Road Sweet Road

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly comments on tackling Michigan's Denard Robinson, his team's Week One red zone woes, and the beauty of the open road (trip).

By "different" do you mean "successfully"?

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson gouged the Irish defense for seven carries totaling 193 yards last season. But his remaining 22 rushes totaled just 65 yards. (Aside from that, how did you like the play Mrs. Lincoln?) In light of those intermittent successes interspersed with debilitating big gains, Kelly was asked if the Irish have to tackle Robinson differently than other ball carriers.

"No, you have to put your tacklers in a good position, because they do some things to take your tacklers in tougher positions to get to the ball," he said. "So you've got to make sure that you do a very good job to keep your guys in a very good position to make those tackles."

Robinson's unique blend of quickness, balance, and raw speed resulted in an NCAA single-season record of 1,702 rushing yards for a quarterback. The total was the fourth highest by any player in the history of the run-heavy Big 10 conference.

"If you put all your guys in the short field and leave one guy to the (wide) field, that's a problem," Kelly offered. "Somewhere in the middle tactically you've got to make sure you're in a good position to tackle.

"They've kept a lot of similar principles for Denard Robinson to have the ball in his hands," said Kelly of Michigan's 2011 attack under new head coach Brady Hoke. There's some things that we can build off of last year…minimizing the big plays and clearly know that he's got the kind of speed, that elite speed, that we have to obviously slow down."

There's no place like somewhere else

Since Bob Davie concluded his five-year run at Notre Dame with 24 victories in 31 career home games, Notre Dame's trio of successors have shared one common trait:

They lose at home. Regularly.

Tyrone Willingham dropped seven of 18 home tilts (including six of his last 12). Charlie Weis became the first Irish coach to lose his first two home contests, finishing 19-14 overall in South Bend.

Brian Kelly has lost half of his home games to date: 4-4 with five more on tap this season. Is getting out of the house a panacea for Kelly's Irish?

"We like playing on the road. There's no question," Kelly said before catching himself and offering, "The atmosphere is great at home and we love playing at home. Make no mistake about it.

"Getting on the road sometimes in a night game, you get that chance to really relax and get that focus in on the game."

Notre Dame finished 2-1 in true road night games last season; 3-1 including the Manhattan conquest of Army. In Kelly's prime time loss to Michigan State last September, the Irish posted their second highest yardage total of the season.

(Lou Holtz lost 30 games in 11 seasons at Notre Dame; a surprising 13 occurred in South Bend. Considering he won 19 straight home games from 1987-1990 and subsequently began his Notre Dame career with a 22-3 home record, the "13" total is a surprisingly high number en route to a 51-13-1 final mark in South Bend. Holtz finished 34-12-1 on the road and 15-5 in neutral site games.)

As noted in our pre-season prediction series, the Irish have not finished undefeated in South Bend since 1998.

While Kelly realizes the unique circumstances of Saturday night's contest – the first under the lights in Michigan Stadium history – he doubts it will affect his veteran team.

"Most of our players have played at Michigan. They've played in some great venues, so they know what it's going to be like with the crowd and the atmosphere," Kelly noted. "We'll register the music tomorrow (at practice), but we operate that way anyway, mostly with signaling from the sideline. Our guys are more interested in how they play.

"We respect Michigan, we're excited about the game and what it means, but this is really about us and how we play."

Not an all or nothing proposition

Kelly's 2010 Irish suffered four red zone turnovers (two fumbles by Michael Floyd and two passes intended for him). His 2011 squad nearly matched that total in the season-opener with a crippling fumble and pair of interceptions already on the ledger.

"Our quarterbacks have to make good decisions down there, period," Kelly said of play calls inside both the 20-yard line (red zone) and the "blue zone" (inside the 6-yard line) adding, "We've got to hold on to football."

To that end, Kelly has issued a policy reminder to his Week Two starter, Tommy Rees.

"So (all week) when we're practicing red zone, there will be a constant echoing of ‘touchdown, check down.' You know, give me zero. Let me kick a field goal. Give me a chance to kick a field goal."

The latter scenario, automatic for the Irish in 2010, failed in the opening Saturday fiasco as well when Lou Groza finalist David Ruffer missed a 27-yard chip shot (also spotted inside the red zone) that would have trimmed the Bulls lead to 16-10.


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