Eye in the Sky – What Just Happened?

Part II of our defensive film review looks at the worst 17 minutes of defensive football in recent memory.

Click here for Part I of our defensive film review.

Warning: The following material may be unsuitable for reader's of any age, or anyone that values mental toughness and disciplined football.

With 2:05 remaining in the third quarter, Irish defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore nearly made his fourth key play in the Wolverines backfield: maintaining his rush lane and staying home on a fake to the offense's right, Lewis-Moore, controlled Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson briefly, grabbing his ankle to stop momentum.

Robinson's subsequent balancing act and off-balance downfield throw landed in the hands of crossing wide receiver Junior Hemingway who, after a missed diving tackle attempt by beaten cornerback Gary Gray, sprinted 77 yards to the Irish six-yard line (tremendous effort by Robert Blanton to fight off a downfield block and angle Hemingway out of bounds).

It was fantastic effort by Robinson, and a tough cover for Gray in man coverage on an extended play. It was all Michigan thereafter…

Key Play as the quarter expires: After linebacker Prince Shembo strung out a sweep to the left for lost yardage, Notre Dame's defense lost its opportunity to hold the Wolverines out of the end zone: with one minute remaining, Lewis-Moore, Shembo, and Ethan Johnson had Robinson in a triangle in space near the Irish 15-yard line – but the elusive one-man Irish wrecking crew wiggled through the trio and then powered his way to the goal line, making ‘backer Manti Te'o miss near the 4-yard line.

Four Irish defenders in a short space, but nonetheless advantage Robinson, who could have been tackled anywhere between the 4 and 13-yard line but found a way to get to the shadow of the Irish goal….

Fourth Quarter – Opportunities Lost

Faced with 3rd and Goal at the Irish one-yard line and still at a 24-7 deficit, Michigan received its first dose of good fortune: Despite a huge push from Wolverines interior line – one that pushed nose guard Louis Nix three yards into the end zone – an incredible leaping strike by Irish safety Harrison Smith rocked the football from leaping runner Stephen Hopkins; the subsequent fumble was scooped up by the quickest player on the field, with Robinson darting from the 3-yard line into the end zone for a fumble recovery score…Notre Dame 24 Michigan 14

On the Wolverines next possession, Irish ‘backer Dan Fox showed good timing on a delayed blitz, then a quick burst to secure Robinson for the game's only sack…Fox though was caught looking at play-action on the ensuing play: an old-fashioned fullback swing route that beat him for 15 yards and a Michigan first down…

For the first time in the contest, a tailback lead block (power play with Robinson following through the hole) burns the Irish as both Te'o and Shembo were sealed at the line of scrimmage, giving Robinson an easy 10 yards…

One play later, Ethan Johnson showed great quickness to break down scrimmage and stop a Robinson cut-back after three yards…

Gary Gray's struggles continued: beaten on a boundary fade touchdown pass by the 5'8" Jeremy Gallon – Gray never located the under thrown ball, a recurring theme over the season's first two contests…Notre Dame 24 Michigan 21

Pinned near their own goal, a Robinson floater again felled the Irish as an under thrown deep ball to midfield is secured by an alert Hemingway – the frustrating completion saw Harrison Smith unable to leave his feet; Zeke Motta unable to locate the football; and Lewis-Moore penalized for a late-hit on Robinson following the throw: 2nd and 9 at the UM 10-yard line turned to 1st and 10 at the Irish 30...

Saving the Irish briefly was defensive MVP Robert Blanton, who after light hand contact showed tremendous concentration and coordination for a juggling end zone interception. Blanton found the football and made the play – apparently still a possibility for the flailing Irish defensive backfield.

24-21 – 2:16 Remaining

Te'o is faked off his feet in short space to give Robinson eight yards rather than two…two plays later, Te'o met Robinson at the marker but the latter received a favorable spot (simply the official's right foot rather than left) for a crucial first down at the ND 48-yard line…

Michigan took advantage of a coverage mismatch as slot receiver Kelvin Grady beat Motta on a deep corner route – perhaps Robinson's best pass of the day for 27 yards across the hash mark to the wide side…

Darius Fleming expertly diagnoses a throwback screen to his (boundary) side but subsequently whiffs in space vs. running back Vincent Smith – a 21-yard touchdown dance ensues as Blanton is effectively sealed by a sideline block…28-24 Michigan

No Excuse

After Tommy Rees drove the Irish 61 yards in five plays, Notre Dame led their hosts 31-28 with 30 seconds remaining; Michigan pinned at their own 20-yard line. Three plays concluded the wildest contest in series history:

  • 1st and 10: Prince Shembo appeared to be held on an inside pass rush. Rather than a sack opportunity at the Wolverines 10-yard line, Robinson stepped up to fire incomplete down the right sidelines – over the head of Jeremy Gallon.

  • 2nd and 10, 23 seconds remaining: In the words of head coach Brian Kelly: "They ran a double post wheel; we squeezed hard on the curl; the wheel out flanked our defense," he said. "There are a couple of key coaching points on how you play that route. It's a very common route. It's not like it's something we haven't seen before. So we'll address that with those guys that were responsible for it."

    Where to start? There are so many things wrong with the game's penultimate, decisive play: Gray's remarkable rookie mistake; a bad angle by Motta; a bad angle by Blanton; panic mode by chasing (slow) defenders with only the hustle of Manti Te'o (who was blocked in the back at the end of the run) and an angle from Harrison Smith to stop Gallon's 64-yard, cross-field sprint from scoring.

  • With 115,000 people knowing exactly where the ball was going, and despite good edge pressure by Ethan Johnson (who nearly hit Robinson's arm upon release), Gray was beaten for a game-ending fade route to Roy Roundtree – failing to locate the pass in the air, interfering in the process, and allowing the catch. Triple-whammy. Ballgame.

17 minutes: 321 yards, 28 points allowed.

Has a Notre Dame team ever lost in more incredible fashion?

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