Notre Dame Hangs On to Beat Michigan 24-17 in Shea Patterson's Debut

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2018

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 01:  Brandon Wimbush #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish carries the ball against Chase Winovich #15 of the Michigan Wolverines in the first quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 1, 2018 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Starting the 2018 season with high expectations, the No. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish scored a 24-17 home victory over the No. 14 Michigan Wolverines on Saturday night.

The Irish started quickly with two touchdowns in the first eight minutes before letting their defense take over. Michigan mustered just 307 total yards in defeat, including 58 on the ground. 

Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson, who was trying to play hero in his first start with the team, was sacked and stripped by Jerry Tillery on the final drive. Te'von Coney picked the ball up to preserve Notre Dame's win. 

For the Irish, the most promising development was quarterback Brandon Wimbush's aerial game. The senior finished 12-of-22 with 170 passing yards, 59 rushing yards, one touchdown and one interception. He had just two games last year with a better completion percentage than his 54.5 mark against Michigan. 

He also got some help from his teammates, such as when Chris Finke outmuscled a Michigan defender for a 43-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter:

Notre Dame Football @NDFootball

Easy 💰 for @SlipperyFox10! #GoIrish ☘️ #MICHvsND https://t.co/xNyxCCayXF

After losing its last two regular-season games against ranked opponents by a combined 79-28 score in 2017, Notre Dame made an early statement this year with a terrific all-around performance for head coach Brian Kelly


Brandon Wimbush's Big-Play Upside Gives Irish CFP Aspirations

Among 125 qualified FBS quarterbacks last season, Wimbush ranked 122nd with a 49.5 completion percentage. He went 48-of-105 over the final five games when Notre Dame went just 3-2. 

While no one will confuse Wimbush for Drew Brees in the accuracy department, his ability to create big plays with his arm and legs gives Notre Dame a dangerous, balanced attack.

David Pollack @davidpollack47

Wimbush legs have been the biggest factor in this game. Rushing yards are obvious, screen game bc of wheels and most of the passing yards are bc of amazing scrambles. Ballin!

When Wimbush's arm is working, as it was on that touchdown pass to Finke, he'll cause all sorts of problems for defensive coordinators. There is a danger with his style of play, though, as noted by FS1's Skip Bayless:

Skip Bayless @RealSkipBayless

This game turned on 2 jump balls Wimbush heaved. Both could've been intercepted. Neither was. He can be hot/cold. Tonight: unusually hot. Vs defense that was 1st in nation last yr on 3rd down, Wimbush has been unstoppable on 3rd down. This is a blowout.

Wimbush's scrambling ability is a nightmare for even a great defense, like what Michigan has had essentially since Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2015. He reeled off a 22-yard run on 3rd-and-18 in the third quarter that eventually led to a field goal and a 24-10 lead. 

If Notre Dame wants to be a serious threat for the College Football Playoff, it needs Wimbush to play at a high level all year. He wasn't intimidated by a Wolverines defense that finished third in yards allowed and 13th in points allowed last season. 

The Fighting Irish could make national noise as long as Wimbush continues to create big plays through the air and on the ground. 


Michigan Is Still Searching for a QB After Shea Patterson's Debut

All of the hype around Shea Patterson as Michigan's starting quarterback fell flat in his team debut. 

The junior finished 20-of-30 with 227 yards and one interception. Patterson briefly left the game in the fourth quarter with leg cramps and was replaced by sophomore Dylan McCaffrey. 

During the one drive Michigan looked to be set up for a touchdown, Patterson held the ball long enough on a play-action pass that Tillery was able to bring him down for an eight-yard loss on 2nd-and-2:

Notre Dame Football @NDFootball

Let's eat, @JerryTillery! #GoIrish ☘️ #MICHvsND https://t.co/pbOzfx5E0d

Patterson wasn't the only problem for Michigan's offense, as noted by Yahoo Sports' College Football:

Yahoo Sports College Football @YahooSportsCFB

Shea Patterson got drilled and throws an interception. Michigan's offensive line has done him — and the RBs — no favors tonight.

The offensive line has been a recurring headache throughout Harbaugh's tenure with the program. Zach Shaw of 247Sports noted Michigan ranked 110th in the nation last year with 2.77 sacks allowed per game. 

Patterson started to look more comfortable running the hurry-up offense late in the fourth quarter. He went 3-of-4 for 58 yards to set up Karan Higdon's three-yard touchdown run that helped cut the deficit to 24-17. 

If Harbaugh allows Patterson to play a more wide-open style, he could turn into the quarterback the Wolverines have been searching for. 

The overall results from his first start, though, indicate Michigan has a lot of work ahead to become a dangerous offense. 


Harbaugh's Job Should Hinge on Success of Patterson Offense

This is the fourth year of Harbaugh's Michigan tenure. His results the past three seasons have been solid at 28-11. By comparison, the program went 20-18 from 2012 to 2014 under Brady Hoke

The problem is Michigan's performance appears to have stagnated. His staff isn't having issues in recruiting after garnering the No. 5 class in 2017, per 247Sports

In execution, however, the Wolverines leave a lot to be desired. Saturday's loss marks the fourth straight for Harbaugh against ranked opponents. 

This should lead to a discussion that few people in Ann Arbor were expecting when Harbaugh was first hired:

Mike Greenberg @Espngreeny

All the talk about pressure on Jim Harbaugh. Well, so far his offense has scored three points and his defense has been totally outplayed. So, we’re about 15 minutes from the heat getting dialed up big time. #Michigan

Beyond the on-field results, Mekka Don noted Michigan didn't seem to be well-prepared for the game:

Mekka Don @MekkaDonMusic

Jim Harbaugh’s team looks unprepared and undisciplined. Maybe they should spend more time on the practice field than on international trips.

Harbaugh built a reputation early in his coaching career as a quarterback whisperer when Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick each had success playing for him. 

Since the coach arrived at Michigan, Jake Rudock in 2015 is the only quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. The team used three starters under center last season, none of whom reached the 1,000-yard barrier. 

Patterson is supposed to be Harbaugh's guy. Michigan's coach raved about his quarterback coming into the game. 

"There's so many things about a quarterback, that a quarterback impresses you with," Harbaugh told ESPN.com's Ryan McGee. "You know, demeanor. He's cool. He's kind of got that winning 'it' factor. He's a really good thrower and also extremely athletic and smart. He's one of the guys, too. He's not an egotistical guy. He's for the team."

If Patterson doesn't develop under Harbaugh, it will be time to start wondering if he's cut out to be successful at his alma mater. He's had four years to find a quarterback who fits his offense and has no answers.

This wasn't a great start for Harbaugh as he looks to flip the narrative for his offense in 2018.  


What's Next?

Michigan will look to secure its first win of the season at home next Saturday against Western Michigan. 

The Fighting Irish will stay in South Bend, as they play host to Ball State at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.