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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. johnj - Oct 17, 2010 at 10:57 AM

    Time to give credit to NBC for Mike Mayock’s work. His fair analysis, use of the telewriter, and constructive criticism makes for excellent coverage. Sidebar: He’s raised Tom Hammond’s commentary significantly.

  2. Danno27 - Oct 17, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    KA, thanks for the recap. I was with my in-laws in Blacksburg watching Virginia Tech pound the Demon Deacons (who were not good, but we’ll need to watch out for Josh Harris next year, who’s a redshirt freshman and just ran all over the Hokies for 200+ yards), and it’s great to get these recaps and thought pieces when I don’t get to watch the actual game.
    Loved what Cubit had to say about M. Floyd – what a beast.
    Thanks Keith – Go IRISH!

  3. NDirish10 - Oct 17, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    I guarantee this so called “NDfan” douchebag is An Ohio State fan.

  4. matt - Oct 17, 2010 at 11:49 AM

    all these schedule comments are a joke. nd’s schedule to date has to be one of the most difficult in the nation and their 4 wins will prove out to be quality wins…at least 3 of the 4 will go to a bowl. as far as being rated later in the year if we keep winning…the rankings are a joke too…look at the previously 5-0 huskers, wins over an FCS team, 3 lower level d-1 progams and washington…that equaled a top 5 ranking…alot of wins and a 2-3 wins over top programs is all that the voters look for

  5. Jim Kress - Oct 17, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    Actually, the home and home with USC USED to be in late November as the last game of the year. However, when John McKay became USC coach, he refused to schedule the at Notre Dame games in November. He insisted, instead, that the at Notre Dame game be scheduled earlier so his players would not have to deal with the cold weather and snow.

  6. k dubs - Oct 17, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    What I find interesting is how murderous the ND schedule is going to be in 2012-2013 when the likes of Western Michigan and Tulsa are replaced by Miami and Oklahoma. I can’t imagine the haters out there will have anything to criticize about the schedule then. Does anyone know when the series will Texas is scheduled to begin?

  7. adam - Oct 17, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    I think Floyd should stay for his senior year, but thats just me being selfish!!!

  8. irishfootballfan - Oct 17, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    notre dame was actually 25th and dropped to 36th in the sos poll after the win against WMU according to the website that I looked at (it was not a notre dame website, but a college rankings website)

  9. irishfootballfan - Oct 17, 2010 at 12:39 PM

  10. mhorn - Oct 17, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    Really? I seriously doubt you’d know how put on a jock. Keeping Ty Willingham? LOL – just ask UW how that panned out. And who the hell is Wyche? Sam Wyche the old Cincy Bengals coach? LOL

  11. jpoke - Oct 17, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    Can’t we all just get along? Let’s face it. College Football is better when Notre Dame is winning! Why? Cause all the haters come out. And why is that? You either love us or hate us. We could go 0-12 and non-Notre Dame fans will post. Don’t you all get it….Notre Dame IS College Football!!!!

  12. Fitz - Oct 17, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    ND just signed on to play a series with Texas in the near future. The two programs with the most wins ever. Let’s see Ohio State do that. Who’d they sign on with to play to try and impress everyone? USC, who we’ve always played every year anyway. Who do we open up the season against next year? South Florida, certainly no FCS cupcake. I wouldn’t even mind if we played one MAC team a year. Our strength of schedule is tough enough to merit it. Besides occasional games like this are a great chance for the coaching staff to experiment and tweak game plans and it’s great for the developmental players too. Now let’s go SINK NAVY!

  13. Walsh64 - Oct 17, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    The first year the USC game was in South Bend after moving it to mid season, the SC team arrived at the airport greated by a foot of snow.

  14. Tom Tuttle - Oct 17, 2010 at 2:33 PM

    John: Glad to hear comments from the dark side. You sound like my father-in-law who is a big time Notre Dame hater. He rues the day I married his daughter. I turned our kids in fanatic Notre Dame fans. I added six (6) more fans to the fan base, 7 actually if you include my wife. I just enjoy so much watching the boys on TV. I never complain. I never give up on them and I don’t bad mouth them. One day, before I die, I will watch a game in person in the House that Rockne built.
    Meanwhile, John, keep the negativity coming. It’s the “infidels” like you that are as much as a factor in keeping Notre Dame relevant.
    This is great. And Mr. Arnold, I appreciate your writing…Thank you.

  15. Dennis - Oct 17, 2010 at 3:19 PM

    Best thing ND did in the second half was focus on the run first. Against an inferior opponent we should have run all over them. Kelly preached he wanted to run the ball more this year and so far really hasn’t shown that. Hopefully we see a lot of Wood and Allen vs. Navy and Tulsa. Lets get our O-Line tougher before we face Utah and USC.

  16. TLNDMA - Oct 17, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    Are you from Tacoma?

  17. FightinMad35 - Oct 17, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    Games like yesterday’s game are necessary. Especially in player development. We got some young guys meaningful playing time, confidence and a win all in one. Something that never happened under Charlie Weis. I think a game like yesterday may be all a player with big talent like Cierre and Tyler need to take it to the next level consistently. Dayne continues to be a rollercoaster but he is throwing plenty touchdowns and not many interceptions. Our defense has had trouble all year with mobile quarterbacks. Our defense also produces very little pass rush. I’m kinda disappointed that WM’s offensive line handled ND’s defensive line like they did. The defense is very stout against the run which is very necessary against Navy next week. WE will see just how much a coaching change means next week because Navy gave CW and his staff fits. Lets see how prepared we are for the triple option. Go Irish

  18. tjak - Oct 17, 2010 at 6:10 PM

    I know what you mean. I am so envious of the 0-12 record that Ty had in his last year at Washington. The Huskies miss him a lot too. Polego, you are a shmuck and I fart in your general direction!! Go Irish!

  19. ND IS 1 - Oct 17, 2010 at 7:13 PM

    I don’t understand the schedule talk. Who truly plays a tough 12 game schedule. No-one I don’t care who you are, everyone plays 2 or 3 cupcakes!!! Don’t worry Irish fans stay the course for the next 3 years and lets see what happens-I’ve have a good feeling about Coach Kelly!!!

  20. d0802 - Oct 17, 2010 at 7:19 PM

    kind of funny, I don’t want to get into the scheduling spiel, but what people forget is that no matter who they play it is THE game of the whole year, and the Irish have to deal with that all the time
    I like Mike Mayock, Tom Hammond seems to be losing the edge a little bit…there were a couple of times I was kind of like “what the hell are you talking about?” and then he corrected himself.
    Kind of ironic that Pat Haden was a fixture on there for a long time, and Chris Collinsworth was also on there for awhile

  21. Tom Tuttle - Oct 17, 2010 at 7:39 PM

    You’re sharp. Lived there for years. I am a UW gradute but I grew up Catholic and a Notre Dame fan.

  22. CAJ - Oct 17, 2010 at 9:06 PM

    Polego Jim:
    Yours is a humor post, right?
    Ty Willingham had one of the worst records of any Notre Dame coach, the worst recruiting in Notre Dame history, and genuinely lacked coaching skill.
    Moreover, he didn’t even try hard. He was such a lazy recruiter that he left numerous open scholarships unfilled, as in – he didn’t bother to get *anyone*. He let the team go without bringing in offensive linemen, while leaving these scholarships unused. It was simply shocking. His laziness decimated the roster like NCAA sanctions do for other schools.
    Willingham drove Notre Dame to the brink of oblivion, then did the same to the University of Washington. His UW teams got worse every year, and he ended his time there with a 0-12 2008 season. Do you realize how bad a coach one must be to have a major BCS conference team go winless?
    And the next coach’s name was Weis, not Wyche. Don’t comment unless you have at least some idea what you’re talking about.

  23. Art Vandelay - Oct 18, 2010 at 12:16 AM

    tjak gets my vote for post of the week. Hilarious and great use of the Monty Python reference. On another note, what’s with all these haters on here? Somebody referred to them as this year’s StevenofTroy. Not even close, these guys are rank amateurs and Steven at least had some intellect and wit behind his jabs. He was a worthy adversary and these knuckleheads (Polego Jim, John, stevejenkins, NDFan, etc) are mere punks. I would rather read a robertg post than any of these arseholes.

  24. ND422 - Oct 18, 2010 at 1:44 AM

    ND haters love to talk about ND’s schedule when they play a soft team especially when they win. What else is there to criticize when they win? I guess you can criticize past failures put that is the past. So the only thing to resort to is a soft opponent. That is pathetic. Another pathetic thing is get on here, read the articles and the comments when you’re not an ND fan, and then create an account and write ridiculous comments. You must be a real loser if you have to resort to that. ND haters will also never acknowledge a positive thing with ND no matter what the situation may be. Never. The hate is too deep.
    I as an ND fan, would rather see them not play teams like WM or Tulsa, but it happens. But in their defense, these couple of softees are nothing compared to many or most of elite football programs. Although when ND does play a WM or Tulsa (which I’m glad will be replaced in coming years), I want to see them dominate the game for 4 quarters. They need to show consistency. I’m sure Kelly ripped into them eventhough they won. I don’t think sloppy play (especially in the first half) sits well with him. Also, The north dakota fan calling himself the NDfan is a dork and devotes his time to hating. He probably sits at home and pounds himself on a constant basis.
    Go Irish!

  25. DblDmr - Oct 18, 2010 at 9:43 AM

    That would be Weis, not Wyche. The depth of your football expertise is boundless. As to Willingham…really? Would it be the same sort of winning program he left at Washington?

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