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IBG: Turning the page to Michigan

Sep 8, 2011, 10:16 PM EDT

Denard Robinson Manti Te'o

As an 18-year-old freshman, I had no idea just what my first big-time college football game would be like. Sure, I had sat in a half-empty Metrodome once or twice, watching the hometown Gophers take one on the chin to a team like Houston or Purdue, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the absolute pandemonium that took over that Saturday morning in early September, when the 4th floor of Stanford Hall erupted at 7 a.m. and the day ended celebrating in the Stonehenge fountain across from LaFortune.

That the Irish’s victory over the defending national champion Michigan Wolverines was my first game was almost unfair for a kid that’d never stepped foot in Notre Dame Stadium before. It would never get better than that first day.

There are things I’ve learned in the years since that first time. Most of it having to do with just how contentious the ND-UM rivalry is. Irish fans and Wolverines fans don’t seem to like each other much, and sure take delight in the other program’s misfortunes. As a kid that swapped freely between a Michigan hat and a Notre Dame lid, that kind of polygamy would be shocking to see now.

Neither program is where they want to be, but Saturday night’s game still takes center stage in the college football world. And after seeing the Irish lay an incredibly smelly egg last week, and the Wolverines look anything but dominant against cupcake Western Michigan, there’s a lot to be discovered in prime-time Saturday night. (Discover it together, with the return of an old-fashioned live-blog!)

As we’ll try to do every week, we’re joining the Irish Blogger Gathering and (almost) answering all the questions posed to us. This time, they come from the feisty fellows over at Her Loyal Sons, who do their best to not let their disdain for the Wolverines get too in the way of their questions.

HLS asked, I did my best to answer:

Well that really sucked. Please describe how you feel about the loss using lyrics from a pop diva’s song. Bonus points for video or pictures. (Something good has to come out of last week.)

There’s a lot of things I’m competent at, but quoting current pop diva lyrics isn’t one of them. That said, you’ve got to think that Britney Spears’ “Oops!… I did it again,” fits pretty perfectly for Irish fans.

Tough not to like Brit in that red spacesuit…

While we all want to move on, last week’s game can teach us many things about the ’11 Irish. After seeing what Week One brought us, do you find yourself more confident, less confident or still confused as hell about Notre Dame’s chances against Michigan?

I think you definitely have to feel less confident about what we thought the Irish would be, but I don’t think anybody should jump to conclusions until very late Saturday night, when we see how the Irish come out of Ann Arbor. If Notre Dame walks away with a win, then we can take a look at a two-game sample size and still hope to learn more against Michigan State.

As for this weekend, this match-up usually strikes fear into the heart of Irish fans, and for good reason. On paper, Notre Dame should’ve won the last two games, and still found themselves losing in absolutely painstaking ways both years. Having watched the mini-game the Wolverines played against Western Michigan, regardless of how vanilla they played, there wasn’t anything that impressive about the performance, and it’s clear the defense is still very much a work in progress.

Let’s say Notre Dame only turned the ball over three times last week, and won the football game by ten points. I’d expect the line to be about a touchdown. The fact that it’s 3.5 points, even though the Irish lost last week and Michigan is playing in front of the best homefield advantage they can historically create, that goes to tell you what wiseguys think about these teams.

That said, I have absolutely no clue what’s going to happen. Nothing would surprise me.

Other than quarterback, which position group pleasantly surprised you this past week? Which disappointed? What player absolutely must see more time in Week 2?

You’ve got to be happy with what you saw out of the nose tackle position, with Louis Nix being as good as advertised and Sean Cwynar chipping in four tackles. I’d also add the offensive line, which looked pretty impressive, save a few tough plays for Taylor Dever and Braxston Cave. Disappointing? I guess you’ve got to target the secondary. Both Gary Gray and Harrison Smith had multiple major penalties, and they weren’t able to get an interception from B.J. Daniels, a guy who gave turnovers away last year like lollipops. I want to add Special Teams into the big disappointment column as well. Ruffer misses a chip shot, Turk once again flubs punts after hitting beauties in warmups and some shoddy punt coverage… a really terrible day for Mike Elston’s troops.

As for someone that better see more playing time, I’d love to see what Cierre Wood can do when he’s not taken out of the gameplan after halftime.

Tommy Rees will lead the Irish offense this week. Do you agree with Brian Kelly’s call? Either way, what part of Crist’s game will the Irish O miss the most, if any?

After saying all offseason that Crist was going to win the starting job, it feels a little weird to go back and support Tommy Rees after one mediocre half by Dayne. That said, I’m 100 percent in favor of the switch, even if it’s giving Crist a pretty raw deal. Maybe we thought BK was paying Rees lip-service when he said that the QB race was as close as it was, but Dayne’s microprocessor just doesn’t move as quickly as Tommy’s — and in this offense, that’s what matters. If you weren’t sure of it before last Saturday, you should be now.

That Kelly was able to pull the plug on the Crist era quickly shouldn’t be that surprising. Whether it be injury or preference, Brian Kelly has used a lot of quarterbacks in his day. Will the Irish miss anything Dayne can do? Probably, as his physical skillset is pretty impressive. But Crist has always been a square peg from a round hole in this offense, and the senior leader’s development has been stunted by an unfavorable depth chart and some difficult injuries, all to go along with some accuracy issues, a fatal flaw in a Brian Kelly offense.

What’s the key to beating the Wolverines this week. Just one thing. Not two. One.

Easiest question I’ve heard all year: Containing Denard Robinson.

Make your over-under picks:

O/U on Michael Floyd’s receiving total for this coming weekend: 154 — Over. Rees is going to have the ball going to Floyd early and often.

O/U on Robinson’s rushing total: 100 — Over. But barely.

O/U on ND’s number of turnovers: 2 — Under. I see ball security being something far more important this week, and while Michigan did a nice job of getting a few turnovers last week, I think Rees is going to do a good job against Greg Mattison’s blitzing defense.

O/U on number of times Kelly is caught “purple monstering” (read: yelling) on camera: 2 — Believe it or not, I think BK knows he probably went a little overboard with his hysterics last weekend, and I think it was a confluence of events that led to the geyser he blew on Jones. If you’re looking for a reason for Kelly to remain cool, it’s that he’s on the road. He’ll need to keep everybody under control, and a calm demeanor might be what the doctor ordered. So under.

Michigan: Just another Opponent, Enemy, or Rival? Explain.

I think it’s more enemy than rival. Brady Hoke has two clocks ticking in his lockerroom. One for the big game against Ohio State, the other for the in-state battle against the Spartans. The Irish and the Wolverines are more Hatfields and McCoys than traditional rivals.

It’s one of those bizarre hatreds between two schools that are probably far more similar to each other than they’d like to acknowledge, but still have just enough apart that they’ll never come close to conceding anything.

In other words, just one more reason why college football is great.

  1. jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 8, 2011 at 11:58 PM

    I’ll take the under on MMF because I think they will be keying on him. DRob still scares me and I would take the over there because I think they’ll throw a little more option our way since it worked so well last year. On paper, we should kill the skunkbears this year but it doesn’t always work that way…..cases in point 2009 and 2010. I would like to think that the under is the safe bet on turnovers because you have to think ball security has been job one this week. We are due for a big win here. I met a friend yesterday who is also a big ND fan and he said, “I was surprised to see the season over so quickly this year.” I’m still keeping the faith and can’t wait to see Michigan buried on Saturday night. However, a loss might have me echoing my friend’s line, as far as any BCS hopes are concerned. This is a do or die scenario as we still have MSU, USC and Stanford ahead. God this is gonna be good, can’t wait. GO IRISH!!!
    P.S. No turnovers or stupid penalties boys!

    • cameronemclaughlin - Sep 9, 2011 at 10:19 AM

      I agree with the under of Floyd. Rees to Floyd looked too easy (and Floyd is a monster after the catch). The Wolverines might want to see how Rees responds if his favorite target is less accessible. But Eifert looks great, TJ pulled it together after taking one to the dome, and Wood has capable hands out of the backfield. If Theo (or Toma) can provide another consistent option, Tommy can spread the ball all over the place. And with a solid running game, we won’t need a superhuman day from Floyd to move the ball efficiently.

      • oldestguard - Sep 9, 2011 at 10:59 AM

        Stage is set perfectly for Theo to show us what he’s got.

  2. jimbasil - Sep 9, 2011 at 6:58 AM

    I’ll take the over in turnovers. Though, I’ll bet ball security is goal number one this week, I didn’t like what I saw in Rees continuing to throwing too low over the DLine. He continues to have this problem and with Mattison’s Defense, they’ll be coming at him hands up and jumping in the air trying to knock down passes to tip and intercept. Unless Rees does a far better job of getting the ball over the DLine & LB’s, UM will be picking off passes or in the least blocking his ability to make big plays in short yard need. This is not, I’m a Crist guy or I’m not a Rees guy, just something I noticed with Rees. If I noticed it, Mattison noticed it too. Lets hope Kelly & Co noticed this.

  3. NDfan1224 - Sep 9, 2011 at 7:17 AM

    IBG is great, Irish need to create turnovers (not turnover the ball) and contain Denard Robinson and it should be a cake walk from there. Rees is the man he’s going to lead the IRISH to a victory this weekend in Ann Arbor.
    http://ndandhuskers.wordpress.com

  4. domer77blowsgoats - Sep 9, 2011 at 12:40 PM

    Love the reference to the 1998 smackdown and massive fountain party, it was (unfortunately so) the pinnacle of my 5 years at ND, save for maybe the 8-0 start by Ty compete with doing the tomahawk chop in Tallahassee…but ooppss we wore the most ridiculous green jerseys of all time…

    I truly believe Saturday was a wake-up call and have the same feeling as before last year’s Utah game, power football, play action over the top to Flloyd, we win pulling away…

    However I can’t shake the opposite feeling alla Brady Quinn’s opening pick six that lead to a complete breakdown. This team’s psyche seems to be teetering on a razor’s edge. Avoid the big mistake early and we roll.

    and no post is complete w/o my hallmark trolly comment, albeit in UMs direction this time, MUCK
    FICHIGAN!!

    • 1historian - Sep 10, 2011 at 7:18 AM

      “This team’s psyche seems to be teetering on a razor’s edge.” Well said.

      Which means that someone has to step up – a LEADER. Is it Rees? Perhaps. It’s not up to Kelly – it’s up to the players. I remember stories about how his teammates were scared of Chris Zorich because of how ferociously he played.

      Is there anyone like that on this team?

  5. ndfanwabashman - Sep 9, 2011 at 1:56 PM

    Keith, I know you rep the suits at NBC, but don’t avoid questions.

    For those that didn’t read all the questions posted, he skipped “Michigan: Just Another Opponent, Enemy, or Rival? Explain. 1 Bonus point for each use of the word ’suck’.”

    • ndfanwabashman - Sep 9, 2011 at 1:57 PM

      No bonus points for Keith.

    • 1historian - Sep 10, 2011 at 7:20 AM

      ndfanwabashman – can we call you ‘cannonball’?

  6. massivedick - Sep 10, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    I think this is going to be a long day
    Really really do
    I think Michigan is not very good an still could beat us up
    Sucks to be us
    How can we have sunk so low for so long

    Sure wish things would change for the better
    Unless we show up better than last week coach is going to blow a vein
    Can’t help but work for him
    Keep up the good work

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