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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. john - Oct 16, 2010 at 9:27 PM

    You beat Western Michigan, Boston College, Pitt and Purdue. Wow, congrats.

  2. stevejenkins - Oct 16, 2010 at 9:29 PM

    I forgot he was an all-american receiver, because he only shows up against lower quality opponents. I guess beating high-powered Western Michigan changes all that.

  3. NDfan - Oct 16, 2010 at 9:35 PM

    I can’t wait until they beat up on Navy on the “road” and powerhouse Tulsa and get ranked in the top 25 after beating nobody.

  4. Beej - Oct 16, 2010 at 9:40 PM

    If you’re going to post three times as three different names, shouldn’t you space them out a little to make it more difficult to recognize?

  5. Jennifer - Oct 16, 2010 at 9:41 PM

    Reply to: john, stevejenkins and NDfan:
    wah, wah, wah…

  6. Dayton - Oct 16, 2010 at 10:06 PM

    Wow…I didn’t know it was douchebag night on the Notre Dame blogs. By the way “John” (or whatever your real name is), Steve Jenkins (no explanation necessary), and “NDfan” (apparently the “ND” stands for North Dakota), which teams do you support? I’m just curious. Also, for these teams, what is their schedule? Who have they played? Any FCS teams? Just as a reminder, Notre Dame is one of one of only three teams to have never played an FCS team. If your team is one of the other two (USC, UCLA…I think), then great. More power to you. If not, shut the hell up.

  7. PolegoJim - Oct 16, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    Western Michigan? There’s one to hang your hat on! I could look like an All American receiver against them.
    What happened to the once proud and powerful Notre Dame? We look forward to your return.
    Maybe Lou Holtz will come out of retirement. You should’ve never run Tye Willingham out of town.
    You’d have a winner today, instead of sadly wasted years on Wyche.

  8. Dayton - Oct 16, 2010 at 10:26 PM

    Again…more douchebags. By the way, what are you doing on a Notre Dame blog? No…I’m serious. What’s your explanation? Your answer should be a real testament to your character.

  9. irishfootballfan - Oct 16, 2010 at 10:40 PM

    just checked the power rankings after the game, notre dame is ranked 36 in strength of schedule. That puts them ahead of teams like Ohio State, Texas, LSU, Auburn to name a few. At least they don’t schedule FCS teams like every other school in the nation.

  10. NDfan4life - Oct 16, 2010 at 11:20 PM

    Perhaps you’d like them to challenge a Big 12 powerhouse like Iowa State who got blanked 52-0. Maybe you think Minnesota of the Big Ten would be a better opponent. After all, they have won 1 game over Middle Tennessee St. Hey, those are two schools from BCS conferences. So, that should mean that they are better competition, right? Or maybe an SEC or PAC-10 school could come into South Bend for the regular season finale in late November. Oh yeah…that’s right. They don’t like playing cold weather. Seriously, every time ND plays USC in Los Angeles, it’s the last game of the year. Whenever USC comes to South Bend, it’s in October. Do you actually think that USC has the guts to play a northern-state team when the elements might actually be a challenge? Never. They’re too soft. I would love to see an SEC team come up north and play a big-time BCS school at the end of the year. That would never happen. Take Wisconsin for example. They just upset Ohio State. If they hosted a team like Alabama on Nov. 27th instead of Northwestern, it wouldn’t even be close. The Badgers would kill them. Alabama wouldn’t know how to get their muscles loose under cold conditions. Why do you think all the BCS bowls are played in warm climates? Anyway, my point is Notre Dame will go anywhere at any time. They aren’t afraid to take on anyone in any climate.

  11. tjak - Oct 17, 2010 at 12:12 AM

    Yes, John winning games we are supposed to win is what we are going to start to do. It was great to beat Pitt and BC after they have owned us for the past while. Who do you cheer for and how have they faired?

  12. tjak - Oct 17, 2010 at 12:14 AM

    NDfan, change your name because you are no ND fan. Do us all a favour and go away. We are finally starting to beat teams that we should and the rest will take care of itself.

  13. Gregizzo - Oct 17, 2010 at 1:12 AM

    Better comments this week Keith I really wish ND would have run the ball before the second half. Against a weaker opponent like W. Michigan would have Crist’s job easier plus we have a solid group of tailbacks why not use them. Hard to complain a win is a win and the Irish can’t afford defeats to weaker opponents face it that killed Weis more than anything else.

  14. jan - Oct 17, 2010 at 1:14 AM

    Ignore the naysayers…they can stew in their own negativity. Likely Stephen of Troy and Koyo from last year appearing under a new label.
    On a brighter note, a few things that I noticed or learned after watching a replay of the game:
    1. Eifert blocks as well as catches. If I read the numbers correctly, on the Wood TD around the edge, Martin sealed the DE while Eifert absolutely blocked/sealed the OLB to open the lane to the end zone. A thing of beauty.
    2. Zach keeps getting better. On the Eifert TD catch, Martin blocked the DE into the blitzing OLB as Crist rolled out to his side. He took out TWO key defenders and gave our QB the time to complete the TD pass. He never got announcer credit – in my book, that TD belonged to Zach.
    3. The killer instinct is coming to the surface. With 6 minutes left in the 3rd QTR, the game was a done deal. If the 1st half was admitedly sloppy, the Irish came out for the kill starting with the 2nd half kickoff.
    4. Our coaches know coaching. It was predictable that the Irish might come out flat or lose focus after the first 6 tough games. The coaches knew how to get them back on track, esp at halftime. Lots of learning takeaways from this “cupcake” game.
    Enough for now.

  15. ndnaz - Oct 17, 2010 at 2:04 AM

    Can we defend anyone? A MAC QB lit us up for almost 300 yards, and we gave up 20 points. It’s discouraging to have such an obvious advantage in talent, yet give up so many plays and points against us anyway. I am beginning to think the scheme is part of the problem.
    Crist seems to be going backwards.
    Can’t have much of a running game without an offensive line that can run block. We wore out an inferior opponent today, that’s not progress.
    Can you say 7-5? Does that constitute improvement?

  16. Bernie P. ND'74 - Oct 17, 2010 at 3:08 AM

    LSU played big, bad McNeese State today. Why don’t you give them a hard time? Ohio State has played Marshall (1-5) and Eastern Michigan (0-6). Where is your criticism of them? The defending national champion (Alabama) has played mighty San Jose State and Duke. Florida plays Appalachian State (I hope you’re a Michigan fan).
    You’re just a horse’s ass.

  17. lawwolf - Oct 17, 2010 at 5:14 AM

    I thought it was a fun game to watch. On a different note, for all of you people that complain about the announcers, I watched this game from Scotland on the EuroSports 2 channel (they seem to play all of the Irish home games using the NBC video and their own announcers) and they make the NBC guys look like ND homers and the best announce crew ever. The guys over here are absolutely terrible and so anti-ND it was horrible. Any time the refs made a call against the WM it was home cooking. Just terrible. I’ll miss next week due to traveling, but I’ll be happy to see the following week back on good ol’ NBC.

  18. writerdrewND - Oct 17, 2010 at 6:28 AM

    This week we continue to take it a step at a time. I think it’s important to remember that, if not for mistakes in the final seconds of the Michigan and MSU games, we could easily be 6-1, and it would be an entirely different conversation. I think we are on target to be a real BCS contender in the next couple of years. And as for the comment about Lou Holtz, let’s not forget that even the master himself had a couple disastrous seasons to start. Let’s take our wins when we can get them, keep our heads up, and play like champions!! GO IRISH!!

  19. plm77 - Oct 17, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    As for Western Michigan being on the schedule. This game was originally supposed to be TCU (top5), arranged when Kevin White was ND AD; TCU pulled out and Swarbrick had to fill the void.

  20. terry Wood - Oct 17, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    irishfootballfan should name his source. There are many SOS rankings out there. After playing WM they will drop and OSU just played Wisc which will raise them. Give all the facts not just opinions.

  21. larry - Oct 17, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    Ignore “douchebag “, he gets off on the recognition. He is irrelevant.

  22. SpankMonkey - Oct 17, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    I can’t get excited about beating WNU
    Really can’t
    It should have been a blow out
    Sure a win i a win
    Hard to argue that
    Sure wish we could beat a better team
    Usually happy now
    Can i get a whoop whoop
    Keep up the good work

  23. daddy - Oct 17, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    Why cant anyone give Western Mich. a little credit.Nice game boys!

  24. frank b. - Oct 17, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    to ndnaz;
    I guess you and I were the only two that saw this. wm plays four freshman on defense, dbs are the size of jv high school players. With two of them being disciplined for fighting “each other” on the field, last week.
    I think we should relax and enjoy the rest of this season and watch and see how much nd improves, especially on defense.

  25. Richard Irish - Oct 17, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    Another win for ND and I am happy. Frankly, I don’t care who they play as long as they play hard and garner wins. This could have been a disastrous season following some tough early losses to Michigan and Michigan State, but the team hung in there and has been showing up for work on Saturdays.
    Brian Kelly is proving to be the right coach for the Irish.
    A decent bowl game is in sight and the team can get there.

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