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

Sep 24, 2012, 4:23 PM EDT

notre-dame-michigan-2012-teo

With the Irish taking the week off with a well deserved bye week, Notre Dame fans everywhere can breathe deep and enjoy a nice break in the action and savor the 4-0 start. As you’d expect with a game like Saturday’s, not everything on the field went the way it was planned, but thanks to a dominant defensive performance and forcing a ton of takeaways, the Irish ran the table in September, and beat back-to-back top 20 opponents for the first time since 2002.

Let’s get down to the good, the bad, and the ugly of Notre Dame’s 13-6 victory over Michigan.

THE GOOD

The scoring defense. Notre Dame hasn’t allowed a touchdown over their last eight quarters, and has yielded just 36 points on the season. The Irish check in at No. 4 in the country in scoring defense, a stat made all the more impressive when you look at the schedules of the teams in the top ten.

No. 1 TCU — Grambling State, Kansas, Virginia.
No. 2 Alabama — Michigan, Western Kentucky, Arkansas, Florida Atlantic
No. 3 Cincinnati — Pitt, Delaware State
No. 4 Notre Dame — Navy, Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan
No. 5 South Carolina — Vanderbilt, East Carolina, UAB, Missouri
No. 6 (tie) Texas Tech — Northwestern State, Texas State, New Mexico
No. 6 (tie)  Florida State — Murray State, Savannah State, Wake Forest, Clemson
No. 8 LSU — North Texas, Washington, Idaho, Auburn
No. 9 Iowa State — Tulsa, Iowa, Western Illinois
No. 10 Boise State — Michigan State, Miami (OH), BYU

There are quite a few cupcakes on that list, making the Irish’s slate of three Big Ten opponents (two ranked) and Navy look all the better.

Forcing Turnovers. A season after struggling to force any turnovers, the Irish intercepted an amazing five Michigan passes in a row, forcing six turnovers on their way to victory. Notre Dame hasn’t registered five picks in a game since they did it to Purdue in 1988. Notre Dame now sits at No. 4 in the country in turnover margin, registering five fumble recoveries and eight interceptions on the season, good for a +9 margin.

“My wife even talks to me when I’m plus-nine,” Kelly cracked after the game on Saturday. “Which didn’t happen much last year.”

There’s still plenty of work to do in the young Irish secondary, but whether it’s good fortune or not, there’s a noticeable difference in the secondary’s ability to get their hips opened and turn and look for the ball. Bennett Jackson‘s interception on Saturday night was a product of taking the football away from a receiver and while Denard Robinson was certainly throwing balls up for grabs, he did the same thing the year before and the Irish couldn’t capitalize on it.

The Pass Rush. You can’t just pin your ears back and chase after a quarterback like Denard Robinson. But the Irish still managed to get three sacks on Michigan’s elusive quarterback, and the relentless pressure of the Irish forced more than a few bad decisions by the quarterback. It didn’t show up in the box score, but Dan Fox‘s hustle play on Michigan’s first drive embodied the effort. Coming up the middle on an A gap blitz on 3rd and 9, Fox was chopped down by a blocker, but somersaulted back to his feet and laid a hit on Robinson, forcing a high throw. Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo each tallied another sack as well, with Tuitt at six for the year, good for second in the country. Freshman Sheldon Day also had a sack. That’s two for the rookie.

Bennett Jackson. Talk about filling up a stat sheet. Jackson led the Irish with nine tackles — six solo — and had a fumble recovery and an interception. What an active player on the short-side of the field, and in his first season starting at cornerback he’s already an athletic upgrade at the position.

Manti Te’o. With tens of thousands of Hawaiian leis being worn in his honor, Notre Dame’s heart and soul put together another transcendent performance. Te’o intercepted Robinson twice and made eight tackles, including one for a loss, as the defense stood strong and closed out the game. In an era of offensive firepower it might not be possible for Te’o to make his way into the Heisman Trophy race, but it’s not an outrageous suggestion.

Danny Spond. Spond also had his best day in a Notre Dame uniform, making seven tackles and forcing a fumble on Robinson. The junior went through a very scary ordeal after a big collision in practice left him with a severe migraine that caused him to lose feeling in his leg. But Spond has rebounded and played well the last two weeks at the drop linebacker position. He was efficient in the run game and also showed a great ability to get depth in his passing drops, shoring up a position of weakness for the Irish while Ben Councell learns on the job.

Kyle Brindza. After missing his first attempt against Navy, Brindza has been rock solid. His field goal against Purdue won the game. He iced the victory at Michigan State. And with the pressure on him against the Wolverines, Brindza made two clutch kicks, neither in doubt. Mix in his ability to kick touchbacks, he’s turning into another special teams weapon.

Tommy Rees to Tyler Eifert. After teaming for one of the most potent QB-TE combinations in the country last year, Rees and Eifert hooked up for the game clinching completion, with Rees hitting Eifert in stride on a go-route after Eifert blew by Michigan cornerback J.T. Floyd. The 38-yard connection was Eifert’s only catch of the day, but came at a crucial time.

Theo Riddick’s game sealing run. He might not be as dangerous as Cierre Wood, but on 3rd and 8 with the Irish needing a first down to end the game or be put in a tricky situation on 4th down, Riddick ended the game, bursting up the middle for eight yards and a game-ending first down that let the Irish take a knee and run out the clock.

THE BAD

Everett Golson’s step back. There’s no reason to beat this into the ground, but it’s an important two weeks for Golson. For the Irish offense to be what it needs to be, they’ll need Golson to make better decisions and do a good job managing the game. His physical gifts are obvious for anyone that’s watched the Irish play, but they’ll be useless if he makes decisions like the one he did on Notre Dame’s end zone interception. Throwing that ball up for grabs in a game like Saturday’s should get a quarterback pulled, and credit Kelly for doing it.

There will be days like that for young quarterbacks, but the more Notre Dame wins, the harder it is to stomach rookie mistakes. It might make it tough on a young quarterback to develop with confidence, but this is Notre Dame, one of college football’s great pressure-cookers.

The offensive versatility. The majority of ND Nation wanted Brian Kelly to run the football against Michigan. But after Everett Golson under-threw a ball into coverage on his first snap, the game plan turned pretty vanilla. Run twice, then throw a two-yard pattern on 3rd and four creates plenty of grumbling.

It’s tough to run the football with a stacked line of scrimmage. And Kelly openly discussed being stubborn and jamming the football into some not-so-friendly run looks. But if the Irish are going to making a run this season, they’re going to need to get more out of this offense. It’s easy to blame the play of the offensive line, but some creative play calling makes things easier for everybody.

Lack of a killer instinct. This football game could’ve gotten ugly quickly if the Irish were able to capitalize on the field position they had after Denard Robinson’s first two interceptions. It didn’t come back to bite the Irish on Saturday, but putting away opponents — especially ones that have done what Michigan did to the Irish in 2011 — is the next step.

THE UGLY

Denard Robinson’s stat line. After a ballgame like that, there’s nothing else to say. Robinson played the worst game of his football career in one of the season’s biggest moments. There will be plenty of opportunities for Michigan to play better. And in the weakest Big Ten in recent memory, the Rose Bowl is still very much in play for the Wolverines. But after playing his best against Notre Dame in 2010 and 2011, it was a nightmare for Robinson on Saturday night.

An ugly win. But still a win.

 

  1. c4evr - Sep 24, 2012 at 10:40 PM

    Please, please… more focus on T’eo and his stellar character (not to mention the inspiration he’s become) and less on Sinister23. Sinking to his level only gives him fuel and dignifies his mindless posts. At the very least, lets bring our personal opinions back to the subject of football.

  2. dickasman - Sep 25, 2012 at 12:04 AM

    The bad: my hemorrhoid has been extra itchy than the usual.
    The ugly: jersey shore nd

    We r 4-0 and winning, Charlie sheenning, zero complaints from me. Couldn’t be happier!

    • papadec - Sep 25, 2012 at 2:24 AM

      dickas – ask your doctor to give you a prescription for Anusol-HC 2.5% ( a generic for PTOCTOSOL-HC). It’s a stronger than off the shelf Hydrocortisone Cream. Good luck with that itch.

  3. c4evr - Sep 25, 2012 at 12:57 AM

    For all the talk of how difficult the schedule is, ND only plays one team that’s ranked currently higher from here on out. No sneaking up on people now. Ah, just like the good ol’ days.

  4. sinister23 - Sep 25, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    @ grampa marine…if ur that old then your no longer an asset…find a hole and crawl in it…ive accomplished more in my 8 years than u did urwhole carrer cpt. Diaper!

    • dbldmr - Sep 25, 2012 at 10:14 AM

      Please, enlighten us. What have you accomplished in “urwhole carrer” (all eight years of it)? Based on your writing skills I would guess that you didn’t pass the English As A Second Language Class in basic. Did you earn the Meritorious Buffer Award for waxing the floors? Perhaps the Advanced Latrine Orderly Badge for your nonpareil work there?

      Your contribution to this site has been very important. We seem to disagree on many things, but we are united in viewing you as a douchebag.

  5. rrussellndfan - Sep 25, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    Golson is still a beast in my book. One bad game. Atleast ND has the luxury with Rees as the back up. Golson will learn and ND will be great the rest of the year. ND haters go on and hate like usual it only makes it sweeter when ND wins.

  6. sinister23 - Sep 25, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    9irish…ill gladly take down your address and make a house call. I would bet my soul youd snap back to reality if we ever crossed paths.

    • nudeman - Sep 26, 2012 at 1:37 PM

      sinister
      You’ve show you have a sense of humor here (not a great one mind you; but a semblance anyway), so let me ask a serious question: Why do you seem to hate ND so much?
      You’re certainly not alone; there are ND haters everywhere
      So without getting on a soapbox, tell me why YOU hate them.

  7. 1historian - Sep 26, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    This is a good team that is getting better every week – hopefully those hideous uniforms they’ll be forced to wear v. Miami won’t bring them bad luck.
    For now – this is a good team, not a great team. There has to be someone who steps in @ QB who has both leadership which Rees seems to have, and talent, which Golson seems to have. BK is getting the best possible results out of the talent he has, which is the mark of a good coach.

    I’ll settle for 4-0.

  8. 1historian - Sep 26, 2012 at 7:19 AM

    as for “lefty 18+5″ – reactions to him have struck me as – very mature

    (sarcasm)

  9. fitz79 - Sep 26, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    I think this bye week comes at a prefect time for Golson. It’s a good time to go back and work on the fundamentals again. He’s clearly got the talent, it’s just about the decision making process. It’s easy to forget how little game experience this young man has. In 2 weeks he’ll be back and ready to put up some big numbers versus Miami!

  10. sinister23 - Oct 2, 2012 at 2:10 AM

    Nudeman….my hate for ND is simple….ND fans (buckeye fans too) are all mouth no facts. Ill admit, u guys are solid this year…but to be talking about a NC….CMON MAN!! Theres absolutely ZERO chance of ND playing for a NC. Yet the ND faithful continues to jaw about it.

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