SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame's Brian Kelly awakened Sunday morning to a strange feeling. For the first time in nearly two years he went to work after a team he coached had lost a regular-season game.
Kelly's mission to rebuild the Fighting Irish into a national power hit its first speed bump a day earlier. In a tough 28-24 loss to Michigan, the Irish couldn't contain the Wolverines' talented and versatile Denard Robinson, who accounted for 502 yards of total offense and scored the game-winning TD with 27 seconds to go.
"I can tell you it doesn't feel good. I'm sure this mood won't change until we get a chance to win again," said Kelly, who will take his team on the road for the first time this Saturday at Michigan State.
"There won't be any smiling faces around here until we get another win."
Kelly suffered his first regular-season loss as a head coach since Oct. 25, 2008, when his Cincinnati Bearcats were beaten by Connecticut.
If the loss was rare, so was the performance by Robinson. The Irish are not likely to see another player like him the rest of the season.
"Their one particular formation with three receivers to one side where he can run the ball or throw it on the run is problematic because of who he is and that's where we were stressed in coverage," Kelly said.
But Kelly pointed out that it was Robinson's passing — 5 of 6 for 55 yards — on a final, game-winning 72-yard drive that really hurt the Irish.
Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist played well in the second half after banging his head during a run and missing most of the first two quarters. But his final-play pass from the Michigan 27 sailed out of the end zone, leaving the Irish at 1-1.
Crist had led an opening TD drive, scoring himself on a sneak, but had taken a hit to the helmet on an earlier carry and then didn't return until the third quarter.
Crist had some swelling on the left side of his face that Kelly said made him a little off balance, but it wasn't a concussion. While he sat out, backups Tommy Rees and Nate Montana struggled, showing just how valuable Crist is to the spread offense.
When Crist returned in the second half, he led the Irish to 17 points, highlighted by a 95-yard TD pass to Kyle Rudolph.
"He grew up in the second half, showed poise in pocket he hadn't shown to this point," Kelly said. "He really matured in the second half."
Kelly said it was his responsibility to make things easier for Rees and Montana — both of whom saw their first college action — by creating a package for his backup quarterbacks that doesn't demand as much. All three quarterbacks threw an interception.
Kelly said that backup fifth-year center Dan Wenger would wait three weeks to see if he can continue his career following two concussions since mid-August. And backup linebacker Steve Paskorz needs knee surgery and will miss the rest of the season.
But the Irish are still waiting to get more test results on special teams and defensive line coach Mike Elston who missed Saturday's game with a virus. Kelly said Elston had already given 72 vials of blood for testing.
"Mike from an energy standpoint, he's been fighting this virus for a while," Kelly said. "He's had good days, bad days."