Notre Dame Holds off Michigan: Irish Start 4-0 for First Time in a Decade

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Notre Dame Holds off Michigan: Irish Start 4-0 for First Time in a Decade
Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

I guess Denard Robinson felt he owed the Notre Dame Fighting Irish one.

Had the Michigan Wolverines had a quarterback playing, rather than an H-back under center, it's hard to imagine Notre Dame surviving this game.

The Michigan quarterback, roundly heralded as the most electric player in college football, threw four interceptions and committed five of the six Michigan turnovers on the night, allowing a truly lackluster Irish offense to escape.

Still, Shoelace accounted for all but 81 of Michigan's 299 yards of total offense. He connected on only 13-of-24 throws for 138 yards and carried 26 times for 90 yards. Both game highs.

Credit some of Robinson's difficulties to Notre Dame's ever-present defense.

On three of the four interceptions (the fourth was a Hail Mary at the end of the first half), Robinson was hit or severely pressured, forcing a hurried off-target throw.

The secondary was better than advertised, providing good deep discipline and preventing the long ball.

Michigan's game is typically to use Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint to pull the defense up into the box, then hit a home run throwing over you.

The Irish smartly played to prevent running outside the tackles and giving up short-to-intermediate routes, keeping the play in front of them while sending blitzes straight up the middle.

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

 

The plan worked as well as it could have against a player as fast as Robinson, holding the Michigan offense out of the end zone and under 300 yards on the game.

Manti Te'o was all over the field. He collected a pair of interceptions, made several key tackles for no gain or loss and often harassed anyone unlucky enough to be in Michigan's backfield.

Stephon Tuitt and Sheldon Day also had solid games for the Irish defense, each making a key sack on Robinson when Michigan was inside the Notre Dame red zone.

Offensively, Notre Dame did everything it could to keep the game interesting.

With the defense pitching a shutout for three quarters, the offense did just enough to keep it close.

First-year starter Everett Golson was simply terrible, finding only three connections on eight attempts for 30 yards and two very bad interceptions.

Golson's first pick came on the first offensive play for the Irish, underthrowing an open receiver to set up Michigan inside the Irish red zone.

The second interception came as Notre Dame was threatening, with Golson rolling right and lobbing a pass to no one in particular. The ball was picked off in the end zone, negating the Irish threat.

Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

With Golson slipping into "deer in headlight" mode, Michigan stacked the box and prevented much traction in the running game, holding Irish ball-carriers to 94 yards on 31 carries.

 

After one-and-a-half quarters of offensive futility, the head coach called on relief pitcher Tommy Rees, who came in and sparked the Irish.

On the first possession with Rees at the helm, the Irish marched 48 yards on eight plays, culminating with Rees' first career rushing touchdown.

On the drive, Rees was 3-of-4 for 45 yards.

In the fourth quarter, Rees also led Notre Dame on an 11-play, 53-yard drive on which he completed all three of his attempts for 23 yards. That led to a field goal to stretch the score to 13-3.

Potentially the biggest throw of the night, and Brian Kelly's gutsiest call since the ill-fated throw into the end zone against Tulsa two years ago, Rees found Tyler Eifert on a simple seam route for 38 yards and a crucial first down. That allowed Notre Dame to run off the clock without giving the ball back to Robinson.

For everything Notre Dame did or did not do in this football game, the contest truly revolved around Denard Robinson. He was Michigan's only chance to win, and the Wolverines could not overcome his inconsistency.

Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Any game with seven first-half turnovers and eight total turnovers can only be called ugly.

Michigan's drive chart reads punt, missed field goal, interception, interception, interception, interception, interception, end of half and fumble before finally lodging points with field goals on the last two possessions.

Notre Dame failed to capitalize on most of the mistakes, averaging only 2.3 points per turnover.

Still, the Irish defense won the day. And luck was finally with the Irish enough to complete the win and give the Irish back-to-back wins over Top 20 teams.

It also gives Notre Dame its first sweep of the Big Ten and its first 4-0 start since 2002.

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