Dec 30, 2012, 9:39 PM EST
No question about it, Notre Dame faced judgment day when Michigan came to town. Ascending to No. 11 in the country after an impressive victory against Michigan State, the Irish now needed to vanquish public enemy No. 1: Denard Robinson and the Wolverines.
Monumental games like this one maintain drama on multiple levels. Get the win and the Irish continue a sparkling start to the season, likely ascending into the top ten with one of the most impressive Septembers in the country. But from a program building perspective, a victory would be a true data point towards restoration, the first 4-0 start in a decade.
Night game. Hated rival. Opportunity for vengeance. It didn’t get much bigger than this one.
Irish fans had to feel cautiously optimistic. Everett Golson just showed himself to be up to the task on a very big stage against an impressive defense. The Wolverines looked to be one of the Big Ten’s biggest paper lions, a preseason top ten team that got undressed against Alabama and barely escaped against Air Force.
But against Michigan, you could throw any logic out the window. Greg Mattison, the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator, has long tormented young quarterbacks with exotic pressure schemes. And Denard Robinson played the archenemy better than anybody — with the Irish defense having him all but dead until he came alive to steal the previous installment in Ann Arbor.
With Golson laying an egg, a quarterback controversy was starting to brew.
Once again, Brian Kelly had to turn to Tommy Rees to pilot the Irish offense. Golson started the game with a horrible interception and piled up scary numbers — just 3 of 8 for 30 yards with two interceptions. A week after managing the game and doing so in a hostile environment, Golson couldn’t keep his cool when the team desperately needed it.
“I don’t really believe it’s a matter of confidence as much as he just has to settle down,” Kelly said of Golson. “He was not as comfortable as I would have liked after playing the Michigan State game where he was in an incredible environment. He needs to settle down a bit and he’s going to be just fine.”
Rees came in and completed 8 of his 11 throws for a tidy 115 yards. He found Tyler Eifert for a huge 38 yard reception that iced the game. After a sophomore season where Rees gave the ball away far too, the junior looked like a guy that could manage the Irish offense, especially with a defense that was playing elite football. But there was no doubting the promise of Golson, whose ceiling was undoubtedly more intriguing.
“I think we’re fairly comfortable if we need Tommy to come in and handle some of the offense for us, if we feel like it’s necessary, we will,” Kelly said. “He’s a great asset to have if you need him to close out a game, and we’ll continue to go that route. We’d like to continue to develop Everett so we don’t have to do that, but we’re still going to try to win football games anyway possible.”
Notre Dame’s defense drove a stake through the heart of the Wolverines.
While the offense was stuck largely in neutral, the Irish defense swallowed Denard Robinson whole. After watching Alabama’s defense destroy Michigan, the Irish put up an even more impressive effort, forcing an astounding six turnovers as the Irish held the Wolverines to under 300 yards and turned Denard Robinson’s birthday into a nightmare.
Bob Diaco’s defense played tremendously, and led by Manti Te’o, they just refused to let the Wolverines beat them. With an Irish offense willing to simply not get in the way, the defense played a magical game.
What would the offensive identity of this football team be?
If we learned anything after the Irish’s ugly-but-glorious 13-6 victory, it’s that Notre Dame’s head coach learned something this offseason. After committing to Golson as the quarterback, Kelly also committed to playing team-first football, unwilling to let the Irish beat themselves with turnovers.
In game’s like this one, that meant pulling Golson in favor of Rees, and playing an incredibly vanilla offense while struggling to run the football. Once again, Theo Riddick was stuck in neutral, gaining just 3.1 yards a carry on 17 totes. Yet Kelly trusted Riddick more than Cierre Wood, who picked up 5.6 yards a touch.
But the discipline of Kelly paid off, and in the end, Riddick picked up a few key yards down the stretch and Rees made one more play than Michigan did, hitting Tyler Eifert on a clutch third down conversion that iced the game.
Is Manti Te’o a Heisman Trophy candidate?
With Notre Dame Stadium filled with leis, the Irish’s emotional leader allowed a stadium of supporters to lift him up as his heart weighed him down with grief. Te’o's performance — two key interceptions of Robinson and eight tackles — all done on one of the most watched football games of the year — powered the Irish victory.
Fifteen years after Michigan’s Charles Woodson won college football’s most prestigious award, Te’o's name rightfully joined the conversation.
“He’s the guy in there,” Kelly said of his Te’o's candidacy. “I mean, it all evolves around him, his personality, his strength. He’s a special guy. Take advantage of him when you’ve got him now, because I’ve never been around a kid like that.”
Was the magic returning to Notre Dame?
Games like this help redefine a school and its pursuits. With Te’o as Notre Dame’s fearless catalyst, perhaps this was the year that the stars would eventually align. After years of toxicity from a frustrated fanbase overwhelmed anything that was happening on the field, Notre Dame community’s overwhelming support of Te’o as he battled immense grief helped turn a tide that had been overwhelmingly negative for years.
“Man, I said it before. Four years ago when I decided to come here, I didn’t know why,” Te’o said in an impromptu pep rally speech. “It’s starting to unveil itself why, why I felt that I was told to come here. I can’t thank my team enough. I can’t thank the students and just the fan base around the world, Notre Dame and non-Notre Dame fans. They’ve just been great. It’s very humbling for me and my family.”
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6.
Put simply, the Irish refused to lose. While Everett Golson had a crisis of confidence that put the offensive future of the Irish up for grabs, the defense put the team on its shoulders, and repeatedly held back Michigan as it knocked on the door.
The Irish offense was truly abysmal, racking up just 239 yards of offense as it continually put the defense in a next to impossible spot. Yet Te’o and company rose to the occasion time and again, dominated in possession but unwilling to break. The Wolverines entered the red zone five times. They exited with no touchdowns. Denard Robinson pointedly called that Saturday night the worst he’s ever had on a football field.
While the victory against Michigan State was considered a signature win by Kelly, the Irish head coach almost raised the bar in his post game comments.
“I think this is another step in the process of consistency that I’ve talked about,” Kelly said after the game. “Before you can go from being a good team to a great team, you have to exhibit some form of consistency in performance, and you have to play week in and week out.”
While it was difficult to notice then, this Irish team was showing one true characteristic of a great team. The ability to win ugly and close games. In beating Purdue, the Irish won without their best. While cruising against the Spartans, the offense converted just a single third down. Now stopping the Wolverines, the Irish dispatched another key opponent while letting Everett Golson go through some painful growing pains.
Coaches often say an ugly win is the best teaching moment. Constructive criticism holds its grip much stronger after a victory, teachable moments ring much truer after snatching victory from near defeat. With a bye week to get the quarterback situation straightened out, Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin would continue to find plays that Golson could execute. But nothing bonded this group more than learning that this team had the mental and physical toughness necessary to win close games.
And nothing helps build that confidence like stopping Denard Robinson and the Wolverines offense in its tracks.
Dec 5, 2013, 2:14 AM EST
With bowl scenarios still shaking out, and a coaching search potentially under way, it’s a good time to take a look at some relatively big picture questions in this week’s IBG. As usual, the crew has supplied some topical questions. Participate down below, where there’s been some “lively” discussion the past few days. And head…
Dec 3, 2013, 1:21 PM EST
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin has boarded a private plane with his family to Oxford, Ohio, where he’ll be named the new head coach of the Miami Redhawks. Martin interviewed for the job on Sunday and will likely be introduced later today by Miami athletic director David Sayler. Martin will fill a job vacancy…
Dec 3, 2013, 11:54 AM EST
No deal is done, but multiple outlets are reporting that Miami (OH) will offer Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin its vacant head coaching position. Former Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell was fired after a 0-5 start, along with offensive coordinator John Klacik. Martin has served as the Irish’s offensive coordinator the past two…
Dec 3, 2013, 1:46 AM EST
When Notre Dame finishes the season next year in the Coliseum, they’ll square off against head coach Steve Sarkisian, who was tabbed to run the Trojan football program on Monday. After firing Lane Kiffin early this season, USC athletic director Pat Haden brings in another visor wearing, high-energy young coach from the Pete Carroll coaching…
Dec 2, 2013, 8:14 PM EST
It looks like seniors Alex Welch and Lo Wood are nearing the end of their careers at Notre Dame. The reserve tight end and cornerback are looking to transfer, set to graduate from Notre Dame and play their final season at a different college without restriction. Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated was the first to…
Dec 2, 2013, 3:35 AM EST
Ultimately, TJ Jones said everything that was needed after the Irish’s 27-20 loss, putting into context the 8-4 season the Irish just completed. “You’re not great. You’re not terrible,” Jones said of the 8-4 record. “Little better than average, I guess you can say.” Notre Dame was game for most of the evening against Stanford,…
Dec 1, 2013, 1:01 AM EST
STANFORD, Calif. — Like many Notre Dame losses, you can look at the Irish’s 27-20 defeat at the hands of No. 8 Stanford in a variety of ways. The pragmatist sees a beaten Irish squad hang with one of college football’s most physical teams while ravaged by injuries. The optimist sees a young stable of…
Nov 30, 2013, 6:56 PM EST
Welcome to the finale of the regular season. As usual, we’re here with our buddies from Irish Illustrated, and we’re live chatting throughout the Notre Dame vs. Stanford game. It’s a beautiful day in Stanford Stadium, with a good turn out by Irish fans who headed to Northern California for Thanksgiving weekend. As usual, standard…
Nov 30, 2013, 10:20 AM EST
The sun has yet to rise in Northern California. But it will soon set on another Notre Dame football season, with the Irish having one more shot to win a very big football game. On first glance, the deck seems stacked against Brian Kelly’s squad, with injuries up front on both sides of the ball…
Nov 29, 2013, 6:55 PM EST
Notre Dame safeties Eilar Hardy and Elijah Shumate won’t be available for the regular season finale against Stanford. Rumors swirled late Thursday evening that the two safeties wouldn’t be traveling with the team to Palo Alto. Brian Kelly confirmed those rumors Friday afternoon from Northern California, citing a violation of team rules. Here’s the official…
Nov 29, 2013, 1:45 AM EST
The regular season comes to a close on Saturday, with No. 25 Notre Dame visiting No. 8 Stanford. The Irish will have a chance to beat four ranked opponents on the season, though pulling off a victory in Palo Alto will be the biggest win on a season that certainly had its ups and downs.…
Nov 28, 2013, 1:16 PM EST
Happy Thanksgiving. Here’s hoping everybody is spending it with family, friends and loved ones. The Notre Dame football team is gathering today, with coaches and their families celebrating with the team as a new record for turkeys eaten is attempted. Before I get to work in the kitchen today, let’s get to the IBG (sorry,…
Nov 27, 2013, 12:19 PM EST
It took one visit to convince outside linebacker Jhonny Williams that Notre Dame was the place for him. Even amidst the wind and snow of last weekend, Williams knew the best option for him was the school just 30 minutes away from his home in Berrian Springs, Michigan. He made that decision official Wednesday morning,…
Nov 27, 2013, 3:13 AM EST
The regular season finale takes Notre Dame to Northern California on Saturday, where they’ll face No. 8 Stanford, a program that’s spent the past four seasons in rarified air. With the opportunity to win ten games for the fourth straight season, David Shaw’s Cardinal already have their ticket booked for the Pac-12 Championship game. But…
Nov 26, 2013, 11:21 PM EST
For the final Tuesday of the regular season, Brian Kelly hosted his weekly opponent preview press conference. And it’s clear that the Irish head coach understands the challenge that No. 8 Stanford presents. The Irish have played some good teams this season. But Kelly made it clear that he thinks Stanford is the best one he’ll…
Nov 25, 2013, 11:58 PM EST
When Notre Dame takes the field this weekend, the Irish will face a quarterback that grew up dreaming of playing in this game. Only Kevin Hogan always pictured himself calling the plays for the Fighting Irish. Hogan, the junior quarterback for Stanford, took the reins of the Cardinal offense in late October last season, replacing…
Nov 25, 2013, 1:52 AM EST
For the fourth straight season, Notre Dame sent its seniors out with a victory, a wonderful change from the Charlie Weis era where the Irish lost their two final home games in devastatingly painful fashion. But on Saturday, the Irish put together a complete victory, a late-season win that felt like a great pitcher grinding…
Nov 24, 2013, 7:45 PM EST
A little winter weather wasn’t enough to deter 2015 quarterback Blake Barnett from committing to Notre Dame this weekend. The junior quarterback from Orange County, California gave the Irish a building block recruit for next season’s cycle, with the offensive coaching staff finding what looks like an excellent fit for the Irish offense. Barnett’s commitment…
Nov 23, 2013, 9:41 PM EST
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Before an emotional Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, Brian Kelly made sure the message to his team was very clear. “We told them that, you’ll get a chance to kiss your mom again,” Kelly said after the game. “But you’ll remember winning the game. That’s the most important thing.” And win…
Nov 23, 2013, 5:24 PM EST
In case you missed it, the NBC pregame show had a wonderful feature on Danny Spond, giving you a window into the life of the senior linebacker, who has had to transition from the starting lineup to life after football because of severe migraine headaches. Spond rise about adversity has been one of the very…
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