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Notre Dame capitalizes on Michigan mistakes in win

| Sunday, September 2, 2018

On a night when “Irish Wear Green,” it was fitting that luck was in abundance.

For as much as the Irish defense stymied the Wolverine offense over 60 minutes, Michigan’s self-inflicted errors proved too costly to overcome.

The Wolverines ended the game with seven penalties for 52 yards, and Notre Dame capitalized on practically all of them.

When Notre Dame jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, which grew to a 21-3 lead with just under four minutes left in the first half, things suddenly didn’t look too close in a matchup that, on paper, seemed to be a tight affair. Even after a 99-yard kickoff return by Michigan’s Ambry Thomas to close out the half with a touchdown for the Wolverines, the damage was done.

On the opening drive of the game, senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush led the offense down to the Michigan 31-yard line, and scrambled on second down for five yards. But a facemask call on Michigan’s Tyree Kinnel pushed the Irish all the way to the 13, and on the subsequent play sophomore Jafar Armstrong waltzed into the end zone to get Brian Kelly’s squad off to a strong start.

Notre Dame also scored on its second drive, once again thanks to mistakes by the Wolverines. On third-and-nine from the Irish 31-yard line, Wimbush lofted a ball to senior tight end Alize Mack, who somehow held on for the first down despite a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit by Michigan safety Josh Metellus, who was ultimately ejected for targeting and whose play gave the Irish another 15 yards.

Four plays later, Wimbush found a streaking Chris Finke down the middle of the field for a 43-yard touchdown. The senior outmuscled Michigan sophomore — and Metellus’s replacement — Brad Hawkins in the air to hold on to the ball and give the Irish a two-score lead.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish senior wide receiver Chris Finke makes a leaping touchdown grab over Michigan safety Brad Hawkins during Notre Dame’s 24-17 win over Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.

“Third down conversions were about the same for both teams,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said postgame. “Definitely some big penalties that kept drives alive and were converted into touchdowns.”

Michigan responded with a drive all the way to Notre Dame’s 21-yard line, only for Shea Patterson to be sacked by junior defensive lineman Khalid Kareem on third down for a loss of 16 yards, torpedoing the chance of even a field goal.

With the score at 14-3, Notre Dame ate up much of the clock in the second quarter with a 15-play drive that pushed deep into Michigan territory. The Wolverines finally made a stop on third-and-goal from the eight, but defensive lineman Chase Winovich was called for a late roughing the passer call, giving the Irish the yards and extra downs needed to punch in the score.

“I didn’t necessarily agree with his call because I was rushing from the left side — he’s a right-handed quarterback. He told me I hit him in the back,” Winovich said on the call. “That’s why [the referee] called it. I’m not sure how that makes any sense. I don’t agree with it but that’s his call, not mine.”

Michigan came out strong in its opening drive of the second half, but once again failed to deliver. On fourth down from the Notre Dame 10-yard line, the Wolverines’ field goal unit botched the long snap and hold, resulting in an 11-yard loss and a turnover.

But the Wolverines’ defense clicked in the second half, stymieing Wimbush and Co. and holding the Irish to only 69 yards of offense. While Michigan itself couldn’t get much going offensively, after scoring a touchdown to cut the lead to a single score, the Wolverines had a final drive with 1:40 left to tie the game up. But before the offense could even get a chance, Patterson was sacked and fumbled, sealing the win for the Irish.

Defensively, Notre Dame made the plays necessary to pull out the win, holding Michigan to only 58 yards on the ground and stuffing both of the Wolverines’ fourth-down attempts. But offensively, Michigan mistakes — on both sides of the ball — proved to be the difference maker.

“To be honest, I’m not really sure where they beat us,” Winovich said postgame. “Still kind of confused. I came in the locker room and I looked around and kind of confused how we lost that game. Because I didn’t feel like they dominated us … they limited the turnovers and we had one. And we were unable to capitalize on it. And we had a lot of penalties.”

Irish head coach Brian Kelly said the team’s offense came through when it needed to against a tough defense.

“It was a physical football game. We expected it to be the kind of game it ended up being, hard-fought,” he said. “Required individual plays. Guys needed to step up and make plays. We made more plays than they did … look, the numbers are not going to jump off the page, but we did what we needed to do against, arguably, probably the best defense that we’re going to see this year.”

Despite a hard-fought game, Harbaugh acknowledged that his team’s mistakes were too much in the end.

“I don’t know that I have all the biggest takeaways,” Harbaugh said. “I thought our guys, I thought they played fast. Thought they competed hard. There’s improvements to be made. Mistakes were made. But I thought they fought hard.”

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby served as Managing Editor in the 2018-2019 term.

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