Given what has happened in this game over the last three years, I wouldn't be surprised to see Notre Dame buy their way out of this series by Wednesday afternoon at the latest.
Michigan Monday - Notre Dame
By Tony Gerdeman
For the third year in a row, the Wolverines defeated the Irish by scoring in the final minute of the game. In 2009, they scored with eleven seconds on the clock, in 2010, it was a hefty 27 seconds., and on Saturday, Denard Robinson found Roy Roundtree in the endzone with just two seconds remaining to win it 35-31.
Granted, Brian Kelly has only been involved in the last two of these, but there is no amount of therapy that could repair him if he has to go through this again.
This game is going to live in infamy for Notre Dame, and it absolutely should. For the second time in as many weeks, the Irish gave the game away.
Notre Dame led 24-7 at the end of the third quarter with Michigan threatening to score. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Wolverine running back Stephen Hopkins took the carry at the Irish one-yard line and fumbled the ball. Had Notre Dame picked up the ball, the Michigan momentum would have fizzled. Instead, Denard Robinson scooped up the fumble and ran the ball into the endzone. The score was now 24-14 and business had just picked up.
Even when Notre Dame made a play, they still couldn't capitalize.
Of course, how could Brian Kelly have known that Robinson, who had completed just 4-14 passes through the first three quarters, would then go on to complete 7-10 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone.
It was a tremendous comeback by Michigan, but it was also a spectacular collapse by Notre Dame.
Three times the Irish turned the ball over inside Michigan's 30-yard line, and two of those were actually inside the ten-yard line.
The remarkable thing is that none of it would have mattered if Notre Dame could defend something as simple as a jump ball.
Robinson threw five jump balls against Notre Dame, and all of them were caught. Granted, one of them was caught by defensive back Robert Blanton, but you get the gist.
Three of them went for touchdowns against cornerback Gary Gray, who locates the ball about as well as Stevie Brown with his eyes closed. (Miss you, Stevie.)
Notre Dame had no business losing this game, but since their business has essentially become losing games, I guess this one went exactly according to plan.
When Michigan Was On Offense
I know Michigan fans loved the game, but there was very little to love when it came to the Wolverine offense.
Robinson finished 11-24 passing for 338 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Prior to the fourth quarter, he was 4-14 for 136 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Of his 24 passes, only six were under ten yards, and his completion percentage certainly exhibits that.
What everybody will remember from this game is the number of jump balls thrown by Robinson. By my count he threw five and completed four.
The first was to Junior Hemingway in the second quarter. Robinson heaved it into single coverage and Hemingway went up and caught the ball around the four-yard line on Gary Gray and then fell into the endzone for the touchdown. It's a pass that everybody throws, but nobody would call it an integral part of their offense.
On Saturday, however, it was basically Michigan's entire fourth quarter offense. The most unbelievable of these passes went to 5-8 receiver Jeremy Gallon in the endzone. Kirk Herbstreit said that Robinson intentionally threw the ball short, but there's no such thing as a back shoulder jump ball. Regardless of the unlikeliness quotient, the pass was completed for a touchdown. Again, it was Gary Gray who was victimized.
But seriously, a jump ball to a 5-8 dude in the endzone? In what universe is this a good decision?
He then completed a 45-yard jump ball to Hemingway in double coverage. Both safeties ran by Hemingway, who timed his jump perfectly. But again, it was a terrible decision that Robinson got away with.
He fell in love with the jump ball, and it nearly cost his team the game when he threw an interception on the Notre Dame goal line with 4:23 to play down 24-21. By the way, this pass was also intended for Jeremy Gallon for some reason.
The final jump ball won the game for the Wolverines when Robinson dropped back with eight seconds to play in the game and found Roy Roundtree from 16 yards out. When the play was over, there were two seconds remaining on the clock. What would have happened if the pass was tipped? Would the clock have run out on the Wolverines, costing them a chance to tie it with a field goal?
Overall, it was a baffling thought process that couldn't have possibly worked out better for them. Watching the game, it occurred to me that even though Michigan didn't get Les Miles, they have possibly hired a reasonable facsimile in Brady Hoke.
For the game, Robinson completed 80% of his jump balls (4-5), and just 37% of his normal passes (7-19). It absolutely has to be a concern for Michigan, especially when the only person who can carry the ball is Robinson (16 carries for 108 yards).
Michigan rushed for just 114 yards, meaning that the Wolverine running backs combined to carry the ball eight times for just ten yards.
The game plan was to have Robinson throw down the field, and run the ball. Against this defense, it was clearly the correct choice, but Robinson needs to hold up his end of the bargain better when it comes to completions.
On a very interesting note, however, was the fact that Robinson was actually running some read option plays. He didn't do much of it last year, but on Saturday he was incredibly effective. He kept the ball five times on the read plays and picked up 79 yards for his troubles.
The offensive line did an okay job opening holes. There were some massive openings, but the Wolverines don't really have the running backs to capitalize. Fitzgerald Toussaint, who opened the season as the starter, never saw the field because of a shoulder injury. Stephen Hopkins fumbled at the goal line, and Michael Shaw is as likely to lose five yards as he is to pick up five yards. Vincent Smith is best in the passing game, as evidenced by his touchdown run, but he may get more of a look after Saturday's game.
At some point in the near future, it will be time to see what Michigan has in their freshmen tailbacks, especially if Fitzgerald Toussaint can't stay healthy, which he apparently can't.
When Michigan Was On Defense
I actually don't think things went too badly for what Michigan has. They can't get pressure with their front four, so they have to constantly blitz and take risks. Unfortunately, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees was picking the Wolverines apart early on.
Rees was 8-8 passing for 94 yards in the first quarter. Combine that with Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder going 8-8 for 56 yards last week, and opposing quarterbacks have gone 16-16 for 150 yards in the first quarter against Michigan's defense this year.
But adjustments got made quickly, and they were effective. Rees went 5-14 in the second quarter with two interceptions.
Still, Notre Dame gained 315 yards through the air and another 198 yards on the ground. The running game was incredibly effective for the Irish as running backs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray were frequently running through the middle of the line with nothing but empty space staring them in the face.
Notre Dame had seven carries of over ten yards in the first three quarters on Saturday.
True freshman Desmond Morgan got the start at weakside linebacker in place of the injured Brandon Herron, but he didn't do much. He was replaced by Brandin Hawthorne, who showed an ability to knife through on blitzes. He finished with six tackles, including a tackle for loss on a key third and three at the start of the fourth quarter. Don't be surprised if he is your new starter on the weakside.
The linebackers are growing on me a bit. Hawthorne, Kenny Demens and Jake Ryan are a persistent trio. All make their mistakes and have their weaknesses, but all make plays.
The defensive line will be a problem all season long, however. I thought Ryan Van Bergen flashed quite a few times. He got into the backfield, but he's limited. Mike Martin will always do more than the box score indicates, but the same can't be said for anybody else.
Craig Roh didn't even record a tackle. Maybe it's time we stopped assuming his lack of production was because he was raw. He hasn't made a play yet. The Notre Dame offensive line controlled Michigan's front four.
There's some potential in defensive end Jibreel Black, and once he is as disciplined as he needs to be, he will begin to make plays.
Despite the night that Rees had at quarterback, I don't really think the secondary for the Wolverines was that bad. Michael Floyd is going to make 95% of college defensive backs look bad. It's what he does.
Though I should mention that Michigan played a lot of nickel in this game and I'm not sure what safety Marvin Robinson is actually good at. I know it's not tackling, though.
Safety Thomas Gordon had a rough game as well. He'll be having Michael Floyd flashbacks in 60 years. I'm not sure Gordon is any type of answer at safety, other than "None of the above".
The Special Teams
Michigan did a much better job covering kicks this week, though they did allow a 36-yard kickoff return to Theo Riddick.
Jeremy Gallon had a nice 21-yard punt return, which gave Michigan some much needed field position. More importantly, he actually caught the ball.
Matt Wile averaged 38.6 yards on his five punts, which wasn't all that bad. He was also helped out by Notre Dame punt returner John Goodman, who fair caught a couple of punts that could have been nice returns.
What It All Means
It means that in a game of all or nothing, eventually the nothing will refuse to be silenced.
If Denard Robinson continues to carry this love of the 50/50 further into the season, it will cost Michigan football games.
Against Western Michigan, the Wolverines went with a short passing game, and Robinson completed 69% of his passes. Against Notre Dame, they decided to let him sling the ball around and he completed 46% of his passes, and a lot of those incompletions weren't even close. He threw an interception on a screen pass that was at least three feet over Vincent Smith's head. It showed a jarring lack of touch, unless he is now throwing jump balls on screen passes.
I don't want to appear to be only focusing on the negative with this offense, but right now it so far outweighs the positive that it has to be addressed.
Denard Robinson can't be Michigan's sole running game, and the jump balls can't be their most effective passing game. It's not a winning solution.
There are still many glaring issues with this Michigan offense, but one of the very bright spots was the success with the read option. Expect the Wolverines to continue exploring those options.
The defense is what it is, and that's why defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has to rely so much on the blitz. They paid for it at times on Saturday, and got away with it on other times, but there is no doubt that it can be very effective.
It will be interesting to see how this Michigan defense evolves as more teams begin to break the Wolverines down in their preparation.
There isn't a lot to work with for Mattison. He's essentially being asked to present a restaurant-quality menu using only an Aldi's shopping list.
Brady Hoke is already on his way to improving the talent level in Ann Arbor, but it still takes years to build experienced talent. The Wolverines will get there, but it won't be this year.
The Road To The Big One
September 3 Michigan 34 – Western Michigan 10
September 10 Michigan 35 - Notre Dame 31
September 17 Eastern Michigan
September 24 San Diego State
October 1 Minnesota
October 8 at Northwestern
October 15 at Michigan State
October 29 Purdue
November 5 at Iowa
November 12 at Illinois
November 19 Nebraska
November 26 Ohio State
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