In its second night game ever, the Wolverines unleashed the pack against the Irish in a spectacular Michigan Stadium setting under the lights, and before an energized crowd 115,109 strong. That is a college football single game attendance record.
At his Monday presser Coach Hoke thanked the fans for their participation. This is genuine appreciation and the second time this year he has stressed it. Saturday night was a stunning success in what is said to be the last Irish appearance in Ann Arbor for some years. As you know, Notre Dame has chosen to end the series, thus removing a spectacular competition from college football’s early season.
Both programs will continue to prosper despite the discontinuance. So will college football. But it seems it may be the Irish who may have sacrificed the most.
It was especially sweet to collar the Irish in this next to last opportunity. Michigan has lately dominated the Irish, but they are always a storied and tough opponent with a vaunted lucky streak no matter where they play, and Touchdown Jesus at home.
Saturday night the Wolverines played better football on both sides of the ball, but certainly did not play their best football. They were not perfect on either side of the ball, and neither were special teams. At his Monday presser Coach Hoke cited a bad punt, being out of lane on KO returns, and of course the hit out of bounds was a foolish penalty. No youthful excuses. This is “big boy” football.
Special teams had some problems, but they seem correctable. It is also a little worrisome that Dennis Norfleet appears to have a problem hanging onto punts, as he dropped one. Dennis had an overall good game otherwise. He has remarkable speed.
The Wolverines were still good enough for an impressive win. Notre Dame came to play as expected. They managed 314-net yards passing, and 96- net yards rushing, totaling 410-yards.
At his Monday press conference, Coach Hoke addressed the passing yardage. He indicated that M had planned to give up the short passes (7-yard hitch passes) in order to keep receivers in front of them. When the pass coverage area is compressed in the red zone, things improved.
Still, that 314-yards passing appears to be an area that needs work, as does stopping the run. Monday Brady said that there were not as many missed tackles (as he previously thought). Hoke on the defense postgame: “… I think you have to give Tommy Rees some credit. I think the kid is a good quarterback. He’s proven that against us now three years in a row. He’s accurate. They have some big-play receivers, we played mostly off when we did play man. We were going to give them some of those throws, and I think the thing that was disturbing a little bit was they ran the ball in there when we were set up defensively well enough where they shouldn’t. Even though we played mostly a seven-man front all day.”
On his thoughts on changing the defensive approach in the second half … “That was critical. You know, I think Greg (Mattison), especially in the second half, mixed some things up from a front standpoint to coverage standpoint, zone blitzes and then some zero blitzes, and I thought it worked out pretty well.”
Hoke on Monday on the team… “From an offensive standpoint we’ve got to pick up some of the interior blitzes better. I know (offensive line coach) Darrell (Funk) was disappointed because he thought they had enough looks at it to do a better job. Defensively we tried to play — and we did play this way for most of the game — with a seven-man front. We’ve got to fit the run a little better with a seven-man front. At the same time (Defensive coordinator Greg) Mattison talks about changing the math; and that means getting off the block and making tackles, and we’ve got to do that a lot better.”
The Wolverines countered ND’s production with 294-yards passing and 314 rushing for a total of 460-yards. A fairly close game, but M’s two interceptions by Blake Countess (his first and second) helped to vanquish them. Michigan has risen to 11 in the AP poll from 17.
At times the Devin Gardner led offense appeared unstoppable. He was 21 of 33 for 294-yards and 4 aerial TDs. He also ran for 82-yards and a score. Participation in 5 TDs is outstanding. Before the game he was awarded Tom Harmon’s 98 Legends Jersey. For the first time in 73 years, Number 98 was seen on a Michigan player.
Devin faltered in the second half when he scrambled in the Wolverine end zone, and tried to throw a pass to escape. Trapped, he was hit as he passed. It fluttered into the hands of the Irish and suddenly a 14 point lead became 7. Obviously chagrined, Devin left the field storming according to Coach Hoke: “He was storming off the field — I think there are different storms that can happen, and it wasn’t one that I think a lot of people would notice but when good things and bad things happen during the course of the game, I think he was pretty even, you know, as far as demeanor and how he looked.” Hoke said Monday that Devin’s ability to create is both a blessing and a curse. Said he will not slide. Too competitive.
He stayed “even” enough to engineer a 10-play, 75-yard TD that rescued his team’s peace of mind and his and the team’s fortunes on a four-yard TD pass to Jeremy Gallon. The jump from a four point lead to an eleven point lead severed Irish comeback expectations. Hoke on what went through his mind when Devin (Gardner) threw the fourth-quarter interception and if Hoke went one-on-one with him … “Every time he comes off the field we talk. It may be ‘we’re going to need more’ like I told him tonight ‘we’re going to need more’ because we were struggling a little bit defensively, and they were efficient in some things.
“When he came off the field I didn’t have to say a word to him, because he was beating himself all the way off the field. It was one of those things that he knows better, and I’ll go back to the same thing, it’s a blessing and a curse sometimes when you have that ability.”
Fitz Toussaint was large in the second half even if the coaches are not entirely satisfied with TB rushing yardage contributions yet. Fitz’s 22-yard gallop in the second half was very much needed. He rushed 22 times for 83-yards.
Devin had some help from his receiving friends, too. Jeremy Gallon is of smurf size, but he plays as big as anybody and bigger and better than many. Gallon snagged eight passes for 184-yards and 3 TDs. He has become an outstanding receiver in combination with Devin. Devin on his chemistry with Gallon … “He’s like a bulldog. We work so hard, since I got here. You guys are just now seeing it, but behind the doors we’ve been working so hard, and we’re finally getting an opportunity to display it in front of the biggest crowd in college football.” On his first TD catch Gallon made a tremendous spin move to race to pay dirt.
Another reliable and talented smurf is Drew Dileo and he provided the Wolverine scoring capper with 4-yard TD grab culminating a 75-yard TD drive that iced the victory by putting the Wolverines up 41-30. Devin was poised and determined, as well as right on target, during this drive that became so critical because of his earlier interception.
Brief recap and scoring:
The defense held on the first ND possession. A 3-play, 77-yard drive ensued and B. Gibbons hit a FG of 44-yards. M-3, ND-0. Gallon then snagged a pass he turned into a 61-yard TD (as described above). M-10, ND-0.
Notre Dame answered with a 75-yard 10-play drive. M-10, ND-7.
Gardner got 6 on a 2-yard run. A 12-play, 75-yard drive. M-17, ND-7. ND and M each nailed FGs of 22 and 32-yards respectively. M-20, ND-13. Gallon caught another TD, this time a 12-yard score. M-27, ND 13. Countess came up with an outstanding interception and returned it 30-yards to the ND 23-yard line. Gardner to Gallon took it in from there, for a 12-yard score, culminating a 23-yard drive. M was up 27-13 at the half. Wrong again, I thought it was turning into a rout.
Third Quarter: ND remedied my misconception after the half by producing 6 via a 90-yard, 12-drive to make it 27-20, but Gardner to Gallon made it 34-20 on a 13-yard pass, driving 78-yards on 7-plays.
Devin gave up six by his end zone miscalculation of trading a two point safety for an end zone interception. M-34, ND-27, and then ND compounded the misery by means of a 6-play, 29-yard drive for a 40-yard FG. M-34, ND-30. This last drive benefited from two pass interference calls on ND.
A Gardner to Dileo pass already described provided the scoring capper for a happy final of 41 to 30. But with 4:18 left it was not over. The M KO went out of bounds. Starting at their 35 the Irish proceeded to M’s 6-yard line with a couple of minutes on the clock. ND QB Tommy Rees fired a pass into the end zone. M’s Taylor hit it with his knee. It caromed into the air and Countess pulled it in to preserve the lead and the win. This was the second carom reception of the day. The first was on the first Irish TD.
This game provided unforgettable spectacle and competition as well as a boost to Wolverine hopes and expectations for the season. But the Wolverines have moved on to competing with the Akron Zips next Saturday in their first meeting.
A proud MAC team, they would like nothing better than to beat the Wolverines, and the Wolverines would like nothing better than to treat them as they treated their fellow league members the Chippewas. Under Head Coach Brady Hoke the Wolverines have won sixteen straight at home. They are always in need of another.
Note: I apologize that this article was not published in as timely a fashion as usual due to some onetime and unavoidable personal circumstances. Next week and in the weeks thereafter it will be in the usual timeslot. Hope you are there.