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Failure is not simply one loss

Douglas Farmer | Monday, September 13, 2010

Many complaints could be heard after the Irish loss Saturday.

Without Dayne Crist, Notre Dame is hopeless. Denard Robinson isn’t human. The Notre Dame defense hasn’t improved. Rich Rodriguez outcoached Brian Kelly.

Well, Tommy Rees and Nate Montana did not inspire any confidence in Notre Dame fans. Denard Robinson was utterly breathtaking and is now a bona-fide Heisman contender, and the Irish defense let him do whatever he wanted.

But, Rich Rodriguez did not outcoach Brian Kelly.

One coach had a very easy job Saturday: snap the ball to a dynamic quarterback and let him make you look like a football genius. Then, hold your breath that your quarterback outscores the other team on his own.

One coach had a very difficult job Saturday: try to minimize the effect of a player who has already tallied 885 total yards this season. Then, put your offense in a position to put lots of points on the board.

After the first series of the game, the coach with a difficult job lost his own starting quarterback for the majority of a half, and Brian Kelly suddenly had to find a way to put his offense in a position to score without its commander or primary playmaker.

Was that Kelly’s fault? Should he have been better prepared for a Crist injury?

“We know who our back-up quarterbacks in terms of candidacy, who they are,” Kelly said immediately after the game. “I just have to do a better job getting them ready.”

So yes, Kelly overestimated the capabilities of both Rees and Montana, but what coach enters a rivalry game planning on his starting quarterback missing most of the first half?

Crist’s injury was unfortunate and frightening, but Kelly cannot be faulted for that.

In fact, the Irish appeared to be very well-coached on Saturday, and the Wolverines looked undisciplined, unorganized and entirely too dependent on Robinson.

Notre Dame punter Ben Turk placed four of his eight punts inside the 20-yard line, and the Irish only committed four penalties, for a total of 29 yards — after committing only two penalties for 15 yards against Purdue last week.

Meanwhile, Michigan missed two field goals and committed eight penalties for 99 yards, including one on Notre Dame’s final drive which played a large factor in the Irish having a chance as time expired.

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, the man with a very easy job, is now in his third season with the Wolverines. By now, the team should start to show signs of discipline and of understanding his system.

Kelly has been at Notre Dame for nine months now, and already the Irish don’t give away games like they did in the past, with turnovers or penalties in crucial situations.

Already the Irish play, or, in Kelly’s wording, “battle,” for four quarters, no matter how the game is going.

So yes, Notre Dame lost to Michigan on another last-minute drive. Irish fans have reasons to be upset, but, for the first time since Lou Holtz left, the coaching is not one of those reasons.

Saturday’s loss illustrated just how much Kelly has brought to the Irish.

 

Facing a first-and-14 from its own five-yard line, Notre Dame did not wither. Instead, Crist hit Kyle Rudolph for an exhilarating 95-yard touchdown.

Did the defense then proceed to collapse and allow a 72-yard touchdown drive? There are two answers to that question. One — yes, the defense did collapse, painfully so. Two — no defense has managed to stop Robinson yet, and no defense is about to.

Thus, Rodriguez handed the ball to “Shoelaces” time and time again, and let the athletic dynamo run wild.

Nonetheless, there stood Kelly with three seconds left in the game, having gotten the Irish into a position where they could still snag the win. That accomplishment reflects upon Kelly’s last nine months as much as it does upon his Saturday.

In only nine months, Kelly has inspired these Irish to toughen up both mentally and physically. In only nine months, Kelly has installed a game-plan strong enough to match Denard Robinson blow-for-blow Saturday, and nearly to top him.

In only nine months, Kelly has changed the attitude in the football program. Now the program acts with confidence, smarts and skill, as opposed to the arrogance, hope and talent that once prevailed.

Anybody can act with confidence, smarts and skill when they are winning. How Notre Dame handled the tough game, the tough loss, shows it is more than an act.

In many ways, it is the coaching.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Douglas Farmer at dfarmer1@nd.edu