The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Michigan Wolverines 13-6 in an altogether sloppy game Saturday evening.
It looked like Michigan would have a chance to tie the game late, but Tyler Eifert's 38-yard reception on a 3rd-and-4 with two minutes left, sealed the game for Notre Dame.
While the score was close, eight turnovers gave this game an odd feel. Neither team played well enough to win on most nights, but Michigan happened to make more crucial mistakes. The Fighting Irish won despite making a quarterback change in the first half. Everett Golson was not effective to start the game, forcing Brian Kelly to insert Tommy Rees.
Rees led the Irish on the first half's lone touchdown drive, justifying his coach's decision. He didn't make any jaw-dropping plays, but his experience allowed him to play with surprising poise in the pocket.
Michigan's offense showed glimmers of hope after halftime, but four first-half interceptions from Denard Robinson sunk its ship. Notre Dame played him perfectly for the majority of the game, containing his athleticism and forcing him to throw the ball into tight spots.
The second half looked more encouraging for the Michigan signal-caller, but wound up looking exactly the same. He tried to lead his team down the field on their first possession, but he fumbled the ball away on a scramble.
Which offense was worse?
He didn't turn the ball over thereafter, but it didn't result in anything positive. The Michigan offense out-gained the Irish attack, but it couldn't get out of its own way.
All in all, it was a night to forget for the dynamic athlete and the Michigan team as a whole. The Wolverines offense was able to grind it out and keep the game close, but it was a very disappointing showing overall.
Notre Dame wasn't much better, but a win is a win. Defensively, Manti Te'o had an answer for everything the Wolverines threw at him. He was one step ahead of Michigan's offense, playing a major role in almost every play.
Let's recap this game with some Twitter reaction and grades. We will also pick a player of the game.
The Michigan Daily reporter Stephen J. Nesbitt summed up Michigan's quarterback play in the first half perfectly:
Michigan quarterbacks Denard Robinson and Vincent Smith had five completions and five interceptions in the first half. 50% ain't bad.— Stephen J. Nesbitt (@stephenjnesbitt) September 23, 2012
ESPN provided this after Tommy Rees' rushing touchdown in the second quarter. Be honest, did you?:
If you had Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees scoring a rushing TD before Denard Robinson, you were right.— ESPN (@espn) September 23, 2012
The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel's sports editor Tom Davis questioned the long-term plans of Brian Kelly as the second half was getting underway:
Anxiously await the post-game presser w/ #NotreDame coach Brian Kelly and he is adamant that there is no QB controversy.— Tom Davis (@Tom101010) September 23, 2012
Denard Robinson: D+
Robinson managed to right the ship slightly in the second half, but struggled overall. No matter what he did in the third and fourth quarters, he still threw four interceptions in the first half.
Shoelace finished 13-of-24 for 138 yards. He did carry the ball 26 times for 90 yards, but Notre Dame eliminated the big play. This made him a one-dimensional QB, something that he's not equipped to handle.
He looked lost, unfocused and downright scared at times. Those four interceptions are a glaring hole in his Heisman resume.
Fitzgerald Toussaint: C+
Toussaint wasn't much better than Robinson, but he didn't have the turnovers to his credit either. His production wasn't where it could have been, forcing Robinson to shoulder almost all of the offensive load.
Notre Dame keyed into the box and forced Robinson to beat them down the field. This impacted Toussaint's space to run, and he couldn't get anything going. He finished the game with 58 yards on 13 carries.
Maybe Michigan should have given him more touches; it couldn't have been much worse.
Tommy Rees: C
Who should have been at QB?
This was a tough one, and I could have put Golson here, but I'll put the quarterback who finished the game instead.
Rees didn't play great by any means, but he won the game. His experience showed at times, and he didn't turn the ball over like his Michigan counterpart. The Fighting Irish only had 242 total yards, but Rees' first-half rushing touchdown was a massive play.
Passing-wise, he finished 8-of-11 for 115 yards. In a game like this, no turnovers is the most important part. Rees was average, but that last completion to Eifert was worth the grade alone.
Manti Te'o: A+
We will get into Te'o more in a bit, but this one is easy. He was all over the field, providing the answer to anything Michigan's offense dialed up.
Te'o showed why he's the best middle linebacker in the nation. He's instinctive, athletic and a ferocious tackler. He can drop in coverage or drop the hammer in run support.
Ladies and gentleman, this kid has it all.
Cierre Wood: C
Wood didn't have a ton of yardage, but he provided a few big runs. His 5.6 yards per carry showed his value Saturday night.
It was tough sledding for the Irish offense. Wood didn't have a big night, but his 39 yards were important.
Player of the Game: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
If you watched this game, this is an easy choice. Te'o played defense like he sat in the Wolverines huddle.
Watching a player dominate like this is always something special, and Te'o is making it a habit. He's going to be a top contender for every defensive award at season's end, and this game could put him in some Heisman Trophy talks.
He's that good, and prime-time games show everyone what Notre Dame fans already knew.
Te'o was Robinson's worst nightmare. The dynamic quarterback couldn't take one step without the rangy linebacker waiting for him. He couldn't outrun him or outsmart him, and he certainly couldn't overpower him.
One player stood out Saturday night, and that was Te'o. This choice wasn't even close.