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  • Irish Defense Smothers Michigan

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame’s swarming defense forced six Michigan turnovers and quarterback Tommy Rees came on in relief to engineer enough offense to give the 4-0 Irish a 13-6 victory over the Wolverines on Saturday. Both defenses dominated play, and each team frittered away scoring chances with costly turnovers in the red zone. Notre Dame nursed a narrow lead throughout the contest that its defense refused to surrender. Despite the heroics of Manti Te’o and a fearless secondary, the outcome was very much in doubt until Tyler Eifert caught his first pass in two games on a critical third down play with just over two minutes remaining.

    Strange things have happened to the Irish in this series, and this time calamity struck early. Starting quarterback Everett Golson dropped back to throw on Notre Dame’s first offensive play, and he promptly tossed an interception to a team that had not picked off a pass yet this season.  Raymon Taylor brought the ball back to the Irish nine yard line with the help of a facemask penalty on the return, and Michigan appeared ready to draw first blood. Instead, Notre Dame rose up with a pair of sacks to stop Denard Robinson in his tracks. Brendan Gibbons missed a 43-yard field goal attempt and the Irish took over.

    Golson was unable to move the team, and it became obvious that Wolverine defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison’s plan to apply pressure and generate confusion at the snap was working. The Irish could not run the ball consistently and Golson rarely found an open receiver. Michigan drove the ball deep into Notre Dame territory once again late in the first quarter, but an ill-advised halfback pass by Vincent Smith was picked off by safety Nicky Baratti in the end zone.

    On Michigan’s next possession, Robinson contributed to the comedy of errors by throwing the first of his four interceptions. Manti Te’o stepped in front of the intended receiver to grab the ball and returned it to the Wolverine 17. The Irish failed to advance but Kyle Brindza drilled a 33-yard field goal for the game’s first points with 10:09 left in the half. On the next play from scrimmage, Robinson made another poor throw to Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson, and the Irish took over once again in plus territory. Golson connected with passes to Theo Riddick and DeVaris Daniels, but then made an awful decision by lofting the ball into the end zone under pressure. Thomas Gordon intercepted for Michigan and the score remained at 3-0.

    Four plays later, yet another Robinson pass near midfield was tipped by safety Zeke Motta and clutched by Te’o before it hit the ground. Sensing Golson’s obvious discomfort and the need to capitalize on these opportunities, Coach Brian Kelly inserted Rees at quarterback. The junior hit Daniels and T.J. Jones to move the Irish to the Michigan six yard line. Another short pass advanced the ball inside the one, but consecutive penalties resulted in a ten yard retreat. Irish fortunes returned, however, when an obvious pass interference on Eifert placed the ball on the two with a new set of downs. Rees promptly dove over the goal line on a quarterback draw to score the game’s only touchdown with 1:21 remaining before intermission.

    Robinson tried to rally his team by getting into field goal range as time ran short, but all he could muster was another interception by Notre Dame’s KeiVarae Russell on the final play of the half.

    The Wolverines attempted to rejuvenate their running game in the third quarter as Fitz Toussaint ripped off a 31-yard gain on their first snap. Robinson seemed to have regained his composure as he lead the team down the field and even overcame a holding penalty to extend the drive. The bubble burst again for the speedy senior when he coughed up the football at the Irish eight yard line at the end of a run that would have resulted in a Michigan first down.

    Rees could not move the offense in the third quarter, but the defense held fast despite being on the field for most of the period. The Wolverines finally broke through when Gibbons booted one from 33 yards to narrow the gap to 10-3 with 13 minutes left in the game. Notre Dame needed an answer to regain momentum and Theo Riddick answered the call for the Irish on the ensuing series. A time consuming drive ended with a 39-yard field goal by Brindza at the 6:46 mark.

    The long march by the offense and the restoration of a ten point advantage gave the gritty Notre Dame defense a boost of energy. Although Robinson passed and ran to move the chains in the middle of the field, the Irish refused to break. Sheldon Day’s sack on a third down in the red zone put a sudden stop to yet another threat, and Michigan had to settle for another three pointer by Gibbons with 3:27 left to play.

    With it’s lead cut to seven, Notre Dame did not want to leave Robinson with another chance for a miracle. Facing a third down and four, the Irish split three receivers in a stack to the left and isolated Eifert on the right side against Wolverine cornerback J.T. Floyd. Eifert won the battle down the sideline and achieved separation downfield. Rees floated a pass over Floyd for a 38-yard gain into Michigan territory. A clutch run by Riddick three plays later secured another first down and the ballgame for Notre Dame.

    The win was hardly a thing of beauty from an offensive standpoint, but the Irish have a defense that can keep hope alive until Golson and the offense come of age. The bye week brings a welcome opportunity for rest and repair, and Kelly confirmed his commitment to Golson as his quarterback with Rees remaining in reserve for the time being. Since that formula has worked in two home victories and a 4-0 overall record, not one is going to utter the dreaded term “quarterback controversy” right now.

    Let’s review the answers to the pregame questions:

    Can Notre Dame continue to protect the football in exemplary fashion? Golson’s two early interceptions were anything but exemplary, but the bleeding stopped under Rees.

    Will Robinson be able to generate enough big plays of more than 20 yards to tilt the outcome? Michigan had only one play longer than 20 yards, a 31-yard run by Toussaint early in the third quarter. Several long passes by Robinson either hit the ground or fell into Irish hands.

    Can Notre Dame’s special teams secure favorable field position? Notre Dame’s punting was poor and the Irish allowed too many yards on kickoff returns. Of course, the Wolverines punted only once because they were too busy turning the ball over, and didn’t kick off very often because they didn’t score many points.

    Will the young Irish secondary hold up against Michigan’s receivers? Another solid performance by this group, with interceptions by Baratti, Russell and Jackson as well as a stellar overall game by Motta.

    Can the Wolverines get their running game going against Notre Dame’s massive front? Robinson was held under 100 yards and Toussaint was a non-factor aside from one lone escape.

    Will Notre Dame’s defense be able to put Michigan in third and long situations? Not necessarily in the middle of the field, but the Irish owned the Wolverines in the red zone with sacks, pressure and turnovers.

    Can the Irish control the time of possession and limit Robinson’s scoring chances? Michigan outgained the hosts and controlled the ball for much of the first and third periods, but Notre Dame’s two clutch fourth quarter drives resulted in a much-needed field goal and a victory formation to end the game.

    October will start with another night game for the Irish. The team must travel west on the toll road to play the Miami Hurricanes at Soldier Field in Chicago. Rumor has it that Notre Dame will unveil a special Halloween costume for its players at this event, but no one can make fun of the way the defense is playing football right now.



    45 Responses to “Irish Defense Smothers Michigan”

    1. Kyle Brindza deserves a ton of respect

      • A win is a win but the offensive line better pull it’s collective head out of it’s rear end if we want to be a complete football team. Our running game was awful.

        • Bob Howsam, Jr. says:

          It’s easy to suggest the running the game was awful, but it was apparent from the jump the Irish’s offensive line was over-matched and yet Kelly insisted on running up the gut. No misdirection, no reverses, none of the creative play-calling Kelly was known for before he got to South Bend. But a W and undefeated in September by any other names is still a W and undefeated in September. Having said that, Notre Dame’s offense had better take a deep look in the mirror because the offense isn’t going to be able to bail them out against the likes of Oklahoma, Stanford and Southern Cal.

        • ArizonaIrish says:

          Need to have a fullback.

      • Len Kozlosky says:

        When is someone at ESPN gonna tell Mar May to shut his mouth. He will never give ND any credit. He doesn’t bad mouth anybody else like the Irish

        • I hear that May is going to pick the bye week to upset us in a thriller that comes down to the wire.

    2. While I think it was an “ugly” win, as all the pundits will state, I believe there should be some things that are important to mention:

      1) EG is young. He’s got 3 starts under his belt. No one in the history of college football was stellar after 3 starts. Plus, the game is very hyped up, the pressure is under him, etc. etc. EG will blossom in time.

      2) Tommy Rees is an insurance blanket, nothing more. Kelly knows it, Tommy knows it and everyone in that locker room knows it. He’s NOT the future – he’s simply a “put some aloe on it at it’ll feel better” option when Kelly feels that all hell is breaking loose. He put Tommy in at a most opportune time which resulted in a TD. Hat’s off to Kelly for pulling the trigger at the right moment.

      3) Let’s face it people, this is always a swing game. No matter how strong or weak Michigan is, a lot of these kids have been recruited by both schools and have serious animosity towards each other. It’s never straight forward and easy – this game ALWAYS surprises the heck out of everyone outside of those who understand how psychological this game is on both the fan bases and the players.

      4) This defense is STOUT. You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think that’s the case. Considering the DB situation and how erratic it has been off the field, I would say the coaches have done a stellar job with the converted players and the youngsters.

      5) ENJOY IT. We’re 4-0!! First time since 2002!! Go Irish!!

      • Mike Honcho says:

        All great points, including the one you made below. People should enjoy the win. Of course there are areas to work on, we all expected that to be the case this year after four games, we just didn’t expect 4-0.

    3. Why was Wood used so little?

    4. El Capitano says:

      It was a ugly effort but I was proud of how our guys fought. Kelly and Diacco had good games. Glad we have a bye next week.

    5. Not to be ignored above is the little referred to point on how the D didn’t wilt after being on the field for so long.

      Finally, my (now ex-) boss (Skunkbeare fan) won’t have bragging rights for the next 12 months.

      Hopefully the week off will let the O line gather itself to figure out why the last three weeks (out of 4) they have been unable to control the game or score many points and make the necessary adjustments.

      The campus atmosphere must have been something else.

      • Well, the OL did control the lines against MSU and Navy. They were unable to control against Purdue (who also has a stellar front defensively) and Michigan (for the same reason).

    6. NDBonecrusher says:

      Defense is frightening. Quarterback is a circus. Agree with above-Brindza is a HAMMER.

      Not gonna win any beauty contests, but at the end of the day we are 4-0 and once again ND OWNS THE BIG TEN. Been a long time since we said that. The bye will give Kelly a chance to sort our quarterbacks, and for our hero to see his family in Hawaii.

      Now we can prepare for the triumphant return of the Miami rivalry!

    7. That was one ugly win. I’ll take it though.

    8. martinjordan says:

      ND got an ugly win agaisnt a Michigan team that was desparate not to loose it’s second game. Both teams played “tight” early but Tommy Rees got the ND offense settled down before Robinson could do the same for Michigan.

      1. ND hasn’t scored in the third quarter of its last two games.
      2. When it has had to the ND offense has been able to run the ball and sustain key fourth quarter field goal drives in the last 3 games.
      3. In the second quarter Kelly rotated all three tailbacks in during the same drive in an attempt to kick start the running game.
      4. I’d like to see Golson make more plays with his feet.
      5. Nobody expected that quarterback draw but Rees made an excellent play with his feet a few plays earlier with that scramble and throw to Daniels.
      6. No trick plays this week.
      7. That third down pass to Eifert reminded me just a little of Clements to Weber in the ’73 Sugar Bowl
      8. The defense made plays on the ball in pass defense this year. If they had done that last year …
      9. That pass intereference call on Spond early in the game wasn’t a bad play – he was beat. Better to give up a 15 yard penalty than a long TD.
      10. Robinson got some yardage but he was contained.
      11. The Irish are plus 9 in turnover margin.
      12. NBC seems to be mounting a Teo for Hiesman campaign.

    9. At least the secondary can hang onto the ball when it’s thrown at them – that’s a good sign. Actually, except for a few breakdowns, coverage wasn’t bad – those guys are fast. And Motta is looking pretty good.
      The “world’s toughest schedule” is looking pretty manageable all of a sudden (something I wrote back in July or August). Those pre-season picks just have a way of not working out. I’m not saying we’re back in 1988 yet (without the TOs and dumb penalties, we’d have been 4-0 last year, too) but this team is showing an attitude we haven’t seen in a while. And whoever though we’d cheer when Tommy took the field?

    10. The defense put on a stellar performance, but the offense left much to be desired. The punting game that was an asset against MSU became a liability vs. the skunk bears.

      ND did what they had to do to and made plays at critical times to win the game which hasn’t been done consistently since Lou Holtz departed. But unless they get more production out of the offense, especially the running game, a BCS berth is a long shot. Where’s the play action? And the offensive line play been a disappointment given that’s it’s a veteran group.

      Martin and Kelly can’t seem to devise a scheme that gets their playmakers (like GA III) in space and keep defenses off balance. Perhaps in time that will come but I didn’t expect such a pedestrian and unimaginative offense out of the 2012 Irish.

    11. I love beating UM. That felt good!

      EG is a young QB who would benefit from a strong running game and be able to throw off play action. The fact is our running game is anemic and we have tons of talent at the skill positions. Our offensive line had simply not played well. I don’t care what Michigan had dailed up. Simple run blocking was a problem. Heinsted better figure this out during the bye week our it won’t matter who is the quarterback.

      Kudos to the best defense we’ve seen in 20 years. Let’s find a way to keep Diaco around

      • The Irish offensive woes are not line play and the inability to run the ball. Quite the contrary, it is the QB play and inability to move the ball by passing. Defenses will make EG prove that he can make them pay via the air before they stop loading up against the run.

        It is very difficult to SUSTAIN a running game when there are more defenders to block than there are offense players to block them. To run the ball consistently on good defenses, you need to force defenses to fear the throw and back off the line of scrimmage.

        EG has not shown the ability to consistently make defenses pay for playing the run. Until he does, running the ball with success against good teams will be difficult.

        Take a look at the plays last night. Cornerbacks were ten yards off receivers (which should have yielded a quick pass and run) and yet we stuck with running the ball against 7 and 8 in the box. EG needs to be able to take what defenses give him. He isn’t ready to do that yet. Hopefully he will grow into it over time.

        On the other hand, Rees has shown the ability to make plays in the air with more consistency than EG. I suspect his decent stats in the second half could have been much better had Kelly not been so conservative with the play calling (that decision proved to be the right call since the defense held Michigan to 3 points despite piling up some yardage).

        EG is the QB of the future, but I suspect we will continue to see Rees come into games.

    12. irishhawk50 says:

      I am afraid to say it, but ND is playing over its head. The luck of the Irish has finally turned in our favor. Robinson was terrible and Golson seemed to emulate him. Clearly, Golson is not ready for prime time and, obviously, Kelly knows it. Rees, as someone said, can manage the game but the running game and offensive line are not what we expected, so far.

      I am afraid a good passing quarterback with good receivers will expose the secondary down the road. This is a team on the rise, but not quite there yet. ND is clearly at top 25 team, not quite a top 10 team yet.

      I hate to throw cold water on an important victory. It was great to finally beat Michigan, but with the brutal schedule coming up it will still be a difficult fall, but I still hope for the best. Go Irish.

      • Bob Howsam, Jr. says:

        I think that’s what everyone’s quietly thinking. But I continue to believe it’s Kelly’s play-calling and unimaginative schemes. If he’s get back to the hurry up, spread offense, five-wide sets that was his trademark in Cincinnati, the offense with Golson under center would be just fine. It’s hard to knock a guy who’s coaching conservatively when he’s 4-0 and ranked 10 or better in the country and beaten both Michigan clubs in the same year. But everyone knows that when the Sooners, Cardinal and Trojans come callin’, the present iteration of the Irish offense isn’t going to get it done. If you Google Kelly and spread offense and look at some of the tape of the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game Kelly’s last year there, you’ll see the guy has the capacity to dissect Ds, he simply doesn’t trust the frosh talent on the O side of the ball … which is odd, because he clearly does on the D side.

    13. Bill Rueter says:

      The season reminds me of 2002 when defense carried us. However, later in the season it caught up to us. I hope Kelly uses the bye week to work on the offense.Kyle Brindza has been awesome. Best kicker that we have had in years.I would tear up Diaco’s contract and try to resign him now. He is a very hot coach nationally right now and will probable get several head coaching offers when the season is over.

    14. Thought for the masses. This was a rivalry game. Michigan will never be intimidated by ND no matter what the records are. Michigan was intimidated by Alabama and played like it. Had they played with this defensive intensity against Alabama they still would have lost but not as badly. Auburn is 1 and 3. Does anyone think Auburn will lay down and die for Alabama when they play? However, having said that, ND’s line and the flow of the Offense must get better quickly or the wheels are gonna fall off. Teams down the road are gonna load up and say beat us with the pass. ND had better have an answer.

    15. this was a great victory and it shows the defense is for real despite young DBs. The didnt break and in the past our defense broke in critical situations frequently. Kelly has got to step up with an offensive scheme. UM was the 104 ranked rushing defense nationally and we had no running game. Why was Wood not playing a TON more? Why not Neal or Atkinson? Rees has been admirable in “relief” but ND cant win with him in the game consistently. He will prove to be a major liability in an offense with no imagination. that needs fixing immediately

    16. Most of the ESPN “experts” had ND at 2-2 at this point of the season. Most had ND winning 8 games at best. Mark May had them winning 6 if they were lucky. ND still has some tough games ahead, OU, USC and even Pitt who is playing very well, but the way their defense is playing the Irish could run the table. OU looked bad at home and USC will have 3-4 losses by the time ND arrives in Nov. If the offense gets stronger it is a strong possibility.
      Why does ESPN continue to kiss USCs piehole? As of this morning they still have Barkley as a top 5 Heisman candidate! Barkley had a measly 192 yards and threw 2 picks yesterday, yet ESPN continues to crown him. USC is a filthy place
      Great Irish win last night

      • Bob Howsam, Jr. says:

        Notre Dame needs to crank up its communication team to launch a Manti Teo for Heismann campaign. He’s the best player in the college game right now. Period.

    17. Let’s not bag on the O-line too much, guys. When you have nine guys in the box it’s hard to run. That’s what we are going to face until Golson settles down and starts to earn respect as a passer.

    18. Irish_Bob_4 Life says:

      Is there a reason Golson doesn’t run off of any fakes? Seems if he has the wheels, we’d see him run. But as we’re all saying, a win is a win and it’s Great to beat Michigan!!!!!

    19. Finally a win against scUM!!! Woo-hoo those obnoxious mich fans can shut the frick up lol!
      A win is a win I will take it!!!
      T’eo for heisman…..GO IRISH!!!

    20. Gary raises a good point. Why was Cierre Wood not featured more? Kelly must still be mad at him and is refusing to put him in even during key situations. Someone mentioned last week about Riddick seemingly always one step away from breaking it or always getting tripped up. Wood has better vision, burst, and breakaway speed and if he had as many touches as Riddick last night I bet there wouldn’t be as much talk about the o line and running game needing to step it up.

    21. I’m surprised to see so many negative comments about this win. Was it pretty? No. But other than a couple poor choices by Golson, I am Very proud of this team! Especially the defense! And especially the man of the match, Manti T’eo! We are 4-0 here people. The Irish D held Robinson to less yards and points than even top ranked Alabama did. All week long we listened to the talk that Robinson is the best quarterback in the nation and guess what, we forced him into 5 turnovers! Unbelievable.

      Offensively, obviously, I wish we could have put more points on the board. But I am actually not so put off by this quarterback rotation. Golson is a natural athlete but still a red shirted freshman. Sometimes freshmen will struggle, so we’re blessed to have a good passing, experienced Junior like Rees who can play on the occasions where Golson is struggling. And if the worst should happen and Golson gets hurt we have a lot of depth at QB with Rees and even Hendrix, so I think we would not skip a beat.

      Yes, the schedule coming up is difficult, but it’s Notre Dame, it always is and always shall be! In the meantime let’s all enjoy this week off and relish the fact that after so many heartbreaking, nail biting losses, we’ve Finally beaten Michigan again! This is the best this overall team has been in a long, long time. Saturdays are fun for ND fans again. Let’s enjoy it. GO IRISH!!!!!

    22. A win is a win is a win. It counts just as much if it is ugly.

      We did run a play action pass. First play of the game. Golson had it picked. I don’t think he ever got comfortable after that. Even Mayock made some comments about that and the switch in play calling. I would have liked to see that first pass be one of those bombs we threw unsuccessfully against MSU, just to warn the safeties, but not to be.

      Kelly needs to call pass plays, especially early, that lets Golson get his feet under him. Early success breeds more success. In my view, Golson made one bad play (the first pick) and one bad decision (the second). I don’t know if that justified pulling him, but you can’t argue with results. Also, we don’t have the ability to look in his eyes and sense his mood. We also don’t know what reads Golson was missing, the plays left on the field as Kelly refers to them.

      Going to a five wide, hurry up spread does not really play to the strengths of this offense. It puts a lot of pressure on the QB and takes away the crutch of the run. Maybe we have to, but I want to see the running game return. Not to the extent of some of the posters, but it needs to be a viable option.

      • Bob Howsam, Jr. says:

        The five-wide hurry up spread does not take away the crutch of the run. It actually helps the run because it significantly spreads the D, and gives guys like Wood and Riddick much-needed space and cut-back lanes to run, and opens up the high-percentage safety valve passes to those guys which are essentially a run. It would also give Golson far more opportunities to make plays with his feet. I can’t really get a sense of whether he can or he can’t because he always seems to be bottled up. And I’m not suggesting the Irish go hurry 5-wide as a steady diet, but to instead sprinkle in from time to time to keep the opposing Ds off-balance.

    23. Lets not get ahead of ourselves. I loved the win but it was not a top 10 performance. The biggest problem with the offense is that they need to be on the field longer. This happens all the time when nd has a great d. Our offense doesnt sustain drives so our d tires out. Praise be to the teo team by bending and not breaking, but most of mi good drives came after really short nd drives.
      I still maintain an 8-4 season until EG grows up. When he does i will change my stance to 9-3.

    24. austinirish says:

      A great win, but let’s not take the Canes lightly. They had a good win against GT yesterday, and KSU seems to be better than we thought.

    25. I flash back to 1988. We struggled against Michigan at night at home. Our QB was still somewhat a question mark but one that Lou recruited for his system. Our defense had some no names, position changes and newcomers. I am not saying we will win a NC this season but with each week we gain more and more confidence. If Kelly would cut the restraints on Golson and let him perform to his ability instead of putting him in tough situations. He ran a different scheme with Rees. ran the ball more. I think he needs to put Golson more into position to have success, he needs to run more read option with him and take advantage of his running skills. He puts a harness on him much like Hoax did with Robinson. We are riding a very good defense and Kelly needs to step it up on offense. I worry that he may lose Golson next year if he doesnt use him better. This kid has great skills and needs to be cut loose a little bit. I would rather see him make big plays and live with the mistakes than see him pulled because Kelly didnt give him a chance to succeed.

      • We also had that guy who kept going back and forth between TB and flanker in his ND career. What was his name again, Ricky something?

      • Bob Howsam, Jr. says:

        You’re absolutely richt Kelly puts the harness on Golson, but the harness is the idiotic, frenetic, disorganized play-calling from the sidelines. All that style of communicating plays serves to do is burn the play-clock, take the offense completely out-of-rythym, and destroy any opportunity for the QB to audible. When Rees is QB’ing, you also have to build in 19 additional seconds for the kid’s finger-licks. What’s up with that? But I digress …

    26. Poor punting was one of the hidden problems in the game, and that can limit what you are willing to do, especially when the QB is shaky. ND only started 2 drives outside its own 25: at its 39 which resulted in a pickoff. And at its own 48, which resulted in the TD.

    27. irishhawk50 says:

      I just listened to Kelly’s Sunday teleconference and it seems he is not so resolute on Golson as he has been over the last couple weeks. I think he is beginning to have doubts about him. I know I am. Maybe the learning curve will be longer than anticipated for Golson and maybe he is beginning to think a steady Rees with a much improved defense may be a plan B.

      • Bob Howsam, Jr. says:

        Giving up on Golson would be a huge mistake. Rees is sooooo Friday Night. But what the heck, after two “stellar” 8-5 campaigns, perhaps Kelly thinks folks will find 9-4 and the Go Bowl a “step in the right direction.”

    28. irishhawk50 says:

      Just read via Detroit Free Press that ND is dropping the Michigan game after 2014. A real shame especially if they keep Purdue over Michigan.

    29. if they make the qb change to rees then the season will be effectively over as will any progress the irish have made. Ok for a back up once in awhile but he cannot ever start a game that counts