Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Skies Are Maize and Blue

SOUTH BEND IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines pushes off a tackle attempt by Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the final minute at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11 2010 in South Bend Indiana. Michigan defeated Notre Dame 28-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It certainly didn't take a lot of imagination to know what NBC had to be saying as I grimly watched the overcast skies part, the sun peak out from behind the pressbox, and wonder of wonders a rainbow appeared beyond the opposite sideline.  I made a remark to those around me that I was certain at least 95% of the stadium would believe that this was indeed a sign of a preordained Irish victory... after rewatching the telecast, I was wrong, it was 100% of the ND fans in the stadium.  Frankly, that is all you need to know about ND fans.  Of course since the game was played in South Bend, the appearance of said rainbow now doubt played a large part in the Michigan secondary giving Kyle Rudolph the "ole!" on a soul-crushing 95-yard-Notre-Dame-lead-giving touchdown with a little under four minutes to play in the game.  Needless to say, at that point in the time, there wasn't a Michigan fan present or watching on TV who wanted to hear one more word about that stupid godd@#n rainbow.  Allow me to interject a little personal history here, I've made two previous trips to Notre Dame Stadium, neither has turned out well.  When that pass went into the air I have to admit I was cursing myself under my breath for having the unmitigated gall to think that somehow the third trip would be the charm...  Thankfully Denard Robinson and the rest of the Michigan Wolverines had a better idea for how the game should end; with one of the more clutch drives I've witnessed in a long long while.  Throw that last scoring march up on a split screen with Mr. Robinson's final possession at Iowa last year and just sit back and marvel that that is indeed the same kid with the tremendous smile and, yes, untied shoes...  

There was much elation in South Bend on Saturday evening from Maize and Blue clad fans, as well there should be.  A win in this rivalry game is all that matters at this point in the season.  I won't for one second get wrapped up in worrying about the defense, worrying about what this performance means for how we'll play six weeks from now, or anything else.  Not right now.  The important thing was to win.  Michigan is 2-0, they beat a favored Notre Dame team in South Bend for just the second time since 1994... they overcame adversity, they overcame horrifying officiating, they overcame their own mistakes, and they overcame everyone who sneered at the idea that this offense would do anything against a "real" team, that Denard could possibly come close to the first week's highlight reel.  Let's put some further perspective on this win...  this marks Rich Rodriguez's second road win at Michigan.  That's right, not since Nick Sheridan lead the Maize and Blue to a resounding victory at Minnesota to bring the Little Brown Jug home in 2008 had Michigan walked out of an opponents stadium with a W.  To do that in South Bend, in a rivalry game, with a patchwork defense, and a sophomore QB making his second ever start is cause for joy ladies and gentleman, it is cause for a rousing chorus of the Victors.  How many thought Michigan would be 2-0 to start the year?  Exactly.

Officiating

When you play Notre Dame in South Bend, you include "officiating" in your review.  To the ND fans nearby who took exception to my proclamation of "isn't it amazing how that only happens here!!!!" after several of those calls, feel free to skip this section.  This went exactly as expected, someone joked in one of the numerous game threads that NBC would go ahead and just run out the clock after that 95 yard TD...  except they weren't joking, when you play the Irish that's an actual possibility.  To recap: Theo Riddick in the process of going in for a certain touchdown drops the ball on the one, no review despite it being clear as day on every possible replay, which Tom Hammond then attempted to describe as "probably inconclusive".  Don't worry, there's more!  They actually called for a clip, yes a CLIP on Perry Dorrestein for a perfect cut block on a 9 yard gain on 1st and 10.  This took place on the line of scrimmage, which means it was literally impossible for Dorrestein to have made initial contact from behind, which of course, is the definition of clipping (initial contact from behind AND at or below the level of the waist).   For icing on the cake Michigan gets called for a "crackback block" on Kelvin Grady on a key drive in the second half who literally did not touch the Notre Dame defender on the play.  Both of those penalties were drive killers.  Both of them were ridiculous.  That is to say nothing of the holding the ND o-line did all day on Martin, Roh, et al.  Final tallies here?  Notre Dame was called for four penalties for 29 yards, Michigan on the other hand had eight flags for 99 yards.  This after having exactly one penalty the week prior.  Notre Dame gained three first downs by penalty, Michigan none.  This of course also leaves out the blatant helmet to helmet hit on Shaw on the final drive, and yes by law I am required to point out every legitimate helmet-to-helmet that is not called from here until the end of time.

 

Offense

  • If I didn't have words to describe last week's performance by Denard, what on Earth am I supposed to say this week?  I will continue to enjoy listening to opposing fans telling us what he can't do.  
  • Our offensive line and receivers blocked as well as I've seen since we've switched to this scheme.  The blocking on Denard's set-the-turf-on-fire 87 yard TD was sublime, Roundtree had his guy on the ground 20 yards downfield.  On the flipside, neither Shaw or Smith could get going which is concerning, they combined for all of 12 carries on the day.  That sentiment has to be couched though with the following... the way Robinson was playing and the way the reads work, it's hard to determine if the read for the keep was there more often than not, or if we have a clear deficiency that needs to be addressed.
  • I continue to be surprised that Mike Cox hasn't had a carry this season, huzzah for Stephen Hopkins getting the call on the goal-line and capitalizing
  • How great was that TD pass to Roundtree to tie the game?  No seriously, how giggle-worthy was that? Roundtree, Odoms, and the rest of the Michigan receiving corps turned in a tremendous (/Lloyd) effort on Saturday.  Tough catches, great blocking, and they HELD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.  Zero turnovers, woo indeed.
  • The middle of the field was open whenever we wanted it, and yes I know that's a tired meme and all, but seriously we could've probably done some more damage with those slants and intermediate routes.
  • After losing the TOP battle in the first half, Michigan dominated possession of the football in the second half, holding the ball for over 21 minutes.  Yes, that matters.  Final tally, Michigan 34:09 to ND 25:51.
  • Little credit where credit is due here, ND's Harrison Smith played a whale of a game from his safety spot.
  • It was very frustrating to watch us squander opportunities to put this thing out of reach late in the third quarter, although again, the refs did their job crushing several of our drives.  Denard misfired on one over the middle that would've been a certain six if he just lobbed it up.  We had multiple possessions with a chance to effectively slam the door on the Irish and just couldn't quite get it done.
  • Third downs this week were the polar opposite of last week, 3 of 16...
Defense
  • Ok, the bad: two glaring mistakes and the penalty was two TDs.  The optimist portion: we managed to hang on in a game where we gave up two one-play drives, and on the whole, only let ND drive the field once during the game, and that was on their opening possession.  They also held their ground inside the 10 keeping ND to a crucial FG early in the 3rd quarter. 
  • Michigan's D is creating turnovers, three picks on Saturday afternoon, an enormous effort.
  • There's no breakdown necessary to look at what was the issue with coverage on those plays, Cameron Gordon had a rough outing out there, and got his bell rung to boot.  We knew Kyle Rudolph would be a concern, but geez, how do you not catch the guy with 45 yards of turf between him and the endzone?  What actually bothered me most was that we had a lot of issues creating any kind of contact with Rudolph on the line of scrimmage.  You watch him on most of his catches and he was able to get off the line unabated.  That can't continue to happen.
  • Less solid tackling this week, there was a lot of diving at guys and not wrapping up out on the edges by our backs.  I would've really liked to have seen the front seven create some more pressure though, although it's difficult when the opposing team's O-line is holding the bejeezus out of you on nearly every play (ahem).  
  • They moved Roh down to the line a lot more often this week than against UConn.  He still made several fantastic plays including beating a double team to crush Armando Allen in the backfield.  Thomas Gordon acquitted himself very well, had the game's only sack, and finished with two tackles for loss.
  • I'll be looking forward to Brian's UFR over at MGO as always to see what he thought of the linebackers and additionally Jordan Kovacs.  I felt he played another solid game with a big pick to boot, and then on the other hand had issues chipping their TEs at the line and seemed to continually cheat inside on the running plays where ND was able to get to the edge.  Those seem to be relatively easily correctable issues and I think will be something to keep an eye on as the year progresses.
  • We held ND to 4 of 14 on third down, which I would call a victory.
  • Is it horribly inaccurate to say Michael Floyd was pretty much a non-factor?  5 catches for 66 yards, with the majority of those yards coming on the final last-ditch possession by ND.
  • Clearly much to work on, but that's not exactly new now is it?  Keep taking 'em one at a time.
Special Teams
  • Sigh......  
Keep taking them one at a time Blue!
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