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Loose Shoelaces

Allan Joseph | Monday, September 13, 2010

Irish coach Brian Kelly made his thoughts on Saturday’s 28-24 loss to Michigan very clear with his first words after the game.

“This is certainly a disappointment,” he said. “It was a hard-fought game.”

Sophomore Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson was virtually unstoppable in the wet conditions, rushing for 258 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score with 27 seconds remaining, while passing for 244 yards and another touchdown. The all-purpose athlete even pinned the Irish deep in their own territory with a 30-yard punt in the third quarter. All told, Robinson accounted for 502 of the Wolverines’ total of 535 offensive yards and methodically led Michigan down the field in the last five minutes of the game to hand Notre Dame its first loss of the season.

“I’m speechless right now,” Robinson said afterward. “That was amazing.”

The Irish started the game in convincing fashion, opening the game with a 13-play, 71-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown run from junior quarterback Dayne Crist. On the drive, Crist tallied 29 rushing yards and 30 passing yards.

When Notre Dame next took the field, freshman Tommy Rees lined up at quarterback while Crist was on the sideline, being attended to by trainers. The starting quarterback, whom Brian Kelly had deemed so important to his team’s success, had been injured on an earlier play in the scoring drive.

“When we were in the huddle to go back out for that next series, I could tell that he was not focused,” Kelly said. “We thought it was best until he really got his bearings back. … We weren’t going to play him under those circumstances.”

Rees’ first pass in a Notre Dame uniform landed in Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton’s hands. It took Robinson only one play to capitalize on the miscue, as he threw a 31-yard strike to receiver Roy Roundtree to tie the game and silence the home crowd.

With less than four minutes to go in the half, Robinson broke loose for an 87-yard touchdown run.

Facing second-and-10 on his own 13-yard line, Robinson was able to find some open space on the right side and break loose for an 87-yard touchdown run in front of the Wolverine sideline.

Notre Dame responded with a drive marked by a 37-yard pass from Montana to sophomore receiver Theo Riddick that placed the Irish on the Michigan 3-yard line with three seconds remaining in the half.

“I thought we were, two scores down, I thought that was an opportunity,” Kelly said. “We had the right look, we just read it wrong.”

Montana’s pass into the end zone as time expired never had a chance, as it soared over everyone’s heads out of bounds.

“We challenged our football team at halftime to make sure that everybody knew the kind of football that we were going to play,” Kelly said. “That was pretty clear.”

When the teams took the field for the second half, it was clear that the Irish had found a new mentality. Buoyed by Crist’s imminent return, the defense bottled up Robinson and force a three-and-out. On his second play of the half, Crist found true freshman receiver TJ Jones for a 53-yard touchdown pass.

“We were constantly doing things to adapt to what they were doing,” Crist said. “That was just a great call for that situation.”

For the rest of the second half the Irish offense sputtered, unable to sustain any long drives and only mustering a David Ruffer field goal in the third quarter to pull the score to 21-17.

Michigan let Notre Dame stay in the game by missing two field goals that rendered much of Robinson’s output moot.

Late in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame faced first-and-14 on its own 5-yard-line when Crist was able to connect with junior tight end Kyle Rudolph for a 95-yard touchdown pass that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

“Kyle did a great job getting open,” Crist said. “The read took me there late in the down and he did a great job making the play.”

But with 3:41 on the clock, the Irish had left Robinson too much time.

“I was ready for that drive,” Robinson said. “We let them stick around too long, and it was time for us to put the game away.”

Robinson did just that, methodically picking apart the Notre Dame defense on the ground and through the air, finally scoring on a two-yard touchdown run to cap off a 72-yard drive that ate up 3:14. Though the Irish were able to take one last shot into the end zone from 27 yards out on the last play, Crist’s pass sailed harmlessly out of the back of the end zone and Michigan escaped with a narrow victory.

After the game, the Irish were rife with praise for Robinson.

“I’m not going to compare him to anybody else,” senior running back Armando Allen said. “He deserves his own category.”

Crist summarized the feelings of many on the Irish sideline and of many sporting kelly green in the stands.

“Obviously, I’m incredibly disappointed,” he said. “I’m proud of the way the guys battled back, but at the end of the day, we’re never happy with a loss.”