Home > College Football, Div-I FBS > The Unwritten Narrative of the Michigan-Notre Dame Game: Clausen, Tate’s Departures Cost Irish

The Unwritten Narrative of the Michigan-Notre Dame Game: Clausen, Tate’s Departures Cost Irish

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There has been plenty written about the lone college football game of this past week that lived up to the hype, a 28-24 thriller between the Michigan Wolverines and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  This game was hardly any different in outcome from last year’s game: Michigan builds a sizable lead early in the third quarter, Notre Dame comes all the way back to take the lead, and Michigan holds for the last drive, a very successful TD drive.

Much has been written about Michigan’s Denard Robinson, who personally accounted for more than 500 yards of total offense in this game.  Much more will be written about him, because he won this game with his arm and his legs.  Michigan simply didn’t have many other valuable players and the valuable players they did have all play on their offensive line.  Non-Robinson skill positions at Michigan are simply of bad players.  When Robinson gets help from some blue chippers in future seasons, just think how dynamic he will be.

Robinson won the game, but faced a much improved Notre Dame defense in the process.  Michigan scored four TDs, but one of those was set up by turnovers, one was a long play from Robinson, and then there was the last drive.  In between, Notre Dame had the Michigan offense under wraps.  Those 500 yards can be deceiving: they came in chunks against a defense that was up to the task of stopping spread offenses.

This game wasn’t lost on defense for the Irish.  Rather, it was lost at the point when Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate decided to fore go their senior seasons to enter the NFL draft.  Because the story in this game is that the Irish weren’t deep enough offensively to compete with Michigan.

Quarterback Dayne Crist got hurt after the teams first drive — a touchdown drive.  He did not return for the rest of the half.  True freshman Tommy Rees (Lake Forest, IL) and Junior Nate Montana (So. California) led the offense for a quarter and a half, and didn’t do particularly well.  But had Clausen still been the starting quarterback, or had Tate still been in the mix at receiver, there would have been a game-long offensive advantage for the Irish, instead of just two and a half quarters of one.

Even accounting for injury to the starting quarterback (in this case, Clausen), Notre Dame would have been prepared to beat the weak Michigan secondary with some depth at the position, or more options at wide receiver to get wide open for a green passer such as Rees.  But by losing both, the Irish went on a -21 point differential streak from the time Crist left the game, almost entirely (but not completely) due to offensive inefficiencies.

And so while we give Denard Robinson all the credit he deserves for winning this game on the road in South Bend, keep in mind that the Irish are a top heavy offense this season, and need to fill in the holes with Brian Kelly recruiting classes before they have the offensive depth to pull their quarterback due to a concussion, and play players way down on the depth chart instead.  If Charlie Weis is still coach, who knows?  Maybe Clausen and Tate stay another year, and then Notre Dame completely overpowers Michigan in a game which Robinson’s awesomeness is merely an afterthought in the coffin of Rich Rodriguez.

But the transitional aspect of this game has been wildly overlooked.  Notre Dame is a BCS team if their 5-star recruit laden offense were to remain perfectly healthy throughout the season, but they are in trouble if Dayne Crist, or Kyle Rudolph, or Michael Floyd, or Armando Allen misses any time.  Crist missed just a quarter and a half, but ND’s offensive efficiency numbers may take weeks to recover.  What ultimately puts Notre Dame 12 months away from contention is that they can’t ever count on all these players being healthy at once.

If they can’t get their seniors to stay, it’s going to be hard for the Irish to line up the pieces for a run under Brian Kelly in the near term future.  But this year’s comeback in a losing effort to Michigan suggests that they can beat anyone, when that health falls into line for Brian Kelly and his forward-thinking spread offense attack.

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