Michigan Football: 10 Things We Learned from Wolverines' Win over the Irish

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IISeptember 8, 2013

Michigan Football: 10 Things We Learned from Wolverines' Win over the Irish

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    Try telling a record crowd of 115,109 that Michigan versus Notre Dame is just a regional variety. 

    Irish coach Brian Kelly may want to rethink his stance on the Wolverines-Irish rivalry after Michigan's 41-30 win at The Big House in Ann Arbor. 

    It had the feel of a bowl game, despite being just another Week 2 clash. It had the feel of a classic fall college battle, one that won't be played in Michigan anytime in the foreseeable future due to a scheduling conflict between the two programs. 

    But with all of that aside, Saturday was exactly what fans on both sides wanted: a hard-fought clash under the prime-time lights of Michigan Stadium. 

    This slideshow will highlight some of the bigger points made by No. 17 Michigan during Team 134's decisive ousting of the Irish, who entered the night ranked at No. 14 in the AP poll. 

Michigan Proves It's the Real Deal

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    The Wolverines have been criticized and discounted since stringing together an 8-5 record in 2012. 

    Saturday, though, was their chance to prove that 2012 was a passing fancy, not a sign of things to come. Losing five games after taking home Sugar Bowl hardware the year prior was a tough pill to swallow for coach Brady Hoke

    But, in a dream scenario, he made good with great play-calling against Brian Kelly's Irish. Imagine hosting a team that just months ago was in the BCS title game. Imagine the bright lights of Michigan Stadium beaming down on the field and over a sea of passionate Maize and Blue followers.

    Then, imagine getting a double-digit win, being led by your star quarterback and staying perfect on your home turf.

    That was Hoke's night. He's 16-0 in Ann Arbor and just notched a signature triumph. Of course, there is more to come for Michigan. Saturday was just the start to something special that awaits in the later weeks of the season. 

No. 98 Fits Devin Gardner

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    For all intents and purposes, No. 98 is not an ideal number for a quarterback. It's better suited for a defensive end or high-scoring Russian hockey player. 

    That being said, Devin Gardner did Tom Harmon's former number proud Saturday night. Maybe the old school threads gave the redshirt junior special powers against the Irish. Maybe a new shirt was all Gardner needed to jump-start his season. 

    Maybe. But probably not. Wearing No. 12 or No. 98 makes not one bit of difference in the grand scheme of things, but the jersey change makes for entertaining chatter, doesn't it? 

    Big plays. Big number. Hey, they go hand-in-hand. Gardner's appetite for gaudy stats was insatiable against the Irish. He threw for 294 yards and four touchdowns, complementing his rushing line of 82 yards and a touchdown. 

    In arguably the most important contest of his upstart career at quarterback, Gardner couldn't have been much better for his teammates. Of course, he'd probably like to have back that pick-six to Stephon Tuitt in the fourth quarter...but let's not be hasty here. Gardner was incredible against Notre Dame. 

    Was it the shirt? What about the lights? 

    Or, how about this: It was his time. 

    That sounds about right. 

Still Something to Be Desired with Toussaint

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    It'll likely take more time for him to get going, but the Wolverines can't afford to wait much longer for running back Fitz Toussaint. 

    The senior is coming off leg surgery, so he'll probably get a pass for the first few weeks. However, he's done little to impress through two games, and that's cause for concern. 

    Saturday, Toussaint led all Michigan backs with 22 carries for 82 yards. Other than a 22-yard scamper, Toussaint didn't showcase much of a game-changing prowess. 

    The pressure is on Toussaint to lead the way. As the elder statesman of the backfield, the former 1,000-yard rusher must continue to push teammates to produce. 

Michigan Can Handle a Tough D-line

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    In Week 1, Central Michigan didn't test Michigan to its limits. 

    Saturday, Notre Dame did. 

    The Irish defensive line, led by end Stephon Tuitt and guard/tackle Louis Nix, was supposed to be the big, bad bully on the block. Tuitt had success with a pick-six off Gardner in the fourth quarter, but other than that, he wasn't the diabolical force that most thought he'd be against the Wolverines.

    Nix, on the other hand, was nearly a no-show. He did a respectable job of plugging the middle of the line. He gave Michigan's youngsters—center Jack Miller and guards Graham Glasgow and Kyle Kalis—a little trouble, too. But he wasn't unstoppable. 

    The Wolverines should be able to handle just about any D-line that's thrown their way this season. They held the Irish at bay, which, in itself, is a remarkable accomplishment given the hype that surrounded Notre Dame's fearsome front. 

Jeremy Gallon Is Ready to Be a Star

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    Dating back to his Outback Bowl showing, the writing was on the wall for Jeremy Gallon. A future as a star receiver was right around the corner, especially after catching nine passes against a stout South Carolina defense in his team's 33-28 bowl loss. 

    Saturday, Gallon one-upped himself with eight catches for a career-high 184 yards and three touchdowns, including a 61-yard missile from Gardner in which he gained over 45 yards after contact. 

    He's quick. He slips in and out of tackles. 

    He's a go-to wideout who's on his way to claiming the top perch in the Big Ten. 

    In 2012, the "come back" route was popular for Gallon and Gardner. It appears that could be the case once again this season. Gallon made at least four catches when running back toward his quarterback. 

Waiting for Devin Funchess to Emerge

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    It's easy to get caught up in Gardner Mania. 

    It's perfectly fine to gaze upon Gallon's future. It'll be good, don't worry. 

    But what about a guy who was supposed to be a star, showed that he could be, but has yet to really come forward this season? 

    That guy is tight end Devin Funchess. OK, so he's getting better at the stuff that doesn't land on stat sheets: pass-blocking, run-blocking and running routes. 

    Fair enough. He deserves ample credit for those improvements. But what about production? What about a circus catch along the sidelines such as ones made last year? Saturday, Funchess finished with three catches for 18 yards.

    At 6'4" and roughly 240 pounds, Funchess is too large of a target to deny or ignore. He'll get his catches this season, that much is certain, but he didn't show much against Notre Dame. 

    Maybe it's a needless concern, but Michigan can't forget about a player who was all but destined for the spotlight just six months ago. 

Michigan Fans Really Outdid Themselves Saturday

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    As mentioned in the intro, Saturday's crowd in Ann Arbor was a record gathering. Worth repeating, the sheer number of fans needed to be put in perspective in order to truly grasp the magnitude of the event. 

    As of 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that more than 116,000 people called Ann Arbor home. Saturday night, there were reportedly over 115,000 people at The Big House. 

    It's not unusual for the Wolverines to pack their stadium. But Ann Arbor essentially doubled in size for one night—the night it hosted an NCAA-record crowd. 

    And Michigan-Notre Dame isn't a national rivalry...

     

Taylor Lewan Is in a League of His Own

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    All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan will be a first-rounder in the upcoming NFL draft. In fact, he'll probably be the first offensive lineman selected in 2014; he's that good. 

    At 6'8" and 330 pounds, Lewan is major component of the Wolverines' O-line. He handled South Carolina monster Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl; now add Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt to that list. 

    Tuitt had 12 sacks in 2012, but he hardly touched Gardner on Saturday night. Much of that was because of Gardner's mobility, but it was also due to Lewan's stellar defense (on offense) that led to that success. 

The Playbook Has Been Opened

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    Remember the vanilla offense from Week 1?

    Well, consider the timing and opponent...

    That being said, Week 2 showcased much more variety. The Wolverines allowed themselves to experiment with the deep ball, something that was amiss against Central Michigan. Michigan threw the ball down the field against the Chippewas, but not like it did Saturday against Notre Dame. 

    Gardner completed two passes of 30 yards or more (61-yarder to Gallon, 31-yarder to Toussaint). Expect more of that as the season rolls along. 

    Offensive coordinator Al Borges is just getting warmed up for 2013. He tipped his hand for the grand finale against Notre Dame, but there are probably more surprises lying ahead. With Gallon and Dennis Norfleet, there is a lot of speed that can be taken advantage of via reverse. Borges showed it once. It'll come again. 

Michigan's D-line Is Pretty Good, Too

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    With all of the talk about Notre Dame's defensive line, Frank Clark, Quinton Washington, Jibreel Black and others were left out of the conversation. 

    The Wolverines have a nice front, too. It may not have headline names such as Tuitt or Nix, but it has enough talent to rattle opponents days prior to kickoff. 

    It could have been coincidence, or it could have been by design—Notre Dame didn't run the ball much Saturday, just 17 times. Despite getting 5.8 yards per carry, Kelly and the Irish opted to stick to the air rather than test their luck on the ground. 

    As the game drew to a close, that approach made perfect sense. When a team needs a quick touchdown, running the ball time after time does nothing but melt the clock. The Wolverines established the line of scrimmage early in the game, forcing the Irish to find other outlets. 

    This Michigan defense has the makings of a good, old-fashioned defense that would make even the most ardent critic take notice. 

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