Notre Dame vs. Michigan: 6 Good Things, 6 Bad from Wolverines' Dramatic Victory
Well, that was easy.
After a first half that likely had Bo Schembechler—not to mention Rich Rodriguez—rolling over in his grave, Michigan rebounded in the second half Saturday night under the lights at the Big House to hand Notre Dame a shocking 35-31 defeat.
It was a game worthy of the occasion: the first ever night game at Michigan Stadium, featuring throwback uniforms and a historical matchup between two of the best college football teams of all time.
Was it a perfect game? No.
Was it a well-played game? No, not for most of it. Certainly not on the defensive end.
Paraphrasing a terrific Tweet moments after the final whistle, this may have been the best game ever between two really mediocre teams.
But with three touchdowns in the final 1:12, a heroic performance from Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson and a gutsy play call from new head coach Brady Hoke, this was the kind of game Michigan fans will remember for a long, long time.
Obviously. there are several enormous positives to take from a victory of this nature, but despite the fabulous result, there were plenty of negatives as well.
Let's take a look at six of each as we continue to bask in the glory of Saturday's triumph.
Bad No. 6: Dropped Balls
Yes, Junior Hemingway ended up with 165 yards receiving—77 of which came on a broken play that Denard Robinson kept alive with a would-be tackler holding him by his ankles.
But Hemingway also dropped two crucial, catchable balls down the field. Several other intended receivers were unable to reel in significant passes as well.
It obviously didn't end up making a huge difference in the game, but it's not helpful when an already struggling quarterback finally makes some decent throws and they're dropped by the normally reliable receivers.
Bad No. 5: Rushing Defense
Much like the last few seasons, I had zero faith for much of Saturday night in the ability of Michigan’s offense to move the ball with regularity.
The bad news is that I had even less faith in the ability of Michigan’s defense to stop Notre Dame's offense.
That started on the ground, where Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray gashed the Michigan D-line for 200 combined yards at an average of 6.5 yards per carry.
All-Big Ten performer Mike Martin and the rest of the Wolverines front was absolutely manhandled by the big Irish offensive line. And they were at least a step slower in reacting to counters and other misdirection plays.
Aside from a few big stops in the fourth quarter—thank you, Brandin Hawthorne—this was a really bad performance.
Bad No. 4: Running Backs
Yes, Shoelace turned on the jets in the second half and ended up with 108 yards rushing, but where are these highly touted Michigan running backs who are supposed to take some of the pounding normally reserved for Denard?
Regular starter Fitz Toussaint missed the game with what was called a "previously undisclosed injury."
Super sophomore Stephen Hopkins? A super stinky 10 yards on five carries. He looked slow and indecisive on each of them.
Michael Shaw? Two carries for negative-three yards.
It remains unclear how long Toussaint will be sidelined, but if he's not the answer, who is going to be the go-to back—a la Anthony Thomas or Mike Hart—we can depend on to carry the ball 20 times a game, therefore limiting the hits Denard takes?
Bad No. 3: Team Speed
Team speed has always been an issue for the Maize and Blue. On defense especially, the issue has more been the lack thereof.
As has been mentioned, the Michigan defense was regularly a step or two slow. And I'm not just talking slower than Notre Dame's skill players; I'm talking about compared to the Irish offensive line.
Cierre Wood has a better combination of quickness and strength than anyone on Michigan’s so-called "defense."
Wideout Michael Floyd ran circles around the Wolverines' defensive backs.
In fact, Michigan safety Thomas Gordon is so slow that Floyd beat him on one one-on-one play in the open field without Gordon so much as laying a hand on him. In other words, Gordon couldn’t bring down the Irish stud if they were playing touch football.
Wolverines wideout Junior Hemingway was taken down by a Notre Dame defensive back after a 77-yard scamper (and Michigan only ended up punching it into the end zone thanks to an incredibly alert and savvy fumble recovery from Robinson).
But how does a wide receiver get caught from behind? Aren't they the players on the team that are supposed to leave opposing players in the dust?
I'm not saying we need to be Florida or Miami circa 1997 (and obviously, Denard Robinson is the clear exception to this complaint), but seriously, how did our team get so slow compared to our opponents?
Bad No. 2: Denard Robinson's Throwing (First 43 Minutes of the Game)
OK, Denard Robinson is never going to be Dan Marino, but seriously? Going 2-for-9 throwing in the first half?
Though he showed glimpses of the "Shoelace" that cut up the Irish for 502 yards of total offense in 2010, he couldn’t throw the ball for about the first 43 minutes of Saturday's game, misfiring on several easy balls and showing a lack of decisiveness both through the air and on the ground.
It seemed at times as if Denard was the prototypical square peg being forced into the round hole of Brady Hoke's offense, and that's definitely cause for concern going forward.
Only when Hoke allowed Robinson to play his game—scrambling, looking downfield and, occasionally, tucking and running the ball—did the Shoelace we know and love resurface.
Bad No. 1: Pass Defense
So much for Greg Mattison making over the Michigan defense.
Tommy Rees made the Wolverines defensive backfield look like the Greg Robinson-coached teams of the last several years, and at times, they appeared to be just as clueless against Notre Dame as they did in their widely ridiculed 3-3-5 formation of 2010.
Yes, Rees looked tentative throwing the ball—kind of like a high school kid fluttering the ball out toward the sidelines—but he played a gutsy, solid game, leading an impressive drive down the field late in the fourth and ending up with 315 yards through the air.
Similarly, Irish wideout Michael Floyd is a man among boys, don’t get me wrong. But Michigan employing man-to-man coverage to try to keep him in check? Are you insane, Coach Mattison? Have you seen how he's shredding cornerbacks with his strength, dancing past safeties with his speed and leaping tall buildings in a single bound?
Sure, man-to-man sounds about right.
Good No. 6: Special Teams
Brandon Gibbons only had to kick five extra points on Saturday night, but hey, he made all five. Unquestionably his best night as a Wolverine.
Punter Matt Wile was solid, too, as were returners Jeremy Gallon and Vincent Smith.
There was nothing spectacular here, but there were no mistakes either. And for Michigan in the last couple of years, that's a huge win.
Good No. 5: Denard Robinson's Throwing (Last 17 Minutes of Game)
Denard struggled in a big way for nearly the first three quarters of this game. But boy, did he turn it on late.
He started with the 77-yard broken-play completion to Hemingway and followed it up with a 15-yard pass to John McColgan, a 14-yard TD toss to Gallon, a 45-yarder to Hemingway, a 27-yard pass to Kelvin Grady, the 21-yard screen to Vincent Smith for another score, the 64-yard play of the game again to Gallon, then the 16-yard, corner-route toss to Ray Roundtree for the game-winning score.
In those final 17 minutes, Robinson completed eight of 11 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns.
On the day, he finished 11-for-24 with 338 yards through the air with four scores.
Good No. 4: Michigan's Throwback Uniforms
OK, I'll admit that when I first saw these suckers, I thought they were heinous.
The stripes on the shoulders? The big, goofy "M" on the chest?
But seeing the players in them on Saturday night completely changed my perspective.
The jerseys might not be legitimate throwbacks, but they're still classic. The stripes are still a bit chain-gangy for me, but the numbers on the left shoulder are slick, the Adidas logo is dope and the numbers on the helmets are freaking awesome.
I think I know what I'm going to be for Halloween.
Good No. 3: Denard Robinson's Leadership
Yes, Denard Robinson stepped up his game late to lead the Wolverines to an amazing win. But there was more to his performance Saturday than simply running and throwing the ball.
He changed his attitude in the second half, and it reflected on his teammates, who stepped up their games around him.
The offensive line played with more bounce in its step. Defenders showed some spirit in going after Irish running backs. Receivers kept on playing and trying to get open as Robinson scrambled and kept plays alive.
"Every time you see a University of Michigan team," Robinson said in the news conference after the game, "you're going to see a team that's going to play together and fight until the end until there's two zeros on the clock."
Good No. 2: Second-Half Adjustments
Let's be honest here: Michigan got blown off the field in the first half.
But at halftime, head coach Brady Hoke made some obvious adjustments and the team came out renewed, refreshed and reinvigorated for the second half.
Denard Robinson was given more freedom to play his game, the play calling became far less conservative, the defense brought more heat on Rees and the Irish offense and a different attitude permeated the Michigan sideline.
"I really didn't do anything," said the deferential Hoke. "I can tell you our kids fought together, they stayed together and they played 60 minutes of football.
Good No. 1: Fighting Spirit
But it was the ballsy call with eight seconds remaining—to allow Robinson to throw the ball into the end zone when a field goal could have tied the game—that makes me proudest about Saturday's victory over Notre Dame.
Hoke and the Wolverines weren't content to settle for overtime.
"Well, we had eight seconds," said Hoke. "We had two timeouts left. Depending on what would have happened within that eight seconds, we had a timeout that we could have taken advantage of and may have gone for the tie, but most of the time we're going for the win."
Hoke and Denard felt the rising rush of the fans and knew that the momentum was in their favor, they made the call and they got the job done.
Amazing Win Under the Lights
All in all, it was an incredible victory for Michigan fans the world over.
It wasn't the prettiest or the most dominating, the most convincing or the most promising for the future, but it's one that will forever live in the hearts of Wolverines fans.
Go Blue! And we'll see you next week back at the Big House against Eastern Michigan.