Michigan vs. Notre Dame: Postgame Grades from the Irish's Win vs. the Wolverines
In a game that perhaps produced more questions than answers, No. 11 Notre Dame fended off No. 18 Michigan 13-6 to improve to 4-0 on the season.
With both teams struggling offensively, Notre Dame switched things up in the second quarter by replacing quarterback Everett Golson with Tommy Rees. The decision proved to be the correct one, as Rees led the Irish to the only touchdown scored by either team.
Notre Dame's defense shined yet again, forcing the Wolverines into six turnovers on the day. Unfortunately, the Irish's offensive struggles prevented this from being a blowout.
After sophomore Everett Golson stunk up the joint (3-for-8, 30 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions), veteran Tommy Rees stepped in to save both the Irish and the viewers of this game.
After two quarters of hideously stagnant offense, Rees was able to provide a spark for the Irish, leading them on an eight-play, 48-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. He completed 3-of-4 passes on the drive and capped it off with his first career rushing touchdown.
Rees finished with great overall numbers (8-of-11, 115 yards), and although he failed to throw a touchdown pass, his lack of turnovers was key. Notre Dame seemingly refused to pull away in this game, but thanks to Rees' efficient play, the Irish were able to secure the win.
Running Backs: C-
Notre Dame's running backs were unable to provide much production, but it's hard to blame them considering their situation.
With a shaky quarterback tandem running the show, as well as an offensive line that was unable to assert themselves, the Irish running backs were often left with few options. Michigan stacked the box against the run, severely limiting the big play ability of Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and company.
The Irish backs accounted for just 95 rushing yards on the day. Riddick was the most productive, running for 52 yards on 17 carries. Wood had the best yards per carry though (5.6) and his 15-yard run was also Notre Dame's longest of the game.
They were unspectacular, but the Notre Dame running backs did all they could on Saturday.
Wide Receivers: C
Like the running backs, it's hard to criticize the wide receivers for their less-than-stellar play considering their quarterback situation.
Fanbases often underestimate the effects of a quarterback change on a team's receiving core, but the Irish wideouts handled it well. T.J. Jones and Davaris Daniels combined for 75 yards, and although they were unable to find the end zone, they delivered a respectable performance.
Like the other Irish offensive players, they didn't do anything amazing. However, they didn't screw up too badly either, and today, that's all that mattered.
Tight Ends: D
Tyler Eifert is widely regarded as one of the best tight ends in the nation, but he was a non-factor for 95 percent of the game. Luckily for the Irish, he came up big in the fourth quarter, catching a critical 38-yard pass to seal the victory.
It was a great play, but Notre Dame won't be able to succeed in the future if they keep getting minimal production from Eifert. He needs to become much more of a weapon in the passing game before their offense can reach its full potential.
Offensive Line: C
Like the rest of the Irish offense, I'm giving the line an average grade. They were great on occasion and good when they had to be, but there was plenty of mediocrity from the boys up front.
They did a good job of protecting Golson and Rees, but they were unable to dominate the Michigan defensive line. The Irish O-line has plenty of talent, but without a nasty demeanor, they will continue to churn out decent performances.
Defensive Line: A-
Notre Dame's defense was very impressive, and much of their success should be credited to the efforts of the D-line. Denard Robinson's four interceptions wouldn't have occurred without the big boys' constant pressure at the line of scrimmage.
There's still room for improvement—you never want to give up 90 rushing yards to an opposing quarterback—but if Notre Dame's defensive line continues to play like this, the Irish will be headed for a BCS bowl.
Manti Te'o provided plenty of inspiration after his recent family losses, but his on-field production is what really set the tone for the Irish.
Notre Dame's defense was dominant throughout, thanks in large part to the efforts of Te'o. The senior linebacker recorded eight tackles and two interceptions to lead the Irish defense, establishing that unit as one of the strongest in the nation.
It will be hard to build on this performance, but if he maintains his current level of play, Te'o and the Irish linebackers will continue to be a force.
The Irish secondary frustrated Denard Robinson throughout the game, blanketing his receivers and forcing the Heisman candidate into bad throws.
Safety Nicky Baratti and cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russel all recorded interceptions, helping Te'o wreak havoc on the defensive end. If Notre Dame's defense, particularly their secondary, continues to play at this level, they can compete with any team in the nation.
Special Teams: B
The Notre Dame special teams unit was up and down, as pinpoint field goals were sandwiched in between terrible punts.
Punter Ben Turk averaged 37.8 yards per kick, but back-to-back 29-yard punts nearly cost Notre Dame the game. Luckily, the Irish defense was able to bail him out.
Despite their punting struggles, the Irish had no such issues with field goal kicker Kyle Brindza. Field goal kicking is often a crapshoot at the collegiate level, but after drilling his attempts from 33 and 39 yards out, Brindza appears to be a reliable option.
Brian Kelly's over-conservative play-calling was maddening at times, but it's tough to argue with the results. His team took care of the ball after their early mistakes, and thanks to the fantastic effort of his defense, Kelly was able to play it safe offensively.
He also gets some major props for benching Golson when he clearly wasn't ready for the moment. The veteran Rees performed admirably, but Kelly deserves some credit for trusting his most experienced quarterback.
Kelly wasn't the deciding factor in this game—that honor goes to the defense—but his decision-making proved to be sound. As long as he doesn't create too much of a distraction with his quarterback situation, Kelly should be able to lead Notre Dame to a BCS bowl this season.