In a break from recent tradition of four point losses and wild, offensive shootouts against the Michigan Wolverines, Notre Dame improved to 4-0 by riding its defense, forcing Denard Robinson to make mistakes and scraping together a 13-6 win on Saturday night.
From the outset, it was clear that Brian Kelly would have none of Robinson’s heroic antics from last season. Time and time again, the Irish defense swarmed the Michigan quarterback, holding him in check as both a passer and a runner. Though Robinson finished with 215 total yards, Notre Dame prevented against the dynamic playmaking that has haunted it in the past.
In fact, it was the Irish defense that made the majority of the game’s biggest plays, as Robinson threw four interceptions and fumbled once more for good measure. All told, the explosive Michigan offense was held to just 299 yards of total offense and two field goals. The Irish defense would seem to be legit.
Offensively, Kelly opted for the much-maligned Tommy Rees after a rocky start by Everett Golson. Rees was far from dazzling, but managed the game like a veteran, avoided mistakes, and was an efficient 8-for-11 throwing the football. Notre Dame’s only touchdown came late in the second quarter when Rees ran a quarterback draw for a two-yard score and a 10-0 halftime lead.
After going unbeaten in September, the narrative now shifts to whether Notre Dame can sustain its high level of play on the defensive side of the football against opponents with more established passing attacks. This remains a serious concern. However, the improved defensive play in 2012 should help take pressure of an offensive unit that is still finding its way.