No. 17 Michigan capitalized on home-field advantage in Ann Arbor and defeated 14th-ranked Notre Dame in a thrilling 41-30 shootout on Saturday evening.
Quarterback Devin Gardner led the way for the Wolverines, giving the stout Irish defense headaches with his strong arm and legs. The junior threw for 294 yards and four touchdowns and scampered for a game-high 82 yards and another score.
The Wolverines got off to a magnificent start in the friendly confines of the Big House, jumping out to a 10-0 lead courtesy of an electric run-after-catch by receiver Jeremy Gallon. Gardner found his speedy receiver over the middle, and Gallon did the rest on a 61-yard touchdown:
On a nine-play drive covering 75 yards, Notre Dame immediately responded with a touchdown catch by T.J. Jones that initially glanced off the hands of running back George Atkinson III:
Irish QB Tommy Rees threw a critical interception with 1:50 left in the second quarter while scrambling on the perimeter. After a solid return from Blake Countess, Gardner hit Gallon with a back-shoulder throw to put the Wolverines on top by 14 entering halftime.
Rees hit on a 20-yard scoring strike to massive tight end Troy Niklas midway through the third, but Gardner's third TD to Gallon followed on the very next drive.
A couple minutes into the final quarter, Devin Gardner made an bone-headed play: he tried to throw the ball as he was being driven back into his own end zone. The ball went a few feet, and soft-handed defensive end Stephon Tuitt caught the ill-advised throw to cut the lead to 34-27.
A field goal by Kyle Brindza further reduced the deficit to four, but two critical pass interference penalties on the Irish defense helped keep Michigan's scoring drive alive. An unofficial Notre Dame Twitter feed did not agree with the referees' judgments:
So if Michigan doesn't catch the ball it's pass interference??? Two AWFUL calls on back to back 3rd downs.— Notre Dame Football (@uhnd) September 8, 2013
In the face of pressure all night, Gardner often looked timid in the pocket. On his fourth and final TD toss to wideout Drew Dileo, he took a shot below his knees and to his back yet still delivered a rocket four-yard scoring strike:
That proved to be the insurance Michigan needed to secure victory, and this quality win will undoubtedly vault the Wolverines up the national rankings.
Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan: B+
As pitiful as Gardner's interception was, it was his only blemish on the evening. His touchdown production is staggering, and what's scary for the rest of the nation is that he's still developing.
Gardner fittingly iced the game on a 3rd-and-12 with a scramble to convert. Without his magnificent performance, the Wolverines would have been in trouble.
The only reason his grade isn't in A-territory is because of how critical the pick could have been.
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame: A
Credit the big man for having the presence of mind to reach out for the ball when he was crashing toward Gardner in the end zone on that critical interception/TD.
Tuitt is asked to wreak havoc in the backfield and had to line up against a stout Michigan offensive line all night. But in the midst of a virtuoso showcase by Gardner, made a huge play in trying to spark the Irish back into the game.
Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan: A+
If not for the magnificence of Gardner's running ability and the emphasis on the quarterback position, Gallon would be the unquestionable star of the night.
Gallon was a one-man show and put on a clinic against a tough Notre Dame defense, racking up eight receptions, 184 yards and three touchdown grabs. He and Gardner formed a dynamic combination that the Irish simply had no answer for.
Tommy Rees, QB, Notre Dame: C
It was a relatively decent, if pedestrian, game for Rees (29-of-51, 314 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) considering the hostile environment and the stakes of the game.
The interception near the end of the first half, however, was huge. It put momentum squarely back into the hands of the Wolverines.
The Irish square off against Purdue next Saturday, while the Wolverines should continue to roll and improve to 3-0 at home in a matchup with Akron.