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Evaluating the Irish: Michigan Wolverines

By · September 13th, 2010 · 0 Comments · 2,810 views
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Evaluating the Irish: Michigan Wolverines

As the Fighting Irish battled the Wolverines toward the end of the game, memories of recent seasons past flashed through my mind. In a game littered with missed assignments, blown coverage, and shoddy tackling, could the Irish squeak out a win? In a few short months with Brian Kelly, could Notre Dame shake their recent reputation of crumbling under pressure and notch a victory—one they probably didn’t deserve?

Like some kind of sick, recurring joke, the Irish failed to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat. But the worst part about the way the game played out on Saturday is that it seems like the Irish actually regressed in their development in the week since their victory over Purdue.

At quarterback, there simply is no suitable co-pilot.

If the first half on Saturday proved anything, it’s that the Irish clearly don’t have a viable option at quarterback should Crist get injured again. As was one of my concerns heading into the season, Saturday proved that, without Crist, the Irish are lost on offense.

It’s understandable that Tommy Rees is a freshman and Nate Montana, to put it nicely, in normal circumstances, wouldn’t be suited up for the Irish. But, the lack of development in the underclassmen isn’t the problem here. As Brian Kelly said right after the game, the way the Irish played after Crist found himself on the sidelines falls directly on the coaches. Simply put, the backups should have been more prepared and the coaching staff should have put together a modified package for the reserve quarterbacks. The frustration that Kelly directed to Rees and Montana following each failed drive should have been directed at himself.

Crist didn’t lose the game, but he didn’t win it either.

Sound familiar? I respect the fact that Crist is “learning on the job.” I also respect the fact that, while Crist is a junior, this game was only the second start of his career at Notre Dame. That being said, when he came back in the 2nd half, Crist did a magnificent job of orchestrating two very impressive drives that ended in touchdown passes to Tai-ler Jones and Kyle Rudolph. The relief in the players eyes and energy level, on both offense and defense, when Crist came back into the game was extremely encouraging.

However…

Last week, I wrote that even though Crist was told not to make any rash decisions with the football and to “take what the defense gives you,” I thought that perhaps Crist was playing too conservatively. After the final play against Michigan, it’s clear that Crist merely needs to work on his accuracy. His arm strength is adrmirable. However, the final throw of the game—a hail mary/jump ball situation in the endzone—looked less like a deep throw and more like a field goal, as the ball nearly sailed into the stands behind the endzone. To echo Brian Kelly’s thoughts immediately following the game, you can win running that kind of play, but you have to keep the ball on the field.

502 total yards? Ouch.

Although nobody expected Denard Robinson to run for 258 yards, most everyone, including Kelly and his staff, expected Michigan’s offense to be mostly a one-man band. Clearly, the Irish defensive staff was counting on Robinson to run the ball a lot, which is why Robinson was able to dissect the Irish secondary for 244 yards and a touchdown. However, the most alarming thing about Robinson’s stats for the day is that he averaged 9.2 yards on the ground and 10.2 yards through the air. It appears as though the defensive scheme was adequate—few Irish defensive sets looked like miscalls—and the defensive line was able to create pressure and shed blocks effectively. But the elusive Robinson was just a little too elusive: the Irish defense needed to do a better job wrapping the shifty QB up on the first attempt.

In the short time that the Irish have been playing for Brian Kelly, it’s clear that Notre Dame defense has showed improvement in tackling technique, it’s also clear that proper tackling technique doesn’t mean a whole lot if the defense can’t do it with any type of consistency. Simply put, going forward, the Irish defense must be more consistent in their tackling technique if it expects to not have to rely on the offense to win games, which was a common theme under Charlie Weis and one that this team must avoid at all costs.

Does Notre Dame have their “fight” back?

In a game full of disappointments, there is a lot of good that will result from this game. While the expectation at Notre Dame is to win a national championship every year, and with that expectation in mind with Notre Dame’s first loss of the year, this season will ultimately not live up to its goal. But while there is no such thing as a moral victory, it is clear that this team possesses a different attitude than recent squads.

As it was mentioned in a recent post at Her Loyal Sons, Notre Dame fans and followers have grown accustomed to drawing positives out of generally negative games or finding the silver lining in every dark cloud. But as true followers of Notre Dame, we must insist on the true goal of the University of Notre Dame of excellence in all pursuits. Will the team use this loss as motivation to pursue excellence throughout the rest of the season, or will they simply use this loss as an excuse for mediocrity, chalking up their deficiencies to learning a new system under new head coach Brian Kelly? We must insist on the former.

Furthermore

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