The Irish amassed 68 rushing yards on eight third quarter carries, buoyed by a 39-yard touchdown scamper around the right side by redshirt-freshman Cierre Wood that helped extend a 27-17 half time lead to a more secure 41-17 Irish advantage entering the final quarter.
"I was not happy obviously with our first half…I felt like our enthusiasm, our attention to detail was not where we wanted it," Kelly noted post game. "At halftime we had a little chat about that and I think that chat went pretty good. "In the second half we played the way I expect our team to play for four quarters."
Wood was a key part of that second half effort, the redshirt-freshman finished with a career-best 94 rushing yards on 11 carries. His 39-yard scoring jaunt marked the longest touchdown run by a Notre Dame player since Ryan Grant rumbled for a 46-yard score at Stanford on Thanksgiving weekend 2003. It was the longest run of any type for an Irish player since Robert Hughes' 44-yard burst vs. Stanford at the end of the 2007 season.
Wood added gains of 14 and 24 yards as well as a screen reception for 18 en route to a 123-yard effort from scrimmage on 14 total touches.
"Cierre is an interesting guy," said Kelly. "He needs to get into the flow of the game. Once he got enough carries he showed that he has great athletic ability and it was fun to watch him."
Senior backup Robert Hughes added a season-high 63 rushing yards, all in the second half.
"I'm really surprised and disappointed that I didn't get this question, but for the first time in two-and-a-half years, we won time of possession," Kelly stated in sarcastic reference to what he and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar consider the world's most overvalued statistic.
"For all you guys that live and die on time of possession, please note that we won today's time of possession.
Note: Western Michigan held an 18:23 to 11:37 edge over the Irish in the first half before an 11:39 to 3:21 edge in the final period put Kelly's Irish over the top.
Fantastic FloydJunior wide receiver Michael Floyd scored three touchdowns on nine receptions while posting a season-high 157 yards in less than three quarters of action. His first score came on the game's first play, an 80-yard catch-and-run in which Floyd secured a leaping catch with his body, then spun from a fallen defender to sprint the final 49 yards.
"That guy's a great player," said Broncos head coach Bill Cubit. "He's as physical and as good as a receiver as I've seen…he's appreciative of the game. I was really impressed."
Floyd added touchdown grabs of 32 and 2 yards despite a balky hamstring as revealed by Brian Kelly post-game.
"Michael Floyd started the game fast and we protected him in certain situations; he's not at 100 percent. He was a game time decision," Kelly offered.
Floyd's classmate Dayne Crist threw for three scores and ran for another, a 9-yard scamper that gave the Irish a 20-7 lead. Crist amassed 255 passing yards before giving way to backups Nate Montana and Tommy Rees for the bulk of the final quarter.
Junior wide receiver John Goodman also threw a touchdown pass: a 32-yard offering down the post to Floyd to give the Irish a 14-7 lead early in the 2nd period.
David Ruffer concluded Notre Dame's scoring effort with his 17th consecutive field goal, extending his own program record. He is 12-12 this season and has connected on a field goal in 10 consecutive contests. His 17 consecutive true boots ranks as the longest current streak in the nation.
The 44-point total was Notre Dame's highest regular season output since a 45-21 win over North Carolina in November 2006.
In light of the game's uneven 60 minutes, Kelly was asked if this 20-point win over a MAC foe marked progress or perhaps a step sideways in Week Seven.
"Oh absolutely, progress," Kelly stated emphatically. "This team was 1-3. You can go in two directions: you can fall off the cliff…or you can work towards 9-3."
Gray leads the waySluggish early but dominant in the final thirty minutes, the defense was led by game co-captain Gary Gray, who finished with eight tackles including one for lost yardage while forcing a fumble and intercepting a pass two kill two other Broncos drives. Manti Te'o led Bob Diaco's unit with 10 total stops, his highest total since recording 21 tackles vs. Stanford in Week Four.
After yielding 212 yards in the first half including 171 in the second quarter, the Irish defense limited the previously hard to corral Broncos to 26 third quarter yards on 14 snaps.
Meanwhile, Kelly's offense rang up two scoring drives: the first an economical effort by Cierre Wood: two-plays, 44 rushing yards capped off with the aforementioned 39-yard touchdown scamper; the second, a 9-play, 53-yard march that bled the clock for a game-high 4:06 before Floyd's final touchdown grab from two yards out gave the Irish a 41-17 lead, effectively sealing the contest.
Broncos sophomore quarterback Alex Carder was hot early, throwing for 173 first half yards while adding two rushing scores. Carder struggled over the final 30 minutes, totaling just 102 total yards on 17 combined passes/rushing plays.
Western Michigan was undone by its failure to convert on what Irish head coach Brian Kelly has referred to as the "money down," turning just 2 of 14 third down attempts into first downs. It was one category in which the Irish fared no better, at least early, beginning 3 of 10 before finishing 5 of 13 in third down conversion attempts on the afternoon.
"You hope for a good game, No. 1; then No. 2 you hope the check doesn't bounce," joked Cubit, referencing the inherent mismatch of the contest.
"This has always been a special place," Cubit said of the Notre Dame campus. "Everything was exactly what we thought: everything here is first class."
Notre Dame is in the midst of its first three-game winning streak since beating Michigan State, Purdue and Washington in Game No.'s 3-4-5 of 2009.
The Irish haven't won four straight since taking the last two contests of 2007 and the first two games of 2008. The 5-3 Irish travel to the New Meadowlands for a matchup next Saturday vs. Navy. The Midshipmen have defeated the Irish in two of the last three seasons but haven't beaten a Notre Dame team outside of South Bend since 1960.