Irish shut out Michigan in final scheduled meeting
Greg Hadley | Sunday, September 7, 2014
And so it ends.
After 41 games defined by thrilling back-and-forth battles between two of college football’s most storied programs, No. 16 Notre Dame slammed the door shut on its rivalry with Michigan on Saturday night, roaring to a 31-0 victory at Notre Dame Stadium.
With the series between the two teams going on an indefinite hiatus, the matchup had a special significance for Irish coach Brian Kelly and his players, even though Kelly said in his pre-game press conferences that he was treating the game like any other.
“It feels great … It’s something that we’re very proud of,” Kelly said after the game. “I would be lying if [I told] you that it doesn’t feel great to shut out Michigan, 31-0.”It was the first time in series history the Irish (2-0) shutout the Wolverines (1-1), and the first time Michigan failed to score in a game since 1984.
“We wanted it bad,” senior quarterback Everett Golson said. “I think that we wanted to just be successful every time we step on the field. I like to think that it added a little bit extra motivation being the last time we played them.”
A week after tying the Notre Dame quarterback record for rushing touchdowns in a game against Rice, Golson gained only two yards in three attempts on the ground Saturday. Through the air, however, he posted one of the best games of his collegiate career, completing 23 out of 34 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns.
Golson was helped out by career days from sophomore receiver Will Fuller and senior receiver Amir Carlisle. Fuller led all Irish receivers with nine catches, including a 24-yard toss down the sideline he grabbed for a touchdown with 34 seconds remaining in the first half to put the Irish up 21-0.
“[Everett and I have] just been practicing hard all spring, ever since he got here, so I think we have a little chemistry, and it’s great to have it with him,” Fuller said. “We can be real dangerous.”
“I am just trying to get better on a daily basis,” Carlisle said. “Next week is a new week, so I have to put this in the past and work on getting better as a team and getting better individually.”
“The way they decided to play the game — there was six, seven guys [on the line],” Kelly said. “If somebody is going to play the game so one-sided defensively, we’re going to throw the football. And we probably missed a number of opportunities that we would like to have back, but we think 31 points against Michigan is still not bad.”
Despite their trouble pounding the ball on the ground, the Irish did get a rushing score thanks to a one-yard rush from senior running back Cam McDaniel, and Kelly said he remained committed to running the ball.
“We’ll continue to run it, even in a loaded box, because I think our backs are gifted enough to make some people miss in there,” he said. “We were able to hit some quick slants off some play action. … So we’ll continue to run it even if the numbers are not there.”
The Wolverines, on the other hand, started off the game with their longest drive of the day, by number of plays. Graduate student quarterback Devin Gardner completed his first six passes and drove his team from its own 24-yard line into field-goal range. Senior kicker Matt Wile, however, missed wide right on a 46-yard attempt and gave the ball back to Notre Dame on its own 29-yard line.
“We crossed the 50 [yard line], and they were going to bring more pressure,” Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said of the Irish defense. “You’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”
After a quick start, Gardner cooled off, completing 13 of 26 passes and throwing three interceptions in the second half. He also fumbled the ball after attempting a pump fake and hitting the helmet of Irish senior linebacker Joe Schmidt. Notre Dame sophomore defensive linemen Isaac Rochell recovered the loose ball. While the Irish only scored three points off the Michigan turnovers, Gardner said they made a significant impact on the course of the game.
“We lost a lot of momentum,” he said. “Football is a game of momentum, and we lost a lot of it.”
In the second quarter, the Irish attack picked up steam as Golson began to pick apart the Michigan secondary. On Notre Dame’s second scoring drive, which lasted five minutes and 14 seconds, the senior completed six passes on seven attempts. Golson ended the half with 169 yards on 16-of-21 passing.
“I think it all started when [Golson] really got an opportunity to learn how to protect himself,” Kelly said. “I think once that clicked for him … when he felt comfortable there and protecting himself, that’s he’s really started to grow and develop as a quarterback.”
“I think that he’s matured,” Hoke said of Golson. “He’s a much better quarterback than he was two years ago.”
One of Michigan’s bright spots was junior receiver Devin Funchess, who collected nine catches and accounted for 107 of Michigan’s 189 receiving yards. Late in the game, however, Funchess went to the trainer’s table with an apparent right knee injury. He would return to the game but was unable to prevent Gardner’s final interception of the night, which came on what appeared to be the last play of the game.
Irish junior safety Elijah Shumate caught a last-second heave and raced it all the way back for a touchdown, which would have been the first of his college career. The score was called back, however, because of a penalty on sophomore safety Max Redfield, who had an interception earlier in the game.
Several Michigan players had already run into the tunnel before the flag was announced and had to run back on the field for the final play of the game, while Notre Dame fans celebrated the win.
“It’s embarassing,” Michigan junior center Jack Miller said. “Definitely not the way we wanted to end the series and perform tonight, but it is over.”
“We don’t want to lose,” Irish sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “Especially at home. With a great crowd [of] 80,000 plus, [it was] just an amazing feeling out there tonight.”
After starting the season 2-0 at home, the Irish will play Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday as part of the annual Shamrock Series.