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Michigan Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Wolverines' Loss vs. the Irish

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IINovember 8, 2016

Michigan Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Wolverines' Loss vs. the Irish

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    Michigan Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson has been Notre Dame Fighting Irish football's Kryptonite for the past three years.

    But Saturday night, the Irish found a way to counteract the once-weakening force known as "Shoelace" in their 13-6 victory over Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium.

    The win, which broke a three-year losing streak to the Wolverines, will surely put Notre Dame into the national title discussion. Sitting at 4-0, the Irish have the opportunity to jump into the Top 10 after entering this week at No. 11.

    For No. 18 Michigan, the loss exposed a struggling defense and inconsistent offense.The Wolverines will likely drop a handful of spots in the AP Top 25.

    While it wasn't the barnburner college football that fans have grown accustomed to in the past three years, Saturday's game was certainly entertaining.

    There was no doubt which was the better team, but there are questions regarding both the Irish and Wolverines.

    Find out what we learned from the Irish-Wolverines game, and how the game impacts both programs.

Denard Robinson Crumbled Against Notre Dame Defense

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    Denard Robinson entered Saturday's game with a reputation as a nemesis of the Irish.

    When a player racks up 959 yards of total offense in two starts—and wins both—that tends to happen.

    However, Robinson was shut down Saturday night by the Irish defense. "Shoelace" threw four interceptions and fumbled once. He was essentially a non-threat, despite the fact that he rushed for a game-high 90 yards and threw for a game-high 138 yards

    Last-second heroics are Robinson's trademark antics. But that wasn't true Saturday in the Wolverines' 13-6 loss to Notre Dame.

    There would be no last-second, game-winning touchdown to Roy Roundtree this year. There would be no memorable Irish-toppling scoring drive.

    Simply put, the Irish had Robinson's number.

Michigan Still Lacks a Potent Rushing Attack

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    Although Michigan running back Fitz Toussaint averaged 4.5 yards per carry Saturday night in a 13-6 loss to Notre Dame, he was ineffective and made little to no impact on the outcome.

    Toussaint rushed for 58 yards, but the majority came from a 31-yard scamper—the rest were of the hollow nature.

    Michigan tried to use Toussaint to relieve quarterback Denard Robinson, who couldn't establish a rhythm when throwing the ball.

    It was a logical attempt. But it didn't work.

    Other than Robinson, Michigan doesn't seem to have a player that can threaten opposing defenses on the ground.

Michigan Can Be Beaten on the Ground

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    In terms of total yards, Michigan actually dominated Notre Dame, 161-94.

    But that doesn't mean that the Irish weren't more effective at running the ball—and it doesn't mean that the Irish didn't dominate the Wolverines on the ground.

    Because they were, and they did.

    Notre Dame's use of running backs extended drives and kept Michigan's defense off-kilter and frustrated.

    The Irish utilized Theo Riddick in the fourth quarter to wear down the Wolverines, and it worked like a charm. Riddick led Notre Dame with 52 yards but averaged just 3.1 per carry.

    And they were hard-fought, gut-wrenching three-yard attacks.

    Time burned off the clock, Michigan's defense couldn't get off the field and the Irish executed smash-mouth football to perfection via Riddick's carries.

    Cierre Wood broke loose for a 15-yard carry but finished with just 39 yards (5.9 yards per carry). However, the way Notre Dame ran the ball was exactly the way other teams need to run the ball when playing Michigan—at it, unafraid and in spurts.

    Notre Dame ran the ball against Michigan similarly to the way Alabama did in Week 1: It bullied Michigan around and knew just how to use the ground attack to its advantage.

Notre Dame's Manti T'eo Plays with Pride

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    Notre Dame's Manti Te'o recently lost his grandmother and girlfriend.

    But he didn't lose his desire to compete at a high level.

    It would have been understandable if he chose to step away from his team during such an emotional period in his life. He chose to step up for it instead.

    With two interceptions and nine tackles, the senior linebacker was the Irish defense's rock. He was unstoppable and undeniably the biggest influence on the outcome of Saturday's contest.

    Te'o epitomized pride and honor through his relentless approach to beating Michigan. Without him, Notre Dame's defense would have struggled to contain Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and strike fear into the rest of the Wolverines.

    Game. Changer.

Notre Dame May Have QB Controversy to Contend with

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    Everett Golson just didn't have "it" on Saturday night against Michigan.

    His errant throws cost the Irish touchdowns in the first quarter, and his poor decision-making resulted in two interceptions. Golson averaged 3.8 yards per completion and connected on just three attempts.

    Enter Tommy Rees, who calmed down his offense, made it more effective and averaged 10.5 yards per strike. The senior had lost his job to Golson but could take it back after leading the Irish to a 13-6 victory over Michigan.

    Tallying 115 yards wasn't impressive. Not throwing a touchdown pass wasn't, either. But commanding a unit and dictating pace were, and that's what Rees did Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium.

    While Rees may be deserving of the starting role, Irish coach Brian Kelly said Golson is the starter (via Irish Illustrated).

Michigan Owes Brendan Gibbons

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    Brendan Gibbons probably earned a little more respect from his teammates and Michigan football fans after nailing the game-winning field goal in the Wolverines' 23-20 overtime Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech in January.

    Well, he also deserves a little more credit after Saturday's 13-6 loss to Notre Dame. Without 31- and 33-yard field goals from Gibbons, the Wolverines would have been shut out—and embarrassed on national TV—by Notre Dame.

    Gibbons' kicks capped 11- and 14-play drives that probably should have ended with touchdowns—they were Michigan's two best marches of the game.

Notre Dame Got Help from Michigan in Win...but That Was Obvious, Right?

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    Not to discredit Notre Dame, but it received a lot of help from the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday night, namely running back Vincent Smith and Denard Robinson.

    Smith threw an interception on a should-have-been-a-touchdown pass in the first quarter—there went six points. 

    Robinson threw four interceptions and fumbled once, as mentioned in a previous slide.

    He also had Devin Gardner in a favorable matchup but overthrew to the quarterback-turned-wideout, leading him into a set of metal bleachers just yards from the sideline. It was a bad throw, yes. But had Robinson placed the ball closer to Gardner, Michigan would have had six points.

    An obvious point, yes. But it still had to be pointed out for the sake of reference.

    Irish Illustrated also tweeted an interesting fact: This is Notre Dame's first six turnover forced game since the '08 win over Michigan. Also rained that day, if you're curious.

Michigan's Devin Funchess Should Have Been Used More Often

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    Devin Funchess' production has dipped since Week 2, when he caught four catches and finished with 106 receiving yards in a 31-25 win over the Air Force Falcons.

    He had two catches and 34 yards in Michigan's 63-13 Week 2 win last Saturday over UMass, but Michigan didn't need him.

    However, Michigan could have used the brawny tight end against Notre Dame—but he was targeted just four times.

    In the first quarter, Funchess roamed freely to the back of the end zone but wasn't thrown to. He was open at least four other times—wide open, at that—in the second half, too. Quarterback Denard Robinson was too busy running for his life as Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Jackson Bennett were in hot pursuit, however.

    But why not wing it? Robinson already had thrown four interceptions. Why not roll the dice again?

Notre Dame Fans May Have Expected Too Much from Everett Golson

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    Everett Golson wasn't dominant against Michigan State in Week 3, but he was effective.

    He connected on just 14-of-31 pass attempts, but he managed the Irish offense in an impressive 20-3 win over the Spartans, who are said to have one of the top defenses in the nation.

    So, naturally, Irish fans expected more from Golson this week, as Michigan's defense is thought to be significantly inferior to Michigan State's.

    Well, the Wolverines gave up 13 points to the Spartans' 20. But that's for another debate.

    The point is this: Golson was supposed to manhandle Michigan. He didn't, and Notre Dame fans weren't happy about it.

    Just a sophomore, though, Golson had a lot of pressure placed on his shoulders.

    Irish coach Brian Kelly obviously didn't want to gamble Saturday. Beating Michigan was probably more important than Golson learning a lesson. He has another year or so for that.

    But it was clear that he wasn't ready for the atmosphere that is Michigan-Notre Dame under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium.

Michigan State-Michigan Game Will Be Accurate Measure of Each Team

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    If you haven't figured it out by now, both Michigan and Michigan State were grossly overrated entering into the season.

    Both teams were thought capable of reaching the Rose Bowl or, at the very least, reaching the Big Ten title game. The Big Ten hasn't looked great through the first four weeks, so attaining both of those goals isn't out of reach for either team.

    But to be truthful, Michigan and Michigan State fans: Your teams aren't living up to expectations.

    The Spartans struggled to beat Eastern Michigan on Saturday, walking away with a 23-7 win behind running back Le'Veon Bell's career-high 253 yards. It wasn't until the fourth quarter that Michigan State pulled away from former Michigan defensive backs coach Ron English's Eagles.

    Now, look at how Michigan played Notre Dame. Then look back at how Michigan State lost 20-3 to Notre Dame.

    Oct. 20 should be the most competitive Michigan-Michigan State game since 2008 when the "Little Brother" legend was born and Chad Henne and Mario Manningham crushed Spartans fans everywhere with a late fourth-quarter touchdown that led the Wolverines to a 28-24 victory.

    The Spartans offense looks lethargic, their defense not quite as strong as once thought to be. Michigan's defense actually played up during Saturday's 13-6 loss to Notre Dame, but its offense was laughable.

    Get ready for a 6-2 victory Oct. 20.

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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