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The Good, the bad the ugly: Michigan

Sep 13, 2010, 9:00 AM EDT

A little over 24 hours after the Irish lost to Michigan 28-24, Brian Kelly was given more than a few opportunities to try and find a silver lining in the heartbreaking defeat. He never took the bait.

“I’m not a real big believer in that you learn a lot after a loss,” Kelly said. “I’d rather learn after winning.”

So would Irish fans, after watching Notre Dame lose a second consecutive rivalry game against Michigan on a last minute touchdown drive.

Before we turn the page, here’s the good, the bad, the ugly from Saturday’s defeat.

THE GOOD

Armando Allen is turning into a elite running back. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d describe Allen’s running style as punishing, but watching the tape of the game, it’s pretty clear that Allen was a man on fire on Saturday afternoon, gaining 89 yards on 15 carries, and breaking countless tackles as well. Even more impressive is Allen’s role on the offense. As a four-year player, this is very much his offense, and the senior is stepping up.

“I really like his leadership. You could tell it hurt him when we lost the football game,” Kelly said. “He’s made a huge investment and you can see it in the way he plays the game.”

The Irish had five different players break runs of 10-plus yards, with Allen’s 29-yard gain in the third quarter the longest run of the day for Notre Dame. With Cierre Wood stuck in neutral and only gaining 10 yards on six carries, Allen’s blue-collar approach helped keep the offense two-dimensional even when playing from behind.

THE BAD

The quarterback situation behind Crist. Tommy Rees and Nate Montana combined to go 8 for 19 for 104 yards with two interceptions. Even those numbers are misleading, because 37 of the yards came on the near Hail Mary heave from Montana to Theo Riddick, who was left wide open on the penultimate play of the second quarter.

Rees’ first college throw was a terrible decision — a play designed to give the quarterback only one option, and Rees unfortunately took the other one. Montana also seemed lost, complacent to just roll from the pocket, giving himself only half-field reads as he scrambled to his right. While I agreed with the decision to go for the touchdown at the moment, never did I suspect (or Kelly and the coaching staff for that matter) that in a no-risk situation that the quarterback would sail one into the stands instead of trying to squeeze a ball into a tight spot.

With it clear that neither of the two back-up quarterbacks were ready to lead the team to a victory, Kelly shouldered the blame.

“”We’re not going to play Massa and we’re not going to play Hendrix. So I gotta get ready those two kids,” Kelly said. “Flat out, that’s
my job. We’re going to have to do some things a little differently to
make sure they’ve got a package they can handle. That was too much for
them. It doesn’t mean we can’t be successful, but we gotta get a
different package for them and I gotta get that done this week.”

THE UGLY

Notre Dame fans have to be kicking themselves playing the “what if” game. After the opening Irish drive, it looked like Notre Dame could’ve put up a really large number on the scoreboard. Even after stalling out with Rees and Montana at the helm for most of the first half, the Irish gained 535 yards on offense, throwing for 381 yards and averaging 18.1 yards per reception.

But one series into the game, the Irish faced an offensive predicament that was as close to a worse-case scenario as you could imagine.

“It was not what was prescribed,” Kelly admitted. “You’re just trying to find out about
your starting quarterback and now when you lose him against Michigan you
put yourself in a position to go to somebody who has never played a BCS
college football game.”  

I was guilty of playing the moral victory card after the game and finding positives in the effort shown by the Irish, but to Brian Kelly’s credit he will be putting those kind of kudos to rest.

“I’m going to tell our team tomorrow that’s the last time I want to hear
us talk about Notre Dame playing hard for four quarters,” Kelly said. “That is now a
given. Notre Dame needs to execute and win football games.”

It’s been said before that every Saturday in college football is a season in itself. That’s a little bit how it feels after this defeat. If Notre Dame walks out of the stadium with a victory and a 2-0 record, the trajectory of this year feels mightily different than the path they find themselves walking now — heading into a hostile environment on Saturday night against a Michigan State team that’s coasted behind a powerful rushing attack against two inferior teams.

You can say it now: There’s no bigger game than this Saturday for Kelly’s Irish. The psychological difference of being 2-1 and 1-2 is staggering, especially with another daunting task coming the next weekend with an impressive Stanford squad coming to South Bend.   

  1. Luke - Sep 13, 2010 at 1:24 PM

    “…that’s the last time I want to hear us talk about Notre Dame playing hard for four quarters. That is now a given. Notre Dame needs to execute and win football games.”
    I LOVE this man. Sure it sucks to lose to Michigan. And, we’ll probably lose to some other teams this season, but we FINALLY have a coach that gets it. Just remember: it took us more than two games to get into this mess, and it’ll take more than two games to get us out.
    Denard Robinson is a stud. If he stays healthy, he’s going to help Michigan win a bunch of football games. We played our hearts out, and just about won. But, there are weaknesses that were highlighted on Saturday, and that’s what a good coaching staff does: address weaknesses.

  2. jan - Sep 13, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    ..There’s no bigger game than this Saturday for Kelly’s Irish…
    Good. Just as the victory this past Sat was cited as far more critical to the future of Rich R and the direction/psych of the Michigan program, the same will be true for the Irish versus the Spartans. Let’s see if the Irish will rise to the occasion and “want” it more than the MSU.
    I will be watching the rest of the Michigan season to see if an opponent puts a “QB Spy” on Robinson to shut or at least slow down 94% of their offense. I predict that he will be knocked out of at least 2 or 3 games by Big 10 foes (probably OSU, PSU, MSU, and/or Iowa) who employ this strategy. I would have enjoyed seeing Manti play this role for the Irish and seeing “what if” results – especially on the back breaking 4th and 2 run.

  3. BryanW - Sep 13, 2010 at 2:03 PM

    After watching the entire game, I could only remember the name of one Michigan player. I couldn’t believe how that kid could run like that the whole game. He never let up. The Rees interception/ touchdown pass swing cost us dearly, but you can’t take anything away from Robinson. The last time we played against a player that electric, he was having his mail sent to a paid-for house in San Diego…

  4. TLNDMA - Sep 13, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    Keith, we knew with this schedule being front loaded that ND would be hard pressed to get up for every game. They have to though. You are correct this is a huge game saturday vs. MSU. While we fans have to saturday to recover ND must do it today. They will.
    Jan, no one uses a ‘spy’ to stop the read option. The very nature of the offense does not allow the defense to do that. The offense is predicated on creating one on one match ups for the quarterback.

  5. Ray - Sep 13, 2010 at 9:59 PM

    Tackles (solo plus assists) against Michigan by position group: Down linemen, 17; inside linebackers, 24; outside linebackers with Darius Fleming, 10; outside linebackers minus Darius Fleming, 4. Michigan ran 83 plays, 41 of which were rushes. For more, please visit http://www.ndfantofan.com > Analyzing the Michigan game. All are invited.

  6. werND - Sep 13, 2010 at 10:11 PM

    In 2 days I haven’t heard a thing from anyone (except me, during episodes of mumbling during fits of football induced depression) about the mismanagement of the clock at the end of the game.
    To me, it is an absolute given that you call a timeout (assuming you have > 0) when your opponent gets a first down inside your 10 yard line when a score will put them ahead. I can’t see any remotely reasonable argument that would apply in this case that should have kept us from calling timeout and conserving an extra 15 – 20 seconds on the clock.
    As happy I am with the performance of the team, it is very disappointing that something as basic as this was overlooked. Going for six at the end of the first half was to me very reasonable, considering that we were unable to stop their offense and we couldn’t move the ball. At that point we were on the verge of being left at the starting line in a track meet, and we needed lots of points. But the clock issue at the end of the game is indefensible. The sad part is that if they don’t get it by now, after all these years in the coaching business, they never will.
    With another 20 seconds and a first down at the 25 (and another timeout to burn, I believe) we would have had 3 more plays. The way we were moving the ball on them, the odds were way in our favor that we would have ended up on top.

  7. FightinMad35 - Sep 14, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    werND, u are absolutely correct. Aside from those precious seconds at the end of the game, our quarterbacks forgot the most important thing at half and game end… Keep the ball in play and give your team a chance. Montana and Crist both at half and end of game threw ridiculous passes with only those in the 25th row having a chance to catch. I can say I’m pretty certain that BK addressed this with brutal honesty this week in film sessions. I’m very glad to hear BK say to team that playing hard for 4 quarters is expected and not enough. Winning games is the expectation. I argued that relentlessly with other Irish fans right here on this site a few days ago. Go Irish!

  8. CJW - Sep 14, 2010 at 9:51 PM

    I questioned the no clock stop at the end of the game but you know I have seen that played both ways particularly in the NFL.
    Some coaches believe you let your D play and the clock run and this increases the pressure on the other team. It may or may not have mattered.
    Apparently all of our QBs have an aversion to throwing the ball in the endzone. We will get that corrected and I hope it doesn’t haunt Kelly because not going for the chip shot 3 pointer haunts me. Hit that and a 44 yarder at the end of the game wins it. I understand Kelly’s logic in going for the TD, just think if Crist doesn’t return you need those 7 points and it gives a HUGE lift to Nate for the second half.
    This week will tell us everything about our season. Win and I think it is 10+ wins, lose and it is 7 or 8. Either way I am not second guessing anything until after two years.

  9. crownpointe - Sep 14, 2010 at 11:40 PM

    CJW – are you delusional? 10+ wins in kelly’s FIRST year as head coach? remember tressel went 7-5 first year as head coach of osu. won the national championship the next year. kelly will do the same this year (7-5, or 8-4). BCS bowl is the expectation next year.

  10. OURLADY$ - Sep 15, 2010 at 8:05 AM

    Hey Keith, love the new format!

  11. Tom - Sep 15, 2010 at 11:04 AM

    What have we learned so far about the 2010 Irish?
    So far we can’t throw a pass into the end zone. At least 4 tries in 2 games so far that the ball is in the band or up in the stands.
    The Coach never gave it a thought of kicking the FG with time running our in the half. I guess we will just keep throwing it in the stands. If the past is any indication of the future this sure looks like it will not work out well.
    We only have one QB for the season. The other two sure had “the deer in the headlights” look when they had to go in.

  12. irish in the hammer - Sep 15, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    Tom,
    I feel pretty confident that BK gave it a thought, more than a thought I’m sure. He ain’t stupid at this coaching game, as his record indicates. He’s stated that at the time the return of Crist in the 2nd half was a complete ??? Why not try for every point possible, especially seeing how the 2 QB’s had played previously.
    I for one, (and I don’t think I’m the only one) DON’T see the past as indication of the future of this team. Already the signs point to improvement, OL play, AA’s runs, Crist led offense, Kyle Rudolph’s consistency and receptions etc. (though I’d like to see more production of out Floyd!)
    This isn’t gonna be a BCS team this year (unless some major upsets happen!) but start thinking about January in the Big Easy in 2012!
    Go Irish!

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