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Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Western Michigan

Oct 16, 2010, 6:48 PM EDT

Floyd WMU

Notre Dame got off to the perfect start on Saturday afternoon, with Dayne Crist hitting a wide open Michael Floyd for an 80-yard touchdown pass on the games first play from scrimmage. The rest of the first half? Not so great.

“I was not happy obviously about the first half and we hadn’t played that way this year,” head coach Brian Kelly said after the game. “At halftime, we had a little chat about that, and I think that chat went pretty good.”

In what was likely a closed-door outburst that would put his sideline antics to shame, Kelly whipped the Irish into shape, and Notre Dame cruised to an easy 44-20 victory against visiting Western Michigan, led by three Floyd touchdown catches.

The victory pushes the Irish to 4-3, their three game winning streak erasing an earlier three-game losing streak and pushing the Irish season back onto track.

“Absolutely progress,” Kelly said about the win. “This team was 1-3. I think when we talked about that at the time, you can go in
one of two directions at 1-3. You
can fall off the cliff and have a disastrous season or you can work towards 9-3. I think this is another step. Our players are learning, learning how
to play football games, regardless of who the competition is.”

Here’s what we learned this Saturday:

1. If you forgot, Michael Floyd is still an All-American wide receiver.

A game time decision with a balky hamstring, Floyd stepped up and was the best player on the football field this Saturday afternoon, running around, over, and through Western Michigan defenders as he caught nine balls for 157 yards and three touchdowns.

On the game’s opening play, Floyd broke wide open on a deep post, slowed to catch an under-thrown ball by quarterback Dayne Crist, hopped over a defensive back and sprinted for the end zone. His second catch was also a great individual effort, picking up a low pass from wide receiver John Goodman and powering his way into the end zone. His third touchdown was a replica of the failed 3rd down play in overtime against Michigan State, with Crist choosing correctly this time by throwing to a wide open Floyd instead of a covered tight end running a quick out.

When asked about the opposing team’s star receiver, Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit didn’t mince words.

“I remember (Texas All-American) Roy Williams, and I didn’t think I’d see another guy like him, but I just saw him,” Cubit said. “He’s a great player. He’s as physical and as good a receiver as I’ve ever seen. He plays the game the way its supposed to be played.

“There’s no show-boating and he’s appreciative of the game. I’m not going to tell you he was fun to watch, but maybe tomorrow it will be.”

After the game, Kelly explained that the coaching staff knew they needed to incorporate Floyd into the game plan even more, breaking down the way the ball’s been distributed thus far.

“We did a breakdown and we threw the ball to Michael Floyd 74 times, Theo Riddick 55 times, and Kyle Rudolph 55 times. We have pretty good balance there. Michael, as we broke down who was getting the football, needed to get the football even more than that. So there was a focus in our game plan to make sure that we were creating opportunites for him, in what happened to be some one-on-one opportunities, he’s going to win most of those times.”

2. The kids are alright.

For the first time, the Irish were able to play a bunch of developmental players, and that experience gave us a chance to see first-hand the work the coaching staff has done with their young team.

Freshmen Austin Collinsworth, Daniel Smith, Bennett Jackson, Prince Shembo, Lo Wood, and Tommy Rees all played this afternoon, and Kelly liked what he saw of the young guys, particularly on special teams.

“Daniel Smith helped us out. Obviously today we wanted more athleticism on our kick teams,” Kelly said. “But I would say that the young guys continue to show. Collinsworth, outstanding in all phases of our kick games. Daniel Smith gives us speed and athleticism in there, and obviously Bennett Jackson.”

Smith’s ascent to the the kickoff team is an interesting one, as he doesn’t show up on any of the two-deep positions at wide receiver. But as large and as physical as Smith is, the fact that he’s becoming a special teams ace speaks very highly for his future as a wide receiver.

3. Brian Kelly really doesn’t care about time of possession, but is glad others do.

In a funny light moment, Kelly called out the media for not mentioning that the Irish finally won the time of possession battle this afternoon.

I’m really surprised and disappointed I didn’t get
this comment made, but for the first time in two and a half years, we won time
of possession,” Kelly joked.For all of you guys
that live and die on time of possession, please note that we won today’s time
of possession.

The Irish did that by riding the back of Robert Hughes late in the second half, and running the ball consistently after a mediocre start to the afternoon. The Irish possessed the ball for 11:39 seconds of the fourth quarter, wearing down an undersized Broncos defense that had no answer for Cierre Wood and Robert Hughes.

When pressed on time of possession, Kelly deferred to a stat that really matters:

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}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; text-align: justify; font-size: 10pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1Scoring points is the No. 1 thing,” Kelly said.Any time we have an opportunity where
we believe we have got a play that matches what we think we see, we are going
to call those plays to score points. 
When we needed to control the clock in the second half, we did, and
obviously took about five minutes off the clock late in the game when it was
pretty much in our hands.  Again,
we are going to score points first and time of possession comes later down the

4. Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone did a capable job of filling Kyle Rudolph’s shoes.

While Eifert laid a ball on the ground early in the game, he had four catches for 72 yards, including his first touchdown in an Irish uniform, on a clutch 4th down conversion. He’s a capable receiver, surprisingly nimble, and will look very good running in space in Kelly’s offense. Even more encouraging for Irish fans, Eifert didn’t blink when he made his first mistake of the day.

I wasn’t worried about that as much as, you know,
he clearly was engaged in the game. 
This was not a far and away look in his eye, where, oh, my goodness, the
guy is in the play now and we’ve lost him,” Kelly said.
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I’m usually going to be pretty good in those
situations, I don’t want the ball on the ground, but you can tell looking at a
kid that he’s locked in and knows what he’s doing. I got a good feel from him today.

While Crist’s lone interception came on a pad throw that hit Mike Ragone in the shoulder pads, Ragone did a nice job as the second tight end, making a nice play on Nate Montana’s lone completion, and doing a good job blocking.

Overall, Irish tight ends had five catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, plenty good production for the position. 

5. The battle for first down is crucial for the Irish offense.

As we discussed earlier in the week, Notre Dame’s ability to be productive on first down is the surest sign of whether or not an offensive drive is going to go anywhere. After the game’s opening touchdown pass, the Irish struggled on early downs, and predictably, drives stalled out.

“I wasn’t pleased with out management on
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first and second down,” Kelly said.I thought we made some poor decisions at the quarterback
position. Dayne didn’t play very
well in the first half.  You guys
watched the same game I did, he played much better in the second half, saw some
things and made some plays.

In the first half, the Irish scored two big touchdowns on first down, the 80-yard pass to Floyd and Goodman’s 32-yard completion to Floyd on the reverse. The rest of their production on first down? Non-existent.

Even including Dayne Crist’s nine-yard touchdown run on first down, the Irish total six net yards on 10 first downs in the first half, an absolutely abysmal rate. If the Irish are going to win as the schedule gets tougher, they’ll need to do a better job on first down.

  1. NDisGR8 - Oct 18, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    Where the heck is robertg anyway? Haven’t heard from him in awhile – always enjoyed his consipiracy angles.
    Seriously I thought WMU had some pretty decent athletes in some key positions. Clearly, no running game. Alex Carder isn’t bad for a sophomore.
    Man can Teo hit. Wish he would wrap up more but he hits to go through people. Defense definitely stepped it up. Will be tested next week.
    Agreed ND422. We’ll have to just deal the the haters. They’ve been around for years.
    I know its premature, but it would be great to head to LA at 8-3 and hitting on all cylinders.

  2. Tom Britz - Oct 18, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    My wife asked me if I thought Ohio St should be ranked number 1, I told her that if Notre Dame played Ohio St schedule through 6 games Notre Dame would be ranked number 1.
    Very sloopy first half against WM.

  3. Ruben - Oct 18, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    Your absolutely right!!!

  4. SonOfNDfan - Oct 18, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    Never posted here before. My late father was a huge ND fan and have been to a couple games in SB. My first was when ND faced USC- both were highly ranked and ND had a 24-3 halftime lead. Then Anthony Thompson returned the 2nd half kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown and the route was on. The oldtimers here will definitely remember this on.
    Anyway, I know its been tough for fans since Holtz left. More diappointments than any school with ND’s rep and tradition deserve. This coach is a keeper. Even at 4-3 this team has shown grit. Could be 6-1, but not. Still, ND football is getting fun to watch again now, and believe better years are to come. Go ND!

  5. Bob - Oct 18, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    Agree that Mike Mayock is doing a very good job. This former Boston College and NFL DB knows his football, is well prepared for every game, and is articulate. I always admired Pat Haden, but I think Mayock is a better analyst.

  6. Gunny - Oct 18, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    Yeah, Jack Wagon like he did at Washington……what a goober!

  7. Irish Fan - Oct 18, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    Nice win for us.
    Three in a row and gaining confidence.
    Offense looked so much better this game.
    Kids are starting to buy into Kelly’s system.
    Also, the Church’s moves to punish pedophile priests pleases God and reflects in our W/L record.
    Go Irish.

  8. NDIRISHGUY - Oct 18, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    It’s not the same quality of Navy team we’ve seen under Weis…Their coach left for Georgia Tech.

  9. Doug - Oct 18, 2010 at 2:23 PM

    That was Anthony Davis, not Anthony Thompson.

  10. BMAX777 - Oct 18, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    LOVE IT!!! I have brought up 3 brand new ND fans myself. My oldest is a very good Quarterback (Already at age 9 1/2), and swears that he is going to start for the Irish in 2019. He promised that he won’t show up in a limo proclaiming 4 championships are on the way…but in his head he thinks so.

  11. TBoneND - Oct 18, 2010 at 10:57 PM

    Mock ND’s schedule if you will, but of the current top 25, only 5 have a more difficult schedule thus far this season (ND=20.

  12. john keaney - Oct 19, 2010 at 12:49 AM

    The best player on the team is Robert Hughes. He’s not played much. He should be a starter

  13. kidmarc - Oct 20, 2010 at 3:20 AM

    The problem with “the first thing learned…” [Michael Floyd is still an All-American wide receiver.] is stating it now versus earlier, after playing Western Michigan. It doesn’t shine a good light on your point, KA. This is why the second post mocked it. It would have been better to reference the need to involve Floyd more in earlier posts, then the current comment.
    That’s 2 in a row [Last week’s non-referendum referendum on Weis being the first. Including only Weis made it so–including ALL previous coaches of the trend makes it not.]
    Responding to a comment FightinMad35 made, Charlie Weis did so against Washington State. Weis even yelled at the team for bad performance. [After which Crist drilled Goodman in stride for a TD.]

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