Irish go from BCS hopefuls to 0-2

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
2:05
AM ET
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The story of two smiles in two vastly different interview rooms told the story of Michigan-Notre Dame, another heartbreak for Brian Kelly that's become seemingly inevitable whenever he enters this state as the Irish head football coach.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame head coach Brian Kelly
AP Photo/Bill FundaroBrian Kelly and Notre Dame are off to a frustrating 0-2 start after a wild 35-31 loss to Michigan on Saturday.
No, this wasn't a fake-field goal in overtime that left him smirking after loss No. 2 a year ago in East Lansing, though the Michigan Wolverines seemed capable of pulling that off under the lights as well had Roy Roundtree not come down with the winning grab with two seconds left in Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31.

But Roundtree did make that catch, a 16-yard touchdown on a lob by Denard Robinson that sent the biggest crowd in college football history into a frenzy and left Kelly scratching his head and staring at an 0-2 hole with -- guess who -- Michigan State coming to town next week.

A five-turnover performance a week ago compelled Kelly to call Week 1 his most frustrating loss. When asked where this one ranks, the Fighting Irish coach paused for a few seconds while offering a smirk.

"I don't know that I've got a great definition for this one other than our kids, I feel for them," Kelly said. "And this one in particular. They battled back on the road after things turned on them, came back with a great last two-minute drive. And not to see it finish off, I feel really bad for them."

For the second straight week, Notre Dame broke the 500-yard mark on offense, a unit that ran with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

But Kelly knows there are no trophies for being the most talented 0-2 team in the nation, and he delivered that message stone-faced immediately after the loss.

"We're not good enough," Kelly said. "There's not one individual in that locker room, including all of the coaches, that are good enough right now. And consequently we lost the football game. And I mean across the board. It's turnovers, it's sub-par special teams play, it's the inability to make a stop, it's all of those things. So [I] pretty much told our football team that when we're better as a football team, we'll start winning."

It's not exactly the message he thought he'd be telling his players and the rest of Irish nation two weeks into a season that began with BCS bowl dreams, especially not before facing a Spartans team that is superior on paper to the Michigan and South Florida squads that have capitalized on 10 Notre Dame turnovers through two weeks.

The blooper-real ran again Saturday night, the Irish giving it away five times after pleading so thoroughly to cut down on the mistakes that doomed them a week ago.

"Stunned is not the word, I'm surprised obviously we weren't able to hold on," Kelly said when asked if he was stunned by the way things unfolded. "Nobody would sit here and say, 'Well, 30 seconds, we got a pretty good chance to win the game.' I think that's probably the one area. They made a great play. But no I'm not stunned, I've been in this business way too long."

Minutes later in the home interview room, Robinson flashed a smile much more fulfilling than Kelly's. It told the fortunes of these two teams after a third straight Michigan win that improbably topped the previous two and validated all of the hype surrounding the first night game in the Big House.

"Every time you see the game, you know both team's gotta fight till the end," Shoelace said. "And it's never over until you see zeroes on the clock."

Saturday was Exhibit A of that statement, with Notre Dame starting the fourth quarter up 17, watching a forced fumble turn into a Michigan touchdown one play later and eventually surrendering four touchdowns to the Maize and Blue in the final 15 minutes, none more shocking than the last two in a span of 1 minute, 12 seconds.

Asked if he had ever experienced a minute and a quarter of football like that, linebacker Manti Te'o said: "No. Never. And something that I hope I don't experience again."

Sounds familiar? Sure. But Week 2 provided further proof that drama and Notre Dame football are tied together at the hip, especially when crossing the Indiana-Michigan border.

Notre Dame will need to disprove that theory to avoid an unthinkable 0-3 start.

Matt Fortuna | email

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