Sunday Drive Thru

O'Malley's weekly review of Saturday's contest includes Kelly's never-changing view on points vs. possession, the main man Michael Floyd, the emergence of young blood on the roster, and the reality of college football mismatches.

Score first, ask questions later…

A 12-second scoring drive (one play); an 8-second scoring drive (one play); a whopping 1:36 (5 plays); another TD in 0:52 (4 snaps); a two-play march in 0:38…

Notre Dame's first five touchdowns took a total of 3:26 off the game clock. No wonder they trailed in the oft-discussed time of possession battle heading into the game's final period.

"We tried to control the clock," head coach Brian Kelly said of the second half in which the Irish enjoyed an 18:58 to 11:02 possession advantage. "And by the way, I'm really surprised and disappointed I didn't get this comment made, but for the first time in two and a half years, we won time of possession," he added with a note of dripping sarcasm.

"For all of you guys that live and die on time of possession, please note that we won today's time of possession."

Tongue-in-cheek self-assessment aside, Kelly plans to score as quickly as humanly possible in most situations. Seven points for the seventh-winningest active head coach in college football is seven points.

"Scoring points is the No. 1 thing," he reiterated. "Any time we have an opportunity where we believe we have a play that matches what we think we see, we are going to call those plays to score points. When we needed to control the clock in the second half, we did, and obviously took about five minutes off the clock late in the game when it was pretty much in our hands.

"Again, we are going to score points first and time of possession comes later down the road."

Kelly nevertheless recognized the inherent advantage of moving the ball the old fashioned way as well.

"Look, we were in too many 3rd and 10 situations where it's not as manageable. So we felt like in the second half we needed to run the football, which we did."

Notre Dame's final touchdown march was a 53-yard march that took 4:06 off the game clock midway through the third quarter. The Irish added a 10-play, 48-yard drive that saw 5:32 elapse from the fourth quarter clock. It ended in a 33-yard David Ruffer field goal.

New Blood

Sophomore Cierre Wood made his first career start; classmate Tyler Eifert his second. Fellow sophomore Dan Fox saw his first meaningful action from scrimmage in the game's first half while second-year man Roby Toma secured his first reception of 2010.

Finally, freshman wide receiver Daniel Smith joined the ranks as a new member of the Irish kickoff team.

"Well, we got a lot of guys in there," Kelly said specifically of the Irish special teams. Daniel Smith helped us out. Obviously today we wanted more athleticism on our kick teams…but I would say that the young guys continue to show: (Austin) Collinsworth, outstanding, in all phases of our kick games. Daniel Smith gives us speed and athleticism in there, and obviously Bennett Jackson, good play there.

The squad's special teams tackles leader, Jackson recorded his sixth and seventh tackles of the season in kick coverage while Collinsworth added a forceful stop, his fifth of the season.

Wood (123 total yards from scrimmage including 94 rushing) and Eifert starred, both scoring long touchdowns with Eifert catching a 4th and 1 delayed cross for a 39-yard score and Wood matching that distance to begin the second half. Wood's run was the longest touchdown run by an Irish player since the end of the 2003 season, a 46-yard scamper by Ryan Grant at Stanford.

Eifert, who had missed two weeks of practice due to a shoulder injury before fighting through the pain as of late, snared four passes for 72 yards. He fumbled, but was bailed out by teammate Braxston Cave's recovery.

"I thought Tyler Eifert did some good things today," Kelly said. "He's a big target and can move very, very well."

Kelly also noted that Eifert was the primary receiver on junior wide receiver John Goodman's touchdown pass down the post to Michael Floyd.

"Yeah, it was the wrong read," Kelly said of Goodman, one year older than Eifert as high school teammates from Fort Wayne, Bishop Dwenger. "It he was supposed to throw it to Tyler Eifert, who was wide open. You're never wrong if you're right, but great pass."

The always confident Wood pointed out the obvious when asked about the difference between the Irish running game in the first and second half.

"Coach Kelly really couldn't say anything to me at halftime because I only got one carry in the first half. In the second half I decided that whenever I got the ball, I was going to make something happen."

Wood led a second half ground game that amassed 153 yards after the same crew totaled a net of minus 4 in the opening 30 minutes.

(For more notes on the second half rushing effort, click here.)

Hobbled but hungry

Junior wide receiver Michael Floyd enjoyed his best singular afternoon since the season-opener of 2009, catching 9 passes for 157 yards and three touchdowns, including an 80-yard snare-spin-and run in which he hit pay dirt just 12 seconds into the contest.

Kelly revealed post-game that Floyd, like senior Armando Allen, was actually a game time decision.

"We protected him," Kelly said of Floyd's usage in certain situations. "He's not 100 percent. We were not sure if he was going to start today." Kelly noted later than Floyd nursed a hamstring injury during the week.

Floyd tied his career high for single-game touchdown receptions (3) and tied former Irish star Derrick Mayes (1992-95) and four-year stalwart Rhema McKnight (2002-06) for third on the program's all-time touchdown receptions list.

Floyd now has 22 TD receptions in 25 career games, though he missed the better part of three of those contests due to injury. Floyd needs six touchdowns in the final six games (including a bowl appearance) to break Jeff Samardzija's team record of 27 touchdown receptions.

Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit was effusive in his post-game praise for Floyd.

"He's a great player. I've been fortunate to coach in a lot of great leagues and a lot of good people, but he's as physical and as good a severe as I've seen," said Cubit after comparing Floyd's talents to those of former Texas wide receiver and current Dallas Cowboy Roy Williams.

"And the thing about it, he plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. He plays with passion and there's no show boating. He's appreciative of the game. I'm not going to tell you it was fun to watch; maybe tomorrow it will be. But he's a great player. He really is. I was really impressed."

Junior safety Jamoris Slaughter and senior tailback Armando Allen played sparingly while nursing a knee and hip injury, respectively. Senior tackle Taylor Dever sat out his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury. Sophomore slot receiver Theo Riddick injured his ankle during the contest.

"We were really cautious. I think if we were in a tight ballgame, we would have got him back in there," Kelly said of the emerging playmaker. "I just talked to our trainers and doctors; nobody took a step back today. Just Theo with the ankle but it did not look to be a high ankle sprain."

A dose of reality

Kelly noted post-game that progress was made in the uneven win over an overmatched foe. His observation was a big picture truth for a squad that was 1-3 and now sits at 4-3 with two contests in which they'll be heavy favorites on tap.

Believe it or not, there were Orange Bowl (BCS) representatives on hand for the not yet mathematically eliminated Irish.

But Broncos head coach Bill Cubit offered what every follower of college football knows about matchups between "directional schools" as ex-head coach Bob Davie used to refer to them, and a program such as Notre Dame's.

"It was a long week," Cubit said of the distractions involved when a middle-tier MAC school faces the legendary team from South Bend. "You know, it's kind of funny, of all of the places I've been at before, Missouri, Rutgers, Stanford, you look out there and you see the size of the kids and the physical mismatches.

"Then I don't even know, whoever 33 is (third-string running back Robert Hughes) that guy, holey smokes, he comes in and I'm watching, he's bigger than half our linebackers and some of our defensive ends. That guy comes in there and you're just holding on for dear life.

"We are playing as hard as we can at the end, but physical, it gets a little exhausting for some of our guys. That's where I see it. When you get into the third quarter, the physical-ness of certain teams when you play them...but today really stood out to me on the type of kids. They go one deep, two deep, three deep, four deep, and you look out there, and 44 comes over (linebacker Carlo Calabrese), and golly, I thought I was going to lose a leg.

"He hit this kid so hard. But our kids battled. The physical-ness of the players, that's what you see."

San Diego State, Western Michigan, Nevada (to a lesser extent)…it's the reality of college football. Notre Dame faces a traditionally strong slate with service academies generally marking the "gimme" contests (Navy isn't always as potent as they've shown over the last 4-5 seasons).

The 2010 schedule is a break from the norm with teams such as WMU, Army and intermittently solid Tulsa littering the slate in addition to the traditional matchup with the Midshipmen. (I acknowledge the Broncos and Golden Hurricane weren't the athletic department's initial choices.)

The Irish shouldn't be expected to line up murder's row each season. No team can have BCS aspirations when the schedule resembles the pre-season Top 30, but perhaps matchups with lower tier BCS programs such as Vanderbilt, Indiana, Baylor, Duke and Syracuse (insert joke here) would offer better representation of the program's aspirations going forward.

"You hope it's a good game and number two, you hope the check doesn't bounce," Cubit joked. "And then the third one, you hope you're able to come back and you don't have many kids hurt. I didn't see many guys hurt."

"What though the odds be great or small…"

I suppose the latter occasionally has to enter the equation, but let's not make a habit of that practice in South Bend.


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