Gary Gray

The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Michigan


Yep, that still happened.

Less than twenty-four hours after Notre Dame lost in remarkable fashion to Michigan 35-31, it’s back to the drawing board for the Irish as they look to rebound against a Michigan State team that’s better than either of the first two opponents on paper.

Of course, the Irish look plenty good on paper, if you take white-out to the turnovers column and the win-loss ledger. We’ll try and pick up the pieces here and give people a better idea of what just happened last night, but let’s get to the good, bad, and ugly of the Irish’s 35-31 loss to Michigan.


Michael Floyd: Michigan defensive backs continually mugged the Irish’s best player, but Floyd still had his way — adding 13 catches for 159 yards. Floyd is tied with USC’s Robert Woods for the most catches in the country with 25 after two games, is third in the country in yardage with 313, and has done just about everything you could ask of the senior.

Theo Riddick: A week after wanting to bury his head in the sand, Riddick caught what should have been the game winning touchdown with thirty seconds left in the fourth quarter, his second score of the night. His six catches for 62 yards were solid contributions and a nice rebound.

Dan Fox: The junior linebacker made two nice plays behind the line of scrimmage, sacking Denard Robinson and adding another tackle-for-loss. As the Irish try and find a companion for Manti Te’o in the middle of the Irish defense, Fox was active all night.

Cierre Wood & Jonas Gray: Wood average 5.4 yards a carry and went for 134 yards, his second straight game with a 100 yard effort. Gray, a week after his nightmarish start, carried the ball six times for 66 yards, running hard and adding a nice complement to Wood. The Irish are getting production out of the running game, though Wood followed Gray’s lead and laid a tough fumble on the ground this week.


Turnovers: That’s Notre Dame all by its lonesome at 120th in the country — dead last — in turnover margin. Sure Notre Dame has moved the ball up and down the field, but fumbles and interceptions, most notably those in the red zone, have turned the Irish into an 0-2 team.

“I can see those things in the development of our players, but that chance to be a good team is everything,” Kelly said this morning. “It’s those turnovers, it’s the little detail things. And until we can clean up those detail things, we can’t be a good team.”

Tight end depth: A position that was once a strength of the roster is now precarious, as Mike Ragone has an MRI scheduled for his knee, Alex Welch is out with a foot injury, and Jake Golic has a broken arm.

That lack of depth forced Ben Koyack to play a lot of football last night, and he’s not a great substitute at the point of attack. Koyack is going to be a good football player, but you never want a true freshman helping making critical blocks in short yardage situations.

Michigan’s explosive plays: Even when the Irish had the game firmly in their grasp, they were still victimized by the big gainers the Wolverines managed to make. Denard Robinson had a 39 yard run. Junior Hemingway had a 77 yard catch. Jeremy Gallon had a critical 64-yard reception. Kelvin Grady and Vincent Smith had catches of over 20 yards. A week after not giving up a play longer than 17 yards, Notre Dame collapsed, leaking oil and big plays throughout the game until the defense completely collapsed in the fourth quarter.

Special teams: A big kickoff return was there for the taking last night, and Theo Riddick couldn’t take advantage. While John Goodman deserves credit for catching every punt he faced, he continues to make poor decisions in the return game, failing to fair catch a ball in traffic and then waving for safety when there wasn’t a defender within 20 yards. Goodman seems to have a misguided belief in his speed, and his negative return when he tried to go wide gave Michigan a huge jolt of energy. Lastly, Ben Turk deserves credit for booming his final punt of the evening, coming up large when the Irish needed it. He also deserves scorn for chunking his other kicks, averaging a measly 33.5 yards a kick even with a 52 yarder.


The defensive collapse: You want to see how you lose a football game? Here’s a quick look at Michigan’s drive chart, starting with the Wolverines taking the ball into the game’s final quarter:

MICH     3rd M17  02:13  Kickoff       N00  14:54 *TOUCHDOWN      4-83   2:19#
MICH     4th N40  13:22  Punt          N00  10:47 *TOUCHDOWN      5-40   2:35#
MICH     4th M09  06:08  Fumble        N30  04:23  Interception   3-61   1:45
MICH     4th M42  02:16  Punt          N00  01:12 *TOUCHDOWN      5-58   1:04
MICH     4th M20  00:30  Kickoff       N00  00:00 *TOUCHDOWN      3-80   0:30#

After dominating Michigan for 45 minutes, the Irish defense simply fell apart, forgetting how to tackle, cover receivers, and play disciplined football when it needed to the most. Whether it was a blitz that didn’t quite get there or a cover scheme that broke down, the Irish defense’s 28 point fourth quarter was shocking in it’s ineptitude.

The aftermath: The internet is great for a lot of things, but it certainly isn’t the friend of an angst-filled sports fan. For those of you that took to the web to call for the head coach’s job, sent angry tweets to the team’s star middle linebacker, or picked fights with fellow fans sharing the same agony, do yourself a favor next time your favorite teams loses a close one: Turn off the computer and sleep on it.

Go for two or not? Both sides of the highly-debated topic

during their game at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina.

Notre Dame’s two failed two-point conversion tries against Clemson have been the source of much debate in the aftermath of the Irish’s 24-22 loss to the Tigers. Brian Kelly’s decision to go for two with just over 14 minutes left in the game forced the Irish into another two-point conversion attempt with just seconds left in regulation, with DeShone Kizer falling short as he attempted to push the game into overtime.

Was Kelly’s decision to go for two the right one at the beginning of the fourth quarter? That depends.

Take away the result—a pass that flew through the fingers of a wide open Corey Robinson. Had the Irish kicked their extra point, Justin Yoon would’ve trotted onto the field with a chance to send the game into overtime. (Then again, had Robinson caught the pass, Notre Dame would’ve been kicking for the win in the final seconds…)

This is the second time a two-point conversion decision has opened Kelly up to second guessing in the past eight games. Last last season, Kelly’s decision to go for two in the fourth-quarter with an 11-point lead against Northwestern, came back to bite the Irish and helped the Wildcats stun Notre Dame in overtime.

That choice was likely fueled by struggles in the kicking game, heightened by Kyle Brindza’s blocked extra-point attempt in the first half, a kick returned by Northwestern that turned a 14-7 game into a 13-9 lead. With a fourth-quarter, 11-point lead, the Irish failed to convert their two-point attempt that would’ve stretched their lead to 13 points. After Northwestern converted their own two-point play, they made a game-tying field goal after Cam McDaniel fumbled the ball as the Irish were running out the clock. Had the Irish gone for (and converted) a PAT, the Wildcats would’ve needed to score a touchdown.

Moving back to Saturday night, Kelly’s decision needs to be put into context. After being held to just three points for the first 45 minutes of the game, C.J. Prosise broke a long catch and run for a touchdown in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Clemson would be doing their best to kill the clock. Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the game brought the score within 12 points when Kelly decided to try and push the score within 10—likely remembering the very way Northwestern forced overtime.

After the game, Kelly said it was the right decision, citing his two-point conversion card and the time left in the game. On his Sunday afternoon teleconference, he said the same, giving a bit more rationale for his decision.

“We were down and we got the chance to put that game into a two-score with a field goal. I don’t chase the points until the fourth quarter, and our mathematical chart, which I have on the sideline with me and we have a senior adviser who concurred with me, and we said go for two. It says on our chart to go for two.

“We usually don’t use the chart until the fourth quarter because, again, we don’t chase the points. We went for two to make it a 10-point game. So we felt we had the wind with us so we would have to score a touchdown and a field goal because we felt like we probably only had three more possessions.

“The way they were running the clock, we’d probably get three possessions maximum and we’re going to have to score in two out of the three. So it was the smart decision to make, it was the right one to make. Obviously, you know, if we catch the two-point conversion, which was wide open, then we just kick the extra point and we’ve got a different outcome.”

That logic and rationale is why I had no problem with the decision when it happened in real time. But not everybody agrees.

Perhaps the strongest rebuke of the decision came from Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister, who had this to say about the decision in his (somewhat appropriately-titled) weekly Point After column:

Hire another analyst or at least assign someone to the task of deciphering the Beautiful Mind-level math problem that seems to be vexing the Notre Dame brain-trust when a dweeb with half-inch thick glasses and a pocket protector full of pens could tell you that in the game of football, you can’t chase points before it is time… (moving ahead)

…The more astonishing thing is that no one in the ever-growing football organization that now adds analysts and advisors on a regular basis will offer the much-needed advice. Making such decisions in the heat of battle is not easy. What one thinks of in front of the TV or in a press box does not come as clearly when you’re the one pulling the trigger for millions to digest.

And yet with this ever-expanding entourage, Notre Dame still does not have anyone who can scream through the headphones to the head coach, “Coach, don’t go for two!”

If someone, anyone within the organization had the common sense and then the courage to do so, the Irish wouldn’t have lost every game in November of 2014 and would have had a chance to win in overtime against Clemson Saturday night.

My biggest gripe about the decision was the indecision that came along with the choice. Scoring on a big-play tends to stress your team as special teams players shuffle onto the field and the offense comes off. But Notre Dame’s use of a timeout was a painful one, and certainly should’ve been spared considering the replay review that gave Notre Dame’s coaching staff more time to make a decision.

For what it’s worth, Kelly’s decision was probably similar to the one many head coaches would make. And it stems from the original two-point conversion chart that Dick Vermeil developed back in the 1970s.

The original chart didn’t account for success rate or time left in the game. As Kelly mentioned before, Notre Dame uses one once it’s the fourth quarter.

It’s a debate that won’t end any time soon. And certainly one that will have hindsight on the side of the “kick the football” argument.



Navy, Notre Dame will display mutual respect with uniforms

Keenan Reynolds, Isaac Rochell

The storied and important history of Notre Dame and Navy’s long-running rivalry will be on display this weekend, with the undefeated Midshipmen coming to South Bend this weekend.

On NBCSN, a half-hour documentary presentation will take a closer look, with “Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect” talking about everything from Notre Dame’s 43-year winning streak, to Navy’s revival, triggered by their victory in 2007. The episode will also talk about the rivalries ties to World War II, and how the Navy helped keep Notre Dame alive during wartime.

You can catch it on tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or online in the same viewing window.

On the field, perhaps an even more unique gesture of respect is planned. With Under Armour the apparel partner for both Notre Dame and Navy, both teams will take the field wearing the same cleats, gloves and baselayers. Each team’s coaching staff will also be outfitted in the same sideline gear.

More from Monday’s press release:

For the first time in college football, two opponents take the field with the exact same Under Armour baselayer, gloves and cleats to pay homage to the storied history and brotherhood between their two schools. The baselayer features both Universities’ alma maters on the sleeves and glove palms with the words “respect, honor, tradition” as a reminder of their connection to each other. Both sidelines and coaches also will wear the same sideline gear as a sign of mutual admiration.​

Navy and Notre Dame will meet for the 89th time on Saturday, a rivalry that dates back to 1927. After the Midshipmen won three of four games starting in 2007, Notre Dame hopes to extend their current winning streak to five games on Saturday.

Here’s an early look at some of the gear: