It's been a month but the Top Moments of 2012 is back with the home victory over the Michigan Wolverines. Denard Robinson going out in style. Halfback passes picked off at the goal line. QB draws from slow-footed quarterbacks.
It was a weird one.
Here are the top 2 moments from Notre Dame's 13-6 win over Big Blue.
6 Turnovers from the Michigan Offense
Down & Distance: Didn't matter
The Situation: You really couldn't have scripted a more frustrating offensive performance by Michigan. They had 10 possessions in this game and they went: punt, missed field goal, 5 straight interceptions, fumble, field goal, and field goal. The Wolverines were actually doing an okay job moving the ball (4 drives of 10+ plays & 5 times in the red zone) but they were unable to capitalize on anything and ultimately held without a touchdown.
Jim: Notre Dame intercepted 5 straight pass attempts. That feat has likely never been done before and may never be done again. I think it was at this point that you could begin to feel there was something special about this group.
Eric: I really, really, really hate second guessing play-calls and strategy in general, but I wish Kelly didn't call that pass on our opening series. To me, that was a worse call than being backed up against Stanford later in the season. As we found out later, Golson really needed to settle down in this game.
I also think this game has negatively colored the way a lot of fans view Golson, but when you think about it, this was his only bad game. Nice smart game against Navy, good accuracy and almost 300 passing yards with no ground game help against Purdue, made some big plays and protected the ball against Michigan State, balled out against Miami, fumbling issues against Stanford but still made a lot of big plays (especially with his legs), sneaky good game at Oklahoma, great performance against Pitt, ho hum productive day against BC, balled out again versus Wake Forest, another smart game against USC, and then the best player on offense with 270 passing yards against Alabama.
Anyway, Michigan was due for a turnover-fest against us. I wonder if our fan base would have stormed the press box had Chuck Martin called a halfback pass near the goal line. I seem to remember Al Borges getting the brunt of this loss from their fan base. No one holds a grudge quite like a college football fan base. "Kelly won a national championship!" "Yeah, but he lost to Navy in 2010."
Fish: Chuck Martin calling a halfback pass near the goal line against Michigan? Please add that to the play sheet for 2013 at the Big House. Oh, the hilarity. I wouldn't even care if it didn't work.
Whiskey: How nice was it to win a huge game under the lights against Michigan? It was also really nice to see Denard just lay an egg against Notre Dame. He looked completely discombobulated out there all night. Awesome.
Jim: I am hoping this starts a nice little win streak against Meat-chicken. While Golson struggled in this game, he clearly learned from it as the season progressed. We all criticized CBK real-time for his benching, but it seemed to be the best way to handle a young QB in hindsight.
Burger: Michigan fans I (unfortunately) interact with chuckle whenever I talk about how good Golson will be. If you only watched this game then that's understandable, but I think they'll be in for a rude awakening this fall.
Eric: I'm assuming they were watching old Rose Bowl highlights from the 70's and missed the national title game performance by Golson then?
alstein: I hope the boys can put together a complete performance against Michigan next season. 13 points after forcing 6 turnovers? Yeesh. Even the first win in four years against them was unsatisfying. It was one of the most fun atmospheres I've ever experienced at Notre Dame Stadium, though. Very fun night.
Eric: A complete performance against Michigan? Surely you jest. For whatever reason those kinds of performances have been super rare against Michigan. If you define a complete performance as having to play well on offense, we've only scored 30+ points against Michigan on 5 different occasions, and we've lost the last two meetings when we did so.
The 2008 game was a comedy of errors for the Wolverines in that rain storm, and even the big 1998 victory was aided by Michigan shooting themselves in the foot numerous times. That leaves 1943's 35-12 butt whoopin' as (maybe) the lone complete performance in the series history. Maybe Michigan lost a bunch of turnovers that day too, who knows, but we do know they showed their true colors and refused to play us for another 35 years. Those who stay!!
Fish: As disappointing as the mediocre offensive performance and Golson's struggles were in this game, I do think the defensive performance here, especially the generating of pressure on the QB and the creation of turnovers, was important for solidifying the defense's confidence that they could hold their own when the offense wasn't putting up points. All the more so on a high-pressure, primetime stage, especially after the terrible experience of the first recent night game in Notre Dame stadium against USC in 2011. Three of five interceptions came from our scarily inexperienced DBs (Jackson, Russell, Baratti), two of whom were true freshmen, and I don't think that was insignificant for their continuing success. Being able to hold fast against a quarterback who had raked our defense over the coals in the previous two meetings surely contributed to the tenacity of our bending-but-not-breaking, championship-bound defense.
Finally, I would like to personally thank mgovideo for putting together the Yakety Sax highlight footage of this game. I cannot tell you how many, many, many delightful times I have watched it, and every time, it makes me smirk...then chuckle...then guffaw...then just grin goofily basically until the next time I watch it. This is my sneezing panda. My "Charlie bit my finger." My "ultimate dog tease." My leprechaun sighting in Mobile.
Eric: Yup, you have to give them credit for making that video. It's always better to laugh than to cry---although you can do both at the same time. It's how we all felt from 2010-11.
Tommy Rees 38-yard Completion to Tyler Eifert on 3rd Down
Down & Distance: Irish ball, 3rd & 4 from the ND 31
Score: 13-6 Notre Dame
The Situation: Michigan had strung together nearly 100 yards on their previous two offensive drives and had finally turned the momentum and put some points on the board. Time was running out though. The Wolverines were down by a touchdown and there was just 3:19 left in the game after Michigan kicked the ball off. The Irish offense had gone in to hyper-conservative mode like we've never seen in the Kelly era (17 running plays to just 7 passing plays in the 2nd half) and needed a crucial 1st down after a timeout to drain precious time off the clock.
Eric: All things considered, is this the most beautiful Tommy Rees pass of his career? There was an incredibly difficult completion he made against USF down the west sideline that got lost in the shuffle of that crazy game, but this might be the best Rees pass of his career. It shows off his smarts (audible at the line), his guts to make the throw, and then the touch to put it on the money over the corner and before the safety can help.
Jim: TR has been good at recognizing and exploiting mismatches throughout his career. I am a bit surprised that the safety didn't shade Eifert's way a bit on this one pre-snap. I think everyone in the stadium and watching at home knew where this ball was going.
Eric: He was probably as surprised as I was because I didn't think we'd throw in that situation. Under 3 minutes to go, 9 of the last 11 play calls were runs, and we'd be insanely conservative all game long. Unless we were in an empty set? I haven't watched the replay yet.
Fish: Eric, clearly you do not know the first principle of Tommy Rees's quarterbacking soul. Crucial third down? Check out of everything. Throw it to Eifert. (Coincidentally, that is the first principle of my quarterbacking soul, too. It's a pretty good one for someone with my skillset.)
Eric: Do you think he's lost part of his soul this year, then?
Whiskey: Look at Tommy! I have to say that I have a soft spot for Rees. Not so soft that I want him starting but I do enjoy it when he gets out there and does well. This was a big game for him and this completion to Eifert was huge. Good stuff.
Jim: Anything we get from Tommy in ‘13 is just icing on the cake. The kid should make for a pretty good coach one day. Heck, if Kliff Kingsbury can get a head coaching gig, why not TR?
Burger: I'm a little disappointed this moment isn't "TOMMY REES RUSHED FOR A TOUCHDOWN. TOMMY REES. RAN. FOR REAL." Question: If Rees doesn't score there, how many message board comments are made comparing that play call to the Tulsa INT?
Eric: There were many opportunities to yell and scream in jubilation last year, but Rees' QB draw had to be up there for me in that category. I was yelling some weird stuff, speaking in tongues, just so surprised and happy that Rees ran that in for the game's only touchdown. We can definitely list it as the 8b top moment of the year.
alstein: This was a brilliant play. In total agreement with Whiskey, I find it hard not to root for Tommy. I probably became his biggest defender against my better judgment. I'm sure we can't even possibly understand how much value he brings to the team, and I certainly enjoyed seeing him earn a lot of positive results for this team last season. Hell, even the plays he did make garnered plenty of jeers.
Whiskey: Rees may be the most underappreciated player on the team. He has filled roles of assorted sizes during his first three years on campus but all of them were important. As limited as he may be he has alway been a competitor and has embraced every role that he has been asked to fill. We know about the ones on the field but we will never likely know the degree to which he will have helped Golson and Zaire with their development. And as far as backup QB's go I'll take a Tommy Rees any day. He is one of those players that we will all likely appreciate a lot more after he graduates.
Fish: Absolutely. I remember being so grateful to have Tommy ready to step in behind Golson when the time came in this game, and I remember this third down play and thinking, "you know you're throwing it to Eifert, I know you're throwing it to Eifert, Michigan is stupid and doesn't know you're throwing it to Eifert, and even if they did, they couldn't stop you - you GOT this, Rees." I was far from feeling that way about Golson at that point. The relief and joy on Eifert's face is priceless in the footage here, and that ended up being my favorite moment of the game - the irrepressible smile in the certainty that we could finish this without Denard getting a last shot. I also love Dan Fox jumping up and down on the sideline the moment the ball drops into Eifert's hands - I think we were all jumping up and down at that point, at least on the inside.