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Questions remain despite opening win

Laura Myers | Thursday, September 9, 2010

There were a lot of questions going into last week’s game and, in general, Notre Dame did a good job of answering them.

Against Purdue, the Irish offense found some holes, the defense made some tackles and the special teams were successful on both sides of the ball.

In general, that’s what observers wanted to see from Notre Dame.

But with one week down and Michigan coming to South Bend, it’s time to get more specific.

“We have not reached a point where we understand the entire offense, defense and special teams,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday after practice. “This is going to be a work in progress each and every week.”

Last week’s Irish were a new team making its debut and finding a way to win. This week’s Irish are no longer new, but not yet experienced.

So does this week’s Irish squad have an answer to Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who threw for 186 yards and ran for 197 more Saturday in the Wolverines’ 30-10 win over Connecticut?

“Oh, what a fantastic athlete he is,” defensive line coach Mike Elston said Tuesday. “You’re not prepared to defend with him. He’s just a fantastic athlete.”

There were times on Saturday when fans had to wonder whether the Irish defense was too slow or Purdue quarterback Robert Marve was too fast. Elston said Marve is “not even in the same ballpark” as Robinson.

Kelly said the offense and defense both would have to compensate for Robinson.

“I always look at it from both perspectives,” he said. “One is controlling the football, but the other is put a lot of points on the board and it changes the way they manage the game.”

Looks like the team is going to need to understand its specifics in a hurry.

Can this week’s Irish score enough points to knock Michigan off its game?

If Notre Dame wants to put points on the board, the offensive linemen can’t miss some of the blocks they missed against Purdue.

Quarterback Dayne Crist can’t miss when he sends passes into the back of the end zone, either.

The only player who never missed against Purdue was kicker David Ruffer, but it will be hard to put up “a lot of points” three at a time.

If they are able to score, can this week’s Irish keep Robinson and the rest of the Wolverines contained?

Purdue couldn’t hurt Notre Dame with big plays Saturday, but the Boilermakers moved the ball well on short gains that turned into first downs. Robinson will probably do the same, and the Irish will need to find a way to stop him.

“He’s a running back,” Kelly said. “And the only way I know how to take a running back out of play is to hit him and make sure you tackle him.”

After Saturday’s game Kelly wasn’t happy with the team’s tackling, though fans were thrilled by the suggestion of tackling ability that had eluded the team for several seasons.

Inside linebackers Carlo Calabrese and Manti Te’o led the team in tackles with nine each — but Te’o missed several more.

The defensive line had four sacks, with three coming in a seven-minute span to open the second half. To get at Robinson, they’ll need to create more consistent pressure throughout.

If this week’s Irish can successfully fix the problems they encountered last week, they may be able to find the answer to Denard Robinson.

“That’s going to be the issue,” Kelly said. “If you really want to know and cut it down to its real roots, you’ve got to tackle this kid.”

In general, that sounds like a plan.

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

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers2@nd.edu