Sunday, September 17, 2006

Post Mortem: Michigan 47, Notre Dame 21

Let's start with the obvious. You know, any time you're minus four in the turnover ratio in a game, with our five turnovers to their one, you really have no chance of winning the game.

Going into the game, we always emphasize ball possession. We obviously did a very, very poor job of that starting with that second play on offense, interception for the touchdown followed by the kickoff return of which unit we were horrendous the whole day on. We'll get to that here in a minute. That's another turnover.

Then we got hit one time on a pass for a turnover. Then we threw across our body one time for a turnover. Then to put the icing on the cake, the fumble return for the touchdown at the end of the game. You're basically giving 24 points.

When you're playing against a formidable opponent like Michigan, you can't do something like that and think you have any chance of winning the game.

Say this for Charlie Weis - he's got a commitment to the truth. Michigan came, they saw, they forced mistakes, and they conquered.

Take nothing away from the Wolverines - they outmanuevered and outgunned the Irish in all three phases of the game. But Notre Dame contributed quite a bit to its own demise.

On the second play of the game, a Brady Quinn bullet deflected straight off the hands of John Carlson and into the arms of Prescott Burgess, who waltzed into the endzone for a 7-0 lead. That early bad break seemed neutralized when Chinedum Ndukwe picked off Chad Henne to set up an easy 4-yard scoring drive.

That would be as good as it got all day for the Irish. Henne kept his composure while Quinn seemed at times to be desperately evading ghost tacklers. Let's not sugarcoat things - Michigan's line generated the best front four pressure Quinn has seen this season. But it wasn't like he ended every play on his duff. More often than not, the front five of the Irish gave Quinn time. The key was Michigan's effective coverage and some curious playcalling by Coach Weis. But when the game was 34-7 in the middle of the 2nd quarter, exactly how many options did they have?

It was eerily familiar to the game that had been played just one week earlier against Penn State, only this time with the Irish being throttled due to their own incompetence instead of the other way around. There's plenty of blame to spread on this day, but during the first half the Irish were without question their own worst enemy.

Three plays stand out - the Carlson deflection, Manningham's 70-yard TD during which no defender got within 20 yards of him, and (most importantly) David Grimes' fumbled kickoff return after the Wolverines had gone up 13-7. You could pick any number of players, coaches, schemes, mistakes, blown assignments, dropped passes, whiffed tackles...the list goes on.

And it's a complete list, a true team failure on every level. Suddenly, the match with Michigan State isn't just a revenge game - it's become the most important game of Charlie Weis' tenure.

Zbikowski and the Irish defense had no answers on this day.



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