Notre Dame at Michigan
Yeah, this was as thrilling a college football game as has ever been played, and yeah, this was better than the Rocket game and the Desmond game in the long and storied history of the great rivalry, but for all the great plays, all the thrills, all the chills, and all the excitement, there was one teeny, tiny, little piece missing …
Denard Robinson cranked out 446 yards of total offense, partly because he was brilliant – the throw to Junior Hemingway for a 45-yard play with defenders around his ankles was special – but it was also because the Notre Dame defense was miserable.
Robinson has a nice arm, but he wasn't going to throw the ball 65 yards on the final drive. For some bizarre reason, the Irish defensive backs were hanging out somewhere just outside of Detroit when Jeremy Gallon was wide open for his 64-yard pass play.
Where was the Michigan defense on Notre Dame's final scoring drive? The Greg Mattison D that's supposed to be able to generate pressure from several angles didn't come within ten miles of Tommy Brady, er, Tommy Rees on the four play, 61-yard scoring drive in the final moments. Rees had ten days to wait for Theo Riddick to make his break, and then it was a simple pitch to a wide open target.
The Irish defense was able to come up with three takeaways, and the Wolverines came up with five, but that's because the offenses kept screwing up. There were a few nice defensive plays, but Robinson averaged an unheard of 13.1 yards per pass, while Michigan looked awfully 2010-like allowing six yards per carry with Cierre Wood averaging 5.4 yards per crack and Jonas Gray tearing off 11 yards per play.
But who cares?
Chicks dig the long ball, and they also like high scoring football shootouts. Neither of these two teams will end up doing anything truly special this season, but no one will remember how they did in some above-average bowl. Everyone will remember this one.
This was an all-timer, and if that meant that good defensive play was optional, then so be it.
More night games at the Big House please.
In the storied rivalry between Michigan and Notre Dame, tonight's showdown in Ann Arbor needs to be ranked among the most exciting ever. Blow-for-blow for four quarters. Three touchdowns in the final couple of minutes. The game-winner from Wolverines QB Denard Robinson to Roy Roundtree with eight seconds left in a gutsy play that'll forever be enshrined in school lore. Epic.
For the coaches on the sidelines, it's a tale of two very different trajectories. Just two games into his tenure, Michigan's Brady Hoke has already raised Hoke-amania to a fevered pitch around campus. A finished product? Far from it, but you can feel the pain of the Rich Rodriguez era leaving the program the way a massage removes lactic acid. Sure, it's going to take time, but this is exactly the kind of start that a head coach needs to change the climate in the community. Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, on the other hand, is reeling, having now lost back-to-back heartbreakers to South Florida and Michigan. Worse yet, his team has not been prepared, executing poorly and turning the ball over nine times in eight quarters. Up next is Michigan State and another must-win situation for the Irish. While Kelly is only in his second year, everything that happens in South Bend tends to get magnified and overly scrutinized. Back-to-back losses to start a season here feel like the equivalent of a winless campaign at other universities.
By Matt Zemek
First, there was Tate Forcier in the final minute. Then, there was Denard Robinson running in the open field. Now, this. Three years in a row, Notre Dame has been stomach punched by Michigan in the dying moments of competition. This was a Denard sequel but a third act for Michigan against the Fighting Irish.
Here's the thing to appreciate about Saturday night's enthralling and wildly entertaining clash between two of college football's biggest brand names: Notre Dame made lots of plays and gained stacks of yards for the second straight week, but if yards aren't accompanied by an appropriate amount of points, they don't mean anything. More specifically, if a team proves to be superior on most snaps but doesn't win the snaps that count, who cares about all the moments of excellence, the moments that were canceled out or diluted by excruciatingly untimely lapses?
There's a principle at work in Notre Dame's improbable 0-2 start: A team can be viewed as "excellent, but with mistakes" when the mistakes don't prevent ultimate victory AND when that team has proven it can win on a regular basis. If Notre Dame, under Brian Kelly, had proven in a prior season that it could deliver the goods on a weekly basis, the Irish could be viewed more sympathetically in an analytical context. When any athlete or team shows that it can close the sale, the times when it doesn't can be viewed with generosity, understanding, and a lot more leeway. However, when competitors never do show – in the whole of their careers or at a specific school – that they can answer the bell, they don't deserve the analytical benefit of the doubt.
Yes, Brian Kelly has succeeded in the past, at Central Michigan and Cincinnati – in that respect, Kelly has some credentials to offer. However, Kelly has not yet won at Notre Dame, he's not yet put his stamp on the program or elevated it to a higher level. The Irish, under Kelly, have not yet walked through fire and shown that they're an elite program. This crossing of the threshold from possibility to reality, from raw potential to fulfilled potential, is what should lead a commentator to view 500-yard, five-turnover performances in different ways. If Notre Dame had won a national championship in 2010, the Irish's performance in this game would have been seen as "dominant, but with some flaws." Because Kelly has not yet coaxed 10-win seasons out of his teams in South Bend, these early 2011 efforts should be viewed as "filled with meaningless yards." The reality of a 500-yard, five-turnover performance isn't meant to be viewed the same way regardless of the opponent. "We were totally in control, except for all those turnovers" is usually a lame statement, but it can be allowed if the author of that performance has established a legitimate championship-level track record. Notre Dame under Brian Kelly has not, however, and that's why these offensive performances can't (and shouldn't) be viewed in a positive light.