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Kelly loses first game as Irish coach

Published September 18. 2010 09:00AM

The inability to control Michigan's sensational quarterback Denard Robinson, the injury to Dayne Crist that kept him off the field for almost the entire first half, three key turnovers, and the defense allowing MIchigan to drive 72 yards in the final three plus minutes to get the winning score, led to Brian Kelly losing his first game at Notre Dame last week.

Crist and the Irish played well enough to win, and certainly the defense can't be blamed soley for the loss. After all, the defense held Michigan scoreless in the second half, except for that final drive.

Crist brought the Irish back quickly when he returned in the second half and appeared to be on a roll in the first half until he got his "bell rung" and had to leave the game early after scoring the game's first TD.

Althrough a loss is hard to take anytime, Irish fans should not be totally disappointed. The Irish are coming along and the defense is improving. The only weak spot was when Crist left and Kelly had to use backups junior Nate Montana and frosh Tommy Rees. Both were not ready for prime time and that falls on Kelly. This week Kelly claims he has inserted a revamped simpler offensive sceme if he is forced to use either one. Of course, Kelly and all Irish fans want Crist to stay healthy during tonight's match up at Michigan State.

On the loss Irish fans are wondering about the 2010 edition and Kelly. Frankly, Irish fans need to be concerned because in tonight's matchup the Spartans are favored. Then next week the Irish face a Stanford team in South Bend that has one of the best passing attacks and offenses in the country. Then the Irish head to Boston College. It is not a stretch to think ND could be 1-4 before their home game with Pittsburgh. In fact, the Irish might not be favored in a game until the Oct. 16 home game against Western Michigan. Kelly has a lot of work to do and no time for error.

Today the Irish face a real nemesis of late in Michigan State. The Spartans enter the game at 2-0 with wins over Western Michigan, 38-14, the first week, and Florida Atlantic last week, 30-17. The Spartans have won the last nine of 13 games against the Irish.

The Spartans play conservative type football. The Spartans like to run the ball but also have some fine receivers in Bennie Folwer, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol. Top running backs are Edward Baker and LeVeon Bell.

ND leads the series, 45-37-1. The game will be televised on ABC-TV with a 8:12 p.m. scheduled kickoff. ND has lost its last three opening road games.

IRISH NOTES:Robinson had 258 yards on 28 carries last week. The rest of the rushing yardage for the Wolverines totaled 13 from three other players. Also, Robinson was 24 of 40 for 244 yards passing and one TD. But ND did keep the Wolverines out of the end zone for the entire second half until 27 ticks remained on the clock....Crist had a good day with 13 completions on 25 attempts for 277 yards and two TDs, despite missing almost all of the first half. He also had his first interception as a starter. Montana was only eight of 17 and Rees 0-2. Armando Allen had 89 yards on 15 rushes, Montana four for 23 and Crist four for 19. Receiving, Kyle Rudolph eight catches for 164 yards and a score, Michael Floyd five of 66, TJ Jones three for 73 and a score. Rudolph's 95 yard score in the fourth put the Irish ahead, 24-21, for the first time since the first quarter but it didn't hold up....I felt Kelly didn't attack the weak Michigan secondary enough. He failed to set up enough situations for Rudolph and Floyd to challenge the young Michigan secondary....Being the underdog for Kelly is nothing new and he has been successful when being the underdog. While at Cincinnati he was 6-2 as the underdog, including 3-1 on the road. Concerning the loss and being the underdog Kelly said, "I don't spend much time dwelling on that other than the fact that we have to play the game better, and that's what my focus is on - getting our football team and our coaches to coach and play the game better so we can win."....Both ND and Michigan had over 500 yards in total offense last week which does not make the defenses look very good. But ND's defense is better than last year and does seem to be getting better. Inside linebacker Manti Te'o went from nine tackles to a career-high 13 last week and nose guard Ian Williams got praise from Kelly for his work....As the South Bend Tribune noted, the Wolverines outscored ND, 21-0, when Crist was not in the game....ND does have some problems on defense as the safety spot has been hit hard by injuries. Starter Jamoris Slaughter, who suffered an ankle injury in the Purdue game, is still not ready and is doubtful for tonight. Backup Dan McCarthy is not 100 percent but returned to practice Wednesday and will play today. What that meant was the Irish couldn't play nickel defense against Michigan which helped the Wolverines passing attack. The other two healthy safties are Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta....Defensive line coach/special teams coordinator Mike Elston was not at the game due to a viral infection and missed most of this week at practice due to the medical problem. He returned to practice on Thursday....Backup linebacker Steve Paskorz underwent season-ending surgery this week for an injury he suffered in August. A senior, he could return in 2011. Center Dan Wenger will miss at least the next three games after undergoing tests for a second concussion. His family may make a decision on whether he should try to return to playing....ND, despite the loss, is ranked the No. 51st team in the country according to the Sagarin computer rankings. Seven of ND's opponents are ahead of them....NBC ratings for ND games continue to impress. Seven million viewers who turned in to watch last week is the largest in 16 years for a ND-Michigan game. It was also the most watched ND game period on NBC since the showdown with No. 1 USC in 2005, the most-watched ND game between two unranked teams since the start of the NBC contract in 1991 and the 12th most watched Irish game on NBC in the 20 years of the broadcast partnership with NBC....Some, including me, thought that Kelly should have kicked a field goal at the end of the first half. ND was on the three yardline and had three seconds left and trailing, 21-7. Kelly said he never considered kicking the field goal. Montana's pass on the last play sailed into the stands. Kelly said if he had it to due over the only thing he would change was the pass play he called....Jones premature celebration in which he fumbled the ball before he cross the goal line won't happen again, according to Kelly. Asked what he said to Jones about it, Kelly replied, "we pulled his pants down and gave him a spanking." On a serious note, Kelly said, "He knows he won't be back on the field if he does it again."....ND got some good recruiting news after the Michigan game. Kelly received verbal commitments from a pair of northern California standouts. Twins George Atkinson III and Josh Atkinson, of Granada High School in Livemore committed to the Irish. George is a wide receiver and Josh a cornerback. They are the sons of former Oakland Raiders defensive back George Atkinson II. George was recruited by Alabama, Miami, Nebraska and most Pac 10 schools while his brother, Josh, was recruited by Oregon, Washington and Arizona State. CBS Sports analyst Tom Lemming ranks both high giving George four-plus stars and Josh four stars. The two commitments brings to 18 for the 2011 recruiting class for Kelly....I picked Michigan State to win this one in my preseason picks and there is no reason from me to change. Kelly and company has to prove themselves and after last week's loss, they still have a lot to prove.

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