The Michigan Wolverines marched into South Bend on Saturday and came out with a hard-fought victory over the Fighting Irish. All you’ll hear about the game from the national sports networks and talking heads is how great Michigan played, and how Denard Robinson is better than Michael Vick and Vince Young combined.
But anyone who actually watched the game knows the real story. Notre Dame was the better team, and simply beat themselves.
No,w keep this in mind – at the end of the day, wins and loses are the only thing that matter. No matter what your Pop Warner coach told you, there are no moral victories. So really it doesn’t matter that Notre Dame beat themselves more than Michigan beat them. But it still happened.
Mental Lapses & Blown Assignments
The Irish needed to do just one simple thing on defense to win Saturday, and failed. The game boiled down to playing assignment football, the most important assignment being outside containment. ND had to keep Michigan QB Denard Robinson in the middle of the field and not allow him to turn the corner and get out on the perimeter. But Robinson was able to beat the Irish on the perimeter multiple times, and it hurt them. One such containment lapse resulted in an 87 yard touchdown scamper by the Michael Vick clone.
And when it mattered most, during the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, the secondary suffered a complete mental breakdown. What was supposed to be inside-out coverage by the Irish secondary was anything but, and the result was a 15 yard catch over the middle on third down that ultimately led to the winning Wolverine score. A defense that had held Michigan scoreless for nearly the entire second half gave up a 72-yard drive when it mattered most.
The offense also struggled to find consistency among the mental breakdowns of not only the team, but the coaching staff as well. According to head coach Brian Kelly, the Irish ran a flea flicker with backup quarterback Tommy Rees because the play eliminated any reads. Yet Rees still found a way to make the wrong read, and threw and ugly interception. Between Nate Montana’s interception toss into triple coverage, his final throw of the first half (a dead strike to some fan in the third row) and most of the playcalling in the second and fourth quarters, there were more than enough to giftwarp the game for the Wolverines.
Wolverines Do Just Enough
Fortunately, the Irish can’t take all the credit for Saturday’s result. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has found a perfect field general for his spread option attack in Robinson. He looked comfortable in the passing game for the most part, and made some solid reads down the field to attack the soft Irish zone. Robinson kept plays alive with his feet, and above all else, he made the defense pay when they failed to respect his speed.
On defense, the Wolverines were decidedly average, which was just enough to beat the Irish. Errant passes and missed blocking assignments hounded the Irish offense all day long. Four times in the second half, the Irish had the ball and the opportunity to take the lead. All four times, ND went three and out. The Irish also turned the ball over three times, and managed a paltry five yards rushing in the fourth quarter.
Long story short, the Irish gave this one away. They were undoubtedly the better team, but mental errors and lack of execution doomed them. Michigan got a win, but more than anything it was simply an Irish loss.
* – Denard Robinson/Michigan-ND photo credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo
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