Didn’t this happen already? Wasn’t it just a year ago that Notre Dame took the lead late in the game, only to see Michigan’s young quarterback effortlessly march down the field and dash a dream that appeared guaranteed only moments ago? It all seemed so familiar, almost in an eerie way. What was even stranger was that it was a different young quarterback. Last year- Tate Forcier. This year – Denard Robinson.
Maybe this is why when Kyle Rudolph waltzed into the end – zone with 3:41 left in the fourth, the feeling on the Lauterbach couch was one of fear. 3:41 was more than enough time for Michigan to rip some Irish hearts out. Denard Robinson just had that look of an Irish killer, maybe more like a stealth assassin. Whether it was the shoelace – less one dashing 87 yards in the second quarter or slinking down the field to set up eventual missed field goals, Robinson wasn’t going to let Notre Dame get away easy…or with a win. The talk all week was about how Notre Dame was going to have to stop Robinson to remain undefeated. But stopping is not part of Robinson’s game.
Whenever defensive game plans that focus on stopping an option quarterback are previewed in places like this blog, it’s generally assumed that if a team stops the “big gain,” it will have success. That is not always accurate.
Aside from the big touchdown run, Notre Dame’s defense didn’t do a bad job on Saturday. That’s what makes the loss so frustrating. It was not big runs that killed the Irish, it was the short ones. Without the 87 yard scamper, Robinson averaged just over six yards a carry. That’s not great, but it’s a more indicative number then the 9.2 average that shows up on the score sheet.
Notre Dame’s third down defense was excellent, a major concern with a shifty quarterback. Michigan converted only 3 of 16 third downs. Robinson was forced to throw forty times and completed only a little over half of those passes. Although he threw the ball well at points, it still remains to be seen whether or not he can consistently make plays through the air. Today, however, he did. (Side note: be prepared for the over rating of Robinson’s throwing ability this week. Let’s relax for a bit, he was 24/40 and over – threw countless receivers…remember I said this)
An underrated storyline that the NBC inexplicably glossed over was the play of Manti Te’o. Te’o was all over the place and was as dominant as he’s ever been. This could be the start of a really special year for Te’o
But don’t read the last two paragraphs as excuses. Yet again the Notre Dame secondary had to make a stop at the end of the game and couldn’t do it. When are the Irish going to come out on top in one of these games? The examples from the last three years are countless. A ton of it had to do with Charlie Weis being a terrible football coach. Today proved that some of it wasn’t the big mans fault. Somewhere in Kansas City, Charlie Weis is having terrible flashbacks…or maybe he’s smirking (or at least not frowning).
While the defense has no excuse, the offense has one. No one in South Bend will say this (nor should they, football’s about accountability), so let’s use this space to do so. If Dayne Crist plays the entire game, the Irish are 2-0.
Aside from a lull midway through the second half, Crist was fantastic. The throw to Rudolph to give Notre Dame the lead was Clausen – esque. The opening drive of the game was effortless. Not to mention that he drove the offense down the field and, with the help of a personal foul, put them in position to win the game on a manageable end – zone throw on the final play of the game.
He reverted to the Crist of old with a bad throw to end the game, but it almost didn’t matter. The confidence Notre Dame has in Dayne Crist to run the offense has never been higher. Any questions (and I had mine) about whether or not he was the right guy for this team were answered resoundingly on Saturday. He is…and, given the way Kelly was clearly afraid to do anything with Nate Montana or Tommy Rees, it’s not even close.
Imagine if Notre Dame had won the game today. That would have been a Brady Quinn or Jimmy Clausen – like win for Crist in only his second game as a starter. Surprise! This kid is good.
Crist even made Brian Kelly look bad at the end. If Kelly had elected to kick the easy field goal at the end of the first half, instead of going for the touchdown, Notre Dame would have been down by one with a make-able field goal to win the game. But here’s why you can’t go “Charlie Weis crazy” about the choice. At the time, Notre Dame was down 14. A field goal would have made the half time deficit 11. That’s still two touchdowns. Without any idea (which he claimed he didn’t have) about Crist’s second half availability, you had to try and make it a seven point game. Who knows if Notre Dame gets close to the end zone again with Nate Montana looking like he forgot how to play? Kelly had no choice but to go for the jugular.
The situation at the end of the first half was almost symbolic of the way the second half would turn out. Close, but not enough.
About the Author
Written by Jordan Lauterbach
Jordan Lauterbach began his career in sports media when he was just 15 years old at WKWZ - Syosset. He hosted a sports talk show for nearly four years before moving on to WCWP - Brookville in 2006. Lauterbach currently hosts a sports talk show every Wednesday night from 9pm - midnight (eastern) and a College Football talk show on Saturday mornings from 11am - 12:30 (eastern) (can be heard online at wcwpsports.com and on Long Island on 88.1fm). Follow me on twiiter: jlauterbach1