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Notre Dame stifles Denard Robinson, snaps skid vs. Michigan

Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jacks(2) recovers fumble by Michigan quarterback Denard Robinsthird quarter. | Getty Images

Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson (2) recovers a fumble by Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson in the third quarter. | Getty Images

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Updated: October 24, 2012 6:51AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In the last month, Notre Dame has transformed itself from a national afterthought with an impossible schedule into a top-10 team with two beaten ranked rivals behind it and a legitimate path to a BCS bowl game ahead of it.

Yet the Irish are right back where they started the season — with a murky quarterback situation.

The 13-6 victory Saturday over No. 18 Michigan gave the No. 11 Irish a 4-0 start and the revenge they so desperately craved against Denard Robinson and Michigan. The fact that Robinson — who racked up 948 total yards and eight touchdowns in two last-minute victories against ND — had a truly awful game with four of Michigan’s five first-half interceptions and a third-quarter fumble at the ND 11-yard line surely brought smiles to the faces of Irish fans everywhere.

“He’s gotten me the last two years, and Michigan’s gotten me the last three years,” said linebacker Manti Te’o, who had two of the picks. “I’m just glad in my last one, my last hurrah, I was able to finally have something to celebrate.”

And it was another dominant effort by the Notre Dame defense, which has held Michigan State and Michigan without a touchdown in back-to-back games. It snapped the senior class’ three-game skid against the Wolverines. And it established the Irish as credible contenders.

“It’s a group that understands they’ve got an opportunity to do something really big,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said.

Despite all that, the question that will dominate ND’s upcoming bye week is a familiar one: Who’s the quarterback?

Kelly benched starter Everett Golson in the second quarter after his second interception. Last year’s starter, Tommy Rees, came in and promptly led the Irish on a scoring drive, completing three passes and scoring his first career rushing touchdown from two yards out.

Rees was hardly the second coming of Joe Montana, but he finished 8-for-11 for 115 yards with a clutch 38-yard pass to Tyler Eifert (the star tight end’s first catch since Week 2) to seal the win and avoid giving Robinson one last chance to break Irish hearts. But Golson — who had been so effective at managing the game, protecting the football and making the occasional big play when called upon in the first three games — struggled badly in this one. He didn’t complete a pass until the second quarter and finished 3-for-8 for 30 yards and the two interceptions.

In fact, Notre Dame’s offense mustered a mere 239 yards against a Michigan team that was allowing 425 yards per game in the first three weeks of the season.

Rees has come to the rescue in both of Notre Dame’s home games, also engineering the game-winning field-goal drive against Purdue.

Kelly stood firm that Golson’s his man, though.

“Everett’s our starter,” he said.

At least, at the start of games.

“We’re fairly comfortable if we need Tommy to come in and handle some of the offense for us if we feel it’s necessary,” Kelly said. “He’s a great asset to have, and if you need him to close out a game, we’ll go that route. We’d like to continue to develop Everett so we don’t have to, but we’re going to continue to try to win football games any way possible.”

Rees, the consummate team guy, said that’s fine with him. That said: “It feels good; I’m not going to lie. It feels good to go out there and have your teammates count on you and to deliver.”

As long as the ND defense keeps playing like this, it might not matter who takes the snaps.

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