The most overmatched and poorly coached Notre Dame game I can remember is their 2007 season opener against Georgia Tech. After two years of Brady Quinn at quarterback, Charlie Weis now had to find somebody new to cloak in his decided schematic advantage.
Having possibly briefly seen the spread option on SportsCenter or on the news for 30 seconds the week before, Weis had clearly figured all of this college bullcrap out and was going to show these cowtown yokels how cityfolk did it.
He ended up starting mobile redshirt freshman quarterback Demetrius Jones in that opener. When the game began, Jones ran left and ran right and every time ran smack dab into the Georgia Tech defense. Weis was flumoxed. He had tried nothing and was all out of ideas.
Jones lasted a half and never played again. The Irish lost 33-3 and the luster that Charlie Weis once had would soon be gone.
And yet, despite Weis presenting the stupidest game plan in Notre Dame history up until this past weekend, even he would have known not to try and throw the ball as much as Brian Kelly did in the constant downpour the Irish were facing Saturday night.
The weather was terrible as Michigan proved to be inconsiderate hosts to Notre Dame — though to call the Wolverines “hosts” is a bit light. A more apt term would be “captors.”
There’s no telling what exactly the Irish football team had that Michigan wanted, but they sure were intent on beating it out of them.
When it was finally over, the Wolverines were 45-14 victors.
I don’t know what kind of information was actually gained from the Irish, other than the fact that while torture is not an effective means of eliciting intel, it can be pretty fun to watch sometimes.
When Michigan Was On Offense
If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would have never believed Michigan could run the ball against a good defense as well as they did in this one.
But had I simply gone back and looked at Notre Dame’s previous games, I would have seen that they gave up 249 yards rushing to Louisville, 212 to New Mexico, 152 to Georgia, and 171 to USC.
That being said, I still would have been surprised and impressed, because the 303 yards they put on the ground against this Notre Dame defense came with little effort to throw the ball.
Brian Kelly’s defense knew the Wolverines were running the ball right at them and their only answer was to beg “not in the face!”
Michigan ran the ball 57 times for 303 yards (5.3 ypc). Wolverine running backs ran the ball 46 times and lost yardage once.
Redshirt freshman Hassan Haskins led the team with 149 yards on 20 carries, and didn’t wear down as the game went on. His 17th carry went for 49 yards. He also had rushes of 20 and 25 yards.
Haskins has six rushes of 20+ yards this season, which is good for fourth in the Big Ten and tied with Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. All six of those carries have happened in October, which is the most in the B1G this month. It’s also tied for fifth nationally in October with Clemson’s Travis Etienne and others.
I had my doubts about Michigan having “to resort” to Haskins this season, but this was a great outing for him and he continues to show both speed and toughness. It is going to be interesting to watch him and true freshman Zach Charbonnet develop chemistry together over the next few years.
Speaking of Charbonnet, he rushed for 74 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns and a long rush of 35 yards. Even Tru Wilson got involved, finishing with 45 yards on six attempts, including a tackle-breaking 27-yard touchdown against an Irish defense that was simply on the field at that point to fulfill the requirements of the contract.
Jim Harbaugh challenged the offensive line and the running game and they responded as well as they ever have under him. They have had bigger rushing days, but never under such adverse circumstances as this one — and I’m not just talking about the weather.
People were ready to send Michigan off into the cold wilderness to fall asleep under a large tree and never wake up again.
Instead, Michigan went out, chopped that tree down, and beat the hell out of Notre Dame with it.
Harbaugh was also wise to limit quarterback Shea Patterson’s involvement in this game.
Patterson completed 6-of-12 passes for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but didn’t really start “slinging it around” until after the game was no longer in doubt. Dylan McCaffrey also got some time, completing a pair of passes — including a 26-yard touchdown to freshman Mike Sainristil.
Patterson fumbled three times, which was to be expected with how wet the conditions were and also with how much he fumbles in ideal conditions. Michigan didn’t lose any of the fumbles — one of which came inside the Notre Dame 5-yard line and another which came inside the Michigan 10-yard line.
The fumble deep in Michigan territory was a supremely odd left-handed lateral out of bounds from midfield by Patterson to avoid a sack. It’s that kind of decision making that always has the potential to pop up, which is why Jim Harbaugh had him handing the ball off as much as possible.
Patterson still made some good throws despite the conditions, but every time he dropped back, Notre Dame’s win probability would spike.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Have you ever tried to throw a football underwater? Notre Dame did, 29 times! Rarely, however, were they successful.
Starting quarterback Ian Book completed 8-of-25 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. Backup Phil Jurkovec came in at the end to complete 3-of-4 tosses for 60 yards and a touchdown of his own.
Notre Dame’s plan of attack was to throw the ball up for grabs down the sidelines to their taller receivers. It worked three or four times, but it netted virtually nothing. There were drops, overthrows, underthrows, errant throws, and every other kind of throw that isn’t a completion that you can think of.
And then there were some more.
Notre Dame ran the ball for 47 yards on 31 attempts (1.5 ypc) and it never looked like they had any confidence in their ability to move the line of scrimmage.
They didn’t think they could run it on Michigan and Michigan proved them right.
So they just threw the ball up for grabs like they were Middle Tennessee and not a Power 5 team with a national recruiting reach. Maybe we should refer to them as the Northwest Indiana Fighting Irish from here on out.
Even Notre Dame’s quick plays are slow developing. That stuff may work in the ACC, but this is the Big Ten and things move faster around here.
Speaking of things moving faster, redshirt freshman middle linebacker Cameron McGrone continues to impress. He led the team with 12 stops. It took him some time to get into the lineup this year — he had just seven tackles over the first four games. Over the last four contests, however, he is averaging just shy of nine tackles per game.
He’s big, he’s fast, and he’s reading plays at a 16th-grade level.
In the five games since the debacle against Wisconsin where they allowed 359 yards rushing, the Wolverines have given up just 269 yards rushing (53.8 ypg). In their last two games against ranked opponents — Penn State and Notre Dame, Michigan has allowed 463 yards of total offense. They haven’t given up 300 yards of total offense since the Badgers went wild on them for 487 yards.
Does this mean the Michigan defense is fixed? I don’t know. It sure doesn’t look broken to me. It may just mean only one team has been able to crack the code so far. Will the Buckeyes be the second? It wouldn’t be the first time.
Michigan won this game up front on both sides of the ball. The Wolverine defensive line was active and kept Ian Book from getting comfortable. Defensive ends Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson provided the necessary harassment, but the linebackers and safeties behind them were outstanding as well.
Freshman safety Daxton Hill continues to find the football and his time is coming. He recovered two fumbles and broke up a pass.
The cornerbacks had some rough moments, particularly Vincent Gray. Gray had a good start to the season but is a guy who has gotten targeted as the year’s gone on and more film has become available.
Still, for the time being, this looks like a defense that isn’t going to have any trouble the next two games. I’ll be interested to see what Indiana can do in the week prior to The Game, however.
The Michigan Special Teams
Michigan was perfect on their field goals on Saturday, so that’s a good thing. Does it matter that it was only one kick and it was from 21 yards out? Maybe.
Perhaps the best thing to say about the special teams on Saturday was that Michigan didn’t fumble or muff any of their four punt returns. Those were not ideal conditions by any means, and yet rather than let the ball bounce time after time like Notre Dame did, Donovan Peoples-Jones saved the Wolverines some yardage where he could.
The punting game wasn’t all great for Michigan, as Will Hart had a punt blocked. It was similar to the punt block that Ohio State suffered, in that the ball went about 20 or 30 yards downfield. Notre Dame foolishly tried to recover the punt and ended up muffing that attempt and Michigan recovered for a 20-yard gain.
What Does It All Mean
It means that the old Jim Harbaugh just might be back.
This was cocky Jim Harbaugh on Saturday night, throwing the ball in a driving rain storm up by four touchdowns.
This was “What’s your deal” era Jim Harbaugh. I was waiting for him to go for two on the last touchdown.
The nation has been calling for the old Jim Harbaugh to come back. We may have gotten our wish.
It also means that the reports of Michigan’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated.
I picked Michigan to win this game in an ugly, grind-it-out-and-score-somehow type of game, but this was complete domination that I didn’t think they were capable of. I’d chalk it up to Notre Dame’s weaknesses, but that would be disrespectful to the Wolverines and that’s not what Michigan Monday has ever been about.
After the Wisconsin loss, I said Michigan’s final eight opponents would all have a belief that they could beat this team. The Wolverines are 3-1 in the first four of those games, and who knows what that record would be had there not been a drop in the end zone against Penn State.
Also, when I said this, Maryland wasn’t terrible yet, so let’s not revisit that statement any longer than we need to. The overall point is that Michigan is now 6-2 and will be favored in their next three games.
Jim Harbaugh has resuscitated the Wolverines and maybe brought them back with a little bit of an edge.
This didn’t feel like a team looking for answers on Saturday night. They had every answer they needed.
The question now is will they have an answer from here on out?
And what happens when they can’t hide Shea Patterson as well as they did in this one? Can he step up like this running game did against the Irish?
If so, it’s going to be one hell of a November.
The Road to The Game
Aug. 31 — Michigan 40 – Middle Tennessee 21 (1-0)
Sept. 7 — Michigan 24 – Army 21 (2-0)
Sept. 21 — Wisconsin 35 – Michigan 14 (2-1, 0-1)
Sept. 28 — Michigan 52 – Rutgers 0 (3-1, 1-1)
Oct. 5 — Michigan 10 – Iowa 3 (4-1, 2-1)
Oct. 12 — Michigan 42 – Illinois 25 (5-1, 3-1)
Oct. 19 — Penn State 28 – Michigan 21 (5-2, 3-2)
Oct. 26 — Michigan 45 – Notre Dame 14 (6-2, 4-2)
Nov. 2 — at Maryland
Nov. 16 — Michigan State
Nov. 23 — at Indiana
Nov. 30 — Ohio State