Denard Robinson, however horrific his performance, is not the reason Notre Dame got the Michigan monkey off its collective back, finally. No, Notre Dame’s defense is the reason. The Irish are really, really good on defense. ND’s young corners played a good enough game to help the secondary move to “This I Can Handle” on the Notre Dame Fan Freak Out-meter. Our ends and LB’s simply exploded Michigan’s line, helping Prince Shembo find his pilfered bicycle seat in the Wolverines’ backfield. And Manti Te’o played a game for the ages, putting on a better defensive perfomance by himself than most NFL teams put up today. I am looking directly at you, New Orleans Saints.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are 4-0 for the first time since 2002. When you stop and think that six entire classes, or close to it (I’m not sure — Arts & Letters here), completed their undegraduate experience without knowing 4-0, you begin to appreciate the magnitude of this accomplishment. That it was done against a schedule that consisted of the (then) tenth ranked team in the nation (MSU) and the (then) eighteenth ranked team (UM), Purdue and Navy (in Dublin) makes it all the more impressive.
Against Michigan and under the lights, some fighter planes and a giant Irish flag, ND’s defense, now ranked fourth in the nation, came to play. Michigan’s offense did not. Michigan didn’t score until the fourth quarter and then only came away with two field goals. Manti Te’o lei’d claim to every individual defensive award this season by turning in an eight tackle, two INT performance, bringing his season (and career) total to three. Stephon Tuitt added one sack to bring his season total to six, while Sheldon Day and Prince Shembo also brought down the elusive Wolverine signal-caller. Danny Spond was terrific and the Notre Dame secondary (gasp!) was actually more than serviceable. They were able to do enough to make Robinson hold the ball long enough, which gave the rush and push of the Irish front seven time enough to get after him. The defense has now kept two ranked opponents out of the endzone in consecutive games.
The Irish tore up the Michigan offensive line and clearly got into Deard Robinson’s dreadlocked head. His four back-to-back-to-back-to-back interceptions and one fumble shredded what tattered remnants of Heisman hope he had coming into the game. Still, Michigan Coach Brady Hoke stuck with him despite what Robinson later called “the worst game of [his] career.” Kudos to him for owning up to the stink, but having now turned in a rough outing against Alabama in the season opener and a disaster against Notre Dame, we can close the book on the candle that was Denard Robinson and appreciate in the dying, twisting whisps of smoke his ultimately futile brilliance. Pure Michigan.
Notre Dame’s offense got the job done. Personally, the sense I have is that Coach Kelly and the staff have been building a championship defense while simply minding the offense. Think of it as comparable to the Allied strategy against the Axis 1941-1945: hold off the Japanese while building up our capabilities in Europe, defeat Germany and then turn the full weight of our war machine back to Japan. In today’s presser, the link to which is given below, Coach Kelly described his team’s offense as essentially a work-in-progress, but one that has, nevertheless, come out ahead of its four opponents, two of which were top twenty-five teams.
The presence of Michael Floyd last year made up for a lot of shortcomings and made the dichotomy between where we were going as an offense and as a defense less distinct. Still, why the offense on Saturday flowed so poorly and so maddingly consistently through Cierre Wood is a mystery to this author. Unlike his portly counterpart on the Michigan sideline, Coach Kelly, though, was quick to make a change at QB, sending Tommy Rees in to close out the first half. Everett Golson, who probably couldn’t handle the pressure of the moment, did not see the field again, although Coach Kelly is committed to him as the starter. If Golson indeed does take the first snap in two weeks against Miami in Chicago, it will only be because he survived what will no doubt be an intense re-education program and film study.
If you had known in advance of Saturday’s game that Denard Robinson, Everett Golson and Tommy Rees were all going to play and you were then told that one of them would throw four interceptions, one of them would throw two interceptions and only one of them would have a rushing touchdown, how would you have matched the player to the performance? I certainly would not have picked Rees to be the successful scrambler, although the play they designed for the situation was aptly called “House Party.” That’s not true, but it does make me chuckle a little. If he had been stopped short, the tackling technique would have been described as “cabbie.”
In any event, Notre Dame is a Top Ten team and 4-0 going into the open week. Manti Te’o gets a well-deserved opportunity to mourn and to be with his family. The offense gets to develop some consistency and, I hope, some sort of a passing game. The defense gets to admire another pelt on its wall. And we get to talk about it. God I love football.
And in honor of so many monkeys being off Notre Dame’s collective back, please, if you will, this: