Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 8, 2012 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 24 of 55

On Paper Revisited By Lou Somogyi Michigan Running Game Vs. Notre Dame Run Defense Quarterback Denard Robinson was limited to 90 yards on 26 carries, an average of just 3.5 yards per carry. The edge of the Irish defense, particularly junior drop linebacker Danny Spond, did a stellar job of keep him from breaking to the outside and funneled almost everything back inside. Robinson’s longest run, 20 yards, came with 16 seconds left in the first half deep in his territory. That means the other 25 carries averaged less than three yards. Considering he had averaged 8.3 yards per carry against Notre Dame the two previous years, it was a remarkable effort by the Irish defense. In the third quarter, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (13 carries for 58 yards) became much more involved in the zone option, but not enough to spring Robinson. Advantage: Notre Dame Michigan Passing Game Vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense Five interceptions by Notre Dame (a first in an Irish game since 1988 against Purdue) pretty much told the tale, especially the crucial one by freshman Nicky Baratti in the end zone when he didn’t bite on a first-quarter halfback pass. Underrated was the way the Irish still generated a pass rush — three sacks and four hurries — while staying disciplined in their lanes and not allowing Robinson to break containment or ad-lib. Michigan managed only 138 yards passing on 25 attempts to go with the turnovers, while Notre Dame mixed its coverage, going more with zone. That left it a little more susceptible to the run in the second half, but not to the point where it allowed any explosive plays. Advantage: Notre Dame Notre Dame Running Game Vs. Michigan Run Defense For the second week in a row, Notre Dame’s ground attack wasn’t a factor until the fourth quarter, with senior Theo Riddick (17 carries for 52 yards) the workhorse. The Irish rushed for 25 yards in the first quarter, 11 in the second, 21 in the third and 37 in the fourth for a total of 94. Only one of the 31 running plays netted more than eight yards (a 15-yard jaunt by senior Cierre Wood). Using junior quarterback Tommy Rees on a draw from two yards for the game’s lone touchdown was an inspired call, especially given the travails of the inconsistent Irish ground game. Advantage: Michigan Notre Dame Passing Game Vs. Michigan State Pass Defense Sophomore Everett Golson seemed unsettled from the outset, throwing two interceptions and sailing a couple of passes before getting pulled at the 6:10 mark of the second quarter. Junior Tommy Rees (8-of-11 passing for 115 yards with no interceptions) provided stability by avoiding the bad plays, including not taking any sacks. On the lone TD drive, sophomore DaVaris Daniels and junior TJ Jones came down with 16- and 24-yard receptions, respectively. Rees also lofted a perfect 38-yard pass late in the game on third-and-four to senior tight end Tyler Eifert to help clinch the outcome. Advantage: Michigan Special Teams Michigan had to punt only once, but that’s because it had six turnovers. Notre Dame senior punter Ben Turk launched two beauties of 49 and 47 yards that pinned Michigan back, but he shanked two others that each went 28 yards. Sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza converted both of his field goal attempts (39 and 33 yards), while Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons was 2 of 3, missing from 43 yards on the second series. Overall, the results evened out. Advantage: Even Third-Down Conversions It’s astounding that after going 3 of 9 on third downs versus Michigan, the Irish are 4 of 23 (17.4 percent) in that category the past two weeks yet still defeated two ranked teams in the Wolverines and Michigan State. It reminds us a little of the 1988 champs, who scored one TD total on offense against Michigan and MSU — but still won both games. However, the play of the game might have been Rees’ third-and-four completion to Eifert for 38 yards in the closing minutes, which prevented Robinson from getting one more chance to work his fourth-quarter magic against Notre Dame. Michigan was 8 of 15 (53.3 percent), but that effort was negated by six turnovers. Advantage: Michigan Turnovers Game, set and match for Notre Dame with a plus-four advantage (6-2). Remarkably, the Wolverines were still within striking distance despite five first-half turnovers that gave the Irish a 10-0 lead at the intermission. Robinson’s fumble at the Notre Dame 11 — where he had just picked up a first down — on Michigan’s initial series in the second half might have been the most damaging one of the game. Advantage: Notre Dame Analysis Notre Dame’s 2012 identity is clearly on the defense to hold down the fort, special teams to not do damage and the offense finding its spots to make just enough crucial plays to help win the game. It’s a long way from both the Charlie Weis era (2005-09) at Notre Dame and Brian Kelly’s modus operandi at Cincinnati (2007-09), when trying to win shootouts were the weekly norm. The Irish have demonstrated they are BCS caliber, and then some, on defense. Whether the offense can join it by the end of the season is uncertain, but so far Kelly has pressed enough of the right buttons at the right time at quarterback the past three weeks to come out ahead in the overall team scheme.

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