Michigan vs. Notre Dame: Brian Kelly Can Change QBs but Defense Will Carry Irish

Adam JacobiBig Ten Football Lead WriterSeptember 23, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 22: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches along with his team as the Irish take on the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 22, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Much is going to be made about the move made by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly in bringing in Tommy Rees to the finish the win over Michigan. It's not the first week Kelly has made that move—just two weeks ago Rees led the Irish on a game-winning field goal drive against Purdue in a 20-17 win.

Against Purdue, though, Rees was only in for the last series. Against Michigan? Try the last two and a half quarters.

And yes, on its face, Kelly's decision looks like one that paid off. Rees came in after Golson threw his second interception of the half, led the Irish on a touchdown drive that would eventually count for more points than Michigan scored all game long and took care of the football in the win. That's enough for starting consideration next week.

But let's be honest. Tommy Rees didn't win that game for Notre Dame. He also didn't lose it for the Irish, obviously, but if we're handing out plaudits, this one is all about Manti Te'o and the defense.

Rees led the Irish to 10 points on five drives. That's not horrible, but it's not good, and if Michigan was doing to Notre Dame's defense what it had done the past two years, Rees' performance would have been a losing one. 

Notre Dame won the game, yes. But the Irish's 13 points were the lowest in the last three years. And yes, Notre Dame's last drive ended in a kneel-down deep in Michigan territory. Okay, fine. 20 points would still have lost the last two games. So would have another touchdown, while we're at it.

No, this is about Notre Dame's defense absolutely demolishing Denard Robinson and Michigan's offensive game plan. This is about Manti Te'o picking off two passes and forcing another pick during an incredible stretch in which Notre Dame intercepted Michigan's last five pass attempts of the first half.

Seriously, Notre Dame did that. If that's not a record, it's only because nobody's bothered keeping a record of such things. Let's give the Elias Sports Bureau a few days to check up on that, but once the dust clears, we're pretty confident that'll be a record—and there probably won't be any defenses that did it in four straight passes, either.

This Notre Dame defense is absolutely legit. It completely neutered Michigan State the week prior, and the 17 points it allowed to Purdue looks pretty impressive considering what Purdue has done elsewhere this year. And Notre Dame's strength is in its personnel—and not just Manti Te'o, who's putting in a superhuman senior season.

Prince Shembo is a terror on the edge. Louis Nix III is a perfect point man at nose guard. Rounding out the line, Stephon Tuitt is a future star at DE—if not an "already" star. Zeke Motta is a future pro at safety and made his presence known over and over against Michigan. Senior LB Dan Fox is making good use of his first season of significant playing time. And if you're looking for weaknesses...well, good luck.

We're at the point where if Notre Dame gets 17 points a pop the rest of the way, it's winning 10 games, minimum. And Notre Dame can get those 17 points per game with Tommy Rees at QB. It can also get them with Everett Golson. Heck, throw Dayne Crist back there again and Notre Dame's still in good shape (NOTE: we do not advise putting Crist back there).

And let's be clear, a 10-win Notre Dame team is a BCS bowl team. With that schedule, that fan base and—yes, let's be honest—national relevance, BCS bowls will be falling all over themselves to invite Notre Dame as soon as the Irish are eligible. 

So congratulations for Tommy Rees for being at the helm of the offense for the win this week. Beating Michigan is a pretty big deal. But if quarterbacks usually buy their offensive line dinners after win, Rees really owes his starting defense a steak or 11 this time around.