The Notre Dame football team finally took down Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines for the first time in 3 years with a 13-6 victory in South Bend.
It was ugly. I mean really ugly. Really, really ugly.
But a win is a win, right? And this particular win sends the Fighting Irish to a 4-0 record for the first time since 2002. For those keeping track, that was Ty Willingham’s first year at the helm, and featured guys named Holiday, Jones, and Battle. So yeah, it’s been a long time.
The Notre Dame defense was again the key to victory, forcing 6 Michigan turnovers. 5 of those came directly from star quarterback Denard Robinson, who threw four interceptions and lost a fumble. The other turnover, also an interception, was thrown by senior running back Vincent Smith. Notre Dame wasn’t exactly secure with the ball itself; quarterback Everett Golson threw two first half interceptions himself and was subsequently yanked for the rest of the game in favor of Tommy Rees.
When it comes to Everett Golson, I can’t really get a good bead on him. When I think he’s going to play terrible and get yanked, he has a decent game and plays the whole way. When I think he’s going to be good, he tanks and gets pulled out for Tommy Rees. I know head coach Brian Kelly has a history of short leashes with quarterbacks, but at some point he’s going to have to learn that this kind of action will do nothing for the confidence of either quarterback. Golson will constantly be looking over his shoulder and trying to force plays while he’s there. And for Rees, he’s got to be frustrated that no matter what he does, he can’t seem to earn his starting job back. That’s bad for confidence, it’s bad for continuity, and makes it difficult to develop an identity on offense. Hear me out Coach: PICK ONE AND STICK WITH HIM.
If there was a single star to the game, without a doubt it was senior linebacker Manti Te’o. Te’o, still emotional from the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend, totaled 8 tackles and intercepted two Robinson passes. This comes off of another dominating performance last week against Michigan State. Quickly, Te’o has established himself as one of, if not the, premier defensive players in college football this year. Mike Mayock, the color commentator for the Michigan game even mentioned Te’o's name in the same sentence as the word “Heisman.” That might be a little premature. Only one full time defensive player has won the Heisman in NCAA history (Charles Woodson – 1997; Ernie Davis won it in 1961 but also played offense). However, if Te’o can continue his dominance, he definitely could swing some votes.
Other than Te’o though, the Irish defense played well. They kept Robinson from under 100 yards rushing, and kept him to 138 yards passing. No other Wolverine produced much offense, though junior RB Fitzgerald Toussaint was able to run for 58 yards, most of that coming in the 4th quarter. Another standout performance for the Irish was Rees, who completed 8 of 11 passes for 115 yards, including a 38 yard bomb to tight end Tyler Eifert (his lone catch) that sealed the game.
So what does this win mean for Notre Dame? The answer is: Not much. We didn’t learn anything new about this team that we didn’t already know. They have a lights out defense that can take control of games, and their offense is still a big question mark. Yes, they have beaten better and better teams as the weeks have gone by, and the polls will have them potentially ranked in the top-10 next week. But I still see them struggling against some of the top tier teams left on their schedule – specifically Oklahoma and USC. Stanford can also be a dangerous game for the Irish, thought I feel they have a better shot against the Cardinal than either the Sooners or the Trojans.
The Irish have a bye-week next, then will play the Miami Hurricanes in Chicago on October 6th. Peering at the schedule ahead, Notre Dame has a legitimate chance to go 7-0 to start the year, though that stretch will include the Stanford game.
The bottom line is that for the Irish to really become contenders for the national spotlight, they need to get their offense on the same page as the defense is. I’m just not sure they have the experience or the talent to match that kind of dominance right now, but time will tell.
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