Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly said at the start of the 2011 season that the Irish goal was to get to a BCS bowl game. That goal fell as hard as the rain did last Saturday in ND stadium.
What started out as a promising season filled with a lot of hope for the ND football program to return to the upper tier of college football programs, fell flat when South Florida, coached by ND alumnus Skip Holtz, defeated the error-prone Irish, 23-20. It was a major step backwards for the Irish program and Kelly. After finishing last season with four straight wins, including a bowl victory, Kelly and his staff "blew it" last week.
Good football teams don't commit five turnovers, veteran players don't commit penalties at key points in a game and a seasoned coach doesn't misread his personnel and have the wrong quarterback starting the game.
Now a season in which I believed strongly that the Irish could win nine games looks like a struggle to get seven wins. In fact, ND might be 0-3 by the time they travel Pittsburgh on Sept. 24.
Tonight the Irish are at Michigan for the first night game in the 84 year history of the Wolveries' stadium. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN starting at 8 p.m.
Michigan, which is coached by Bradley Hoke in his first year, leads the series, 22-15-1.
Returning for Michigan is QB Denard Robinson, who single-handedly defeated the Irish last year in South Bend, 28-24, taking the Wolverines on a 98 yard drive at the end of the game to win it. Others to watch on offense are runningbacks Toussaint Fitzgerald and Vincent Smith and receivers Kevin Koger, Jeremy Gallon and Ray Roundtree. On defense the top players is back Brandon Herron and upfront linemen/linebackers Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon.
Robinson was nine of 13 passing last week in a win over Western Michigan, 34-10, for 69 yards. He also rushed for 46 yards on eight carries. ND has to contain him or it will be another long night.
IRISH NOTES:Disappointing is not a sufficient word to describe the loss to South Florida. How do you let a team whose program is just beginning to build up come into your stadium and win?....Of the five turnovers the Irish committed last week, three were in the red zone. Dayne Crist's "second chance" to lead the Irish ended after just 30 minutes and he was benched Tuesday with Tommy Rees back at the helm tonight. Then you have David Ruffer, college football's most accurate kicker last season, missing a 30 yarder in his first attempt of the season. Then the penalties, like a late hit and pass interference, both by veteran players. Teams that challenge for the national title or want to get a BCS bid don't make those types of mistakes, considering the experience on the team....Michael Floyd had a career high 12 catches for 154 yards and a school record 29th and 30th touchdown receptions. Floyd passed Jeff Samardzja and into first place on the all time ND career receptions list with 184 and needs just 15 yards tonight to move past Golden Tate from the top spot on the Irish career receiving yards list....Several true freshmen saw action last week for ND. Defensive ends Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch and outside linebacker Troy Niklas along with runningbacks George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel all saw action....Skip Holtz became the third ND alumnus ever to claim a coaching victory over his alma mater. He joins Gerry DeNardo who led LSU over the Irish in 1997's Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl and Eddie Anderson's Iowa squad beat the Irish in 1940....South Florida became the ninth team in 55 tries to win at ND stadium on its first trip to South Bend. Tulsa did it last year....Junior Cierre Wood rushed for 104 yards on 21 carries and one TD to lead the Irish. Jonas Gray had 20 on four carries. Rees was 24 of 34 and 296 yards with two TDs and two interceptions in the second half. Crist was seven of 17 for 95 and a interception in the first half. Tyler Eifert had six catches for 93 yards, second to Floyd. Manti Te'o led the defense with nine tackles....Despite the turnovers my biggest disappointment was the defense. On several occasions when the Irish had South Florida in third down situations in the second half and needed the ball back, the defense let the Bulls get the first down. Good defensive teams don't let that happen. And I thought the defense was back....Notre Dame had total offensive yards of 508 compared to 254 for South Florida....The Irish had four fumbles, two were recovered by SF that turned into 10 points. Two of three interceptions occurred in the red zone. Add to those facts that the Irish had several dropped passes and Crist missed several receivers with over or under-thrown passes....The Irish have 14 verbal commitments from recruits so far. Some of them are top-rated, according to CBS Sports Netwrok recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. One "five star" recruit is Jarron Jones, a six-foot, seven-inch, 308 pound defensive lineman. He originally committed to Penn State but changed his mind. Will list the 14 in a later column....Michigan officials are expecting a record crowd tonight. The biggest crowd to date at the stadium was 113,000 for Connecticut game last year. Officials think they could have 115,000 tonight in the 109,000-plus stadium....Kelly said if Rees falthers Crist will be his replacement....ND and Michigan will be wearing throw-back uniforms tonight. Included for ND will be a shamrock on their gold helmets....A question many ND fans asked after last week's game. Why didn't the Irish throw to Floyd more in the first half?....In my preseason picks I favored Michigan tonight and after last week's game I have no reason to change that. The SF loss is a big one, no doubt about it. If Kelly is the coach that is suppose to restore ND football to the elite level, he MUST win tonight. If not, look for another "lost" season.