Notre Dame holds on in rivalry renewal
Mike Everett | Sunday, September 2, 2018
Notre Dame wasted no time in introducing themselves to newly rekindled rival Michigan Saturday night in South Bend, as the Irish took advantage of an early lead to hold off the Wolverines, 24-17.
“We got off to a really good start,” head coach Brian Kelly said post game.
On the opening drive of the game, senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush converted a third down on a 16-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool, followed up by a 28-yard dart to senior wideout Miles Boykin. A Wimbush carry and ensuing penalty on Michigan carried the Irish into the red zone, which allowed sophomore Jafar Armstrong to bolt 13 yards in the end zone. The drive was Armstrong’s first in his Fighting Irish career, the touchdown his second carry. The opening drive was the beginning of an impressive breakout game for the young running back. Senior Justin Yoon knocked in the extra point, and the Irish were up by seven before the 13:30 mark.
The Irish (1-0) initially gave up some ground to the Wolverines (0-1) and running back Karan Higdon on their first possession, but quickly applied the breaks to Michigan’s offensive engine, forcing them to punt the ball away.
The Irish didn’t take their foot off the gas on their second trip with the football. Pinned back at their own four-yard line, Wimbush led the offense 96 yards down the field. On third down, Wimbush found senior tight end Alize Mack down the sideline for the first down. Mack was struck helmet-to-helmet by Michigan defensive back Josh Metellus, but managed to hold onto the ball even while appearing stunned. Metellus was charged with targeting and was ejected from the game. After a couple of modest runs, Wimbush managed to keep the drive alive with a seven-yard third down rush. Wimbush capped off the drive with a 43-yard bomb to senior wide receiver Chris Finke, who leaped over his defender and secure the ball in the end zone, putting the Irish up 14-0. The spectacular play was one of the ”50/50 battles” Kelly asserted the team needed to win, and postgame he praised Finke’s improvement as a receiver.
“I don’t think he makes that play last year,” Kelly said. “I think his physical ability is one thing, but his strength now to go up and take that away from a defender, I think is the difference and probably for our entire football team”.
“No. 10 went out there and made a great play,” Wimbush said, echoing the sentiments. “Couldn’t be more happy for him.”
Like Notre Dame, Michigan’s second drive was also similar to its first. Michigan accumulated three first downs, but failed to convert the drive into points. The Irish defense locked down, putting pressure on junior quarterback Shea Patterson. Junior defensive lineman Khalid Kareem delivered a crucial stop on third down with a 16-yard sack that killed the Wolverines’ drive.
The Wolverines managed to knock in a field goal on their next drive, but it would not be enough to derail Notre Dame’s offensive rhythm. The Irish responded by pounding the ball repeatedly, slowly making way upfield. The drive finally culminated with an Armstrong 3-yard punch, giving the Irish a 21-3 lead.
The Wolverines responded significantly on the ensuing kickoff. Defensive back Ambry Thomas caught the ball on the one-yard line and proceeded to return it 99 yards back all the way to the opposite end zone, capitalizing on the mistake by the Irish special teams. After an exchange of drives the teams headed into the locker room 21-10.
“We’ve got to coach it better and we’ll get it coached better,” Kelly said on the special team’s miscue.
The second half of the game was far less explosive and much more in the trenches than the first half. Michigan showed promise of retaliation initially, as Patterson connected with wide receiver Nico Collins for 52 yards on the first play of the second half. Another 12-yard pass and the Wolverines were knocking on the door. However, another Irish defensive lockdown forced them to attempt the field goal, which was muffed and resulted in a turnover on downs. Kelly was pleased with how the defensive scheme played out and was executed over the night.
“You know, I’d be happy if they bend all night and don’t break,” Kelly said. “I thought we played really well.”
The offense faltered in the second half, however, as Wimbush’s pass was intercepted by defensive back Brandon Watson. However, the only result of the turnover was a Michigan turnover on downs. From there the two teams exchanged three-and-out punts.
“It was a physical football game,” Kelly said. “We expected it to be the kind of game it ended up being, hard-fought. Required individual plays”.
The renowned Michigan defense, on of the best in the country, did not easily allow for high tempo explosive offense, while the Notre Dame defense was out there to prove they could out-duel the best. On the ensuing drive the Irish managed to get in decent field position despite tough Michigan defense, allowing Yoon to boot a 48-yard field goal, increasing the lead to 24-10.
The defensive line continued to deliver pressure, and junior defensive lineman Julian Okwara intercepted Patterson thanks to pressure put on by senior linebacker Te’von Coney. However, Notre Dame was stifled both on land and in the air, forcing graduate student and punter Tyler Newsome to punt 57 yards downfield.
Michigan valiantly attempted another serious drive with no results. The Wolverine offense picked up four first downs, switching between quarterbacks Shea Patterson and sophomore Dylan McCaffrey. Eventually an incomplete pass led to a turnover on downs, but they quickly got the ball back after an Irish punt. Michigan finally put together a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter, with Higdon driving the ball in from three yards out.
The next Notre Dame possession only lasted half a minute thanks to a three-and-out by the offense and three spent Michigan timeouts. Newsome punted and the Wolverines received the ball back with 1:40 left and only down a touchdown. However, with the Wolverines near midfield, senior defensive lineman Jerry Tillery strip sacked Patterson, who fumbled, and Coney scooped up the loose ball, securing the Irish victory.
The Irish ended the game with 170 passing yards and 132 rushing yards, while Michigan accumulated 249 passing yards and 58 rushing yards.
All the elements of the Notre Dame team came together and contributed to the success on the field against Michigan. Wide receivers took advantages of mismatches and made athletic plays in isolation, Jafar Armstrong proved to be a valuable asset, the relatively inexperienced offensive line held up against a ferocious Michigan defensive line, and the Notre Dame defense held the Michigan offense in place and delivered during crucial moments. Wimbush was quick to praise the defensive line.
“We have one of the best, better D-Lines in the country, even from this first game, so I’m excited to see them grow. As a whole I think they did a great job.”
Wimbush himself was a key element in the Irish win. He was 12-for-22 for a touchdown and 170 yards, rushed for net 59 yards and his confident style of play led him to create big moments for the team and lead the Irish to a 1-0 start.
“I think I made a statement … but that’s not what I was trying to go out here and do,” Wimbush said postgame.
”… whoever, whatever it takes man we’re gonna get this W.”