, and let us true Notre Dame fans keep cheering on the Blue and Gold. I promise we won’t miss you. GO IRISH!

  22. James - Sep 13, 2010 at 12:05 AM

    Oh, I don’t know. I watched this games and last years game. I remember Michigan won with a true freshmen last year. Michgan just outplayed the Irish.
    James (Texas)

  23. NDFan in NY is a Moron - Sep 13, 2010 at 12:12 AM

    You make no salient points. Your logic is laughable. You wish you could switch allegiances but “you just can’t.” Make like Obama: yes you can! Get on the Michigan bus–their fans and alumni have about as much commonsense as you do.

  24. Jack McGee - Sep 13, 2010 at 2:45 AM

    All else aside, if we may, the game was exciting; ND was in it no matter the loss of the starting QB. I have been a fan of the Irish since fourth grade (more than sixty years ago). As a former high school head coach and teacher, may I say it is so assuring to hear a coach who can string an entire explanation in clear and literate sentences. Brian Kelly is a great asset to Notre Dame, and I wish him big success. Make no mistake, we have a team this year.

  25. Charlie - Sep 13, 2010 at 8:06 AM

    Well I agree with Tim who posted several times here. We watched 2009/2008 all over again Saturday.And Sadly made a coaching change just to get the same thing we got, our 4th coach in 16 years. Having grown up watching ND football played at a much higher level that this, I can only say it’s sad for the younger people who are Irish fans. My son’s being two of them who are constantly heartbroken..

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