Michigan Football By the Numbers: Notre Dame


First, before we get into the analysis, let’s agree that none of us are happy about a disappointing loss for Michigan Football.  Let’s do our best to quit arguing about who is “allowed” to complain about it, and let’s figure out how to express our frustration without demeaning the players.  Onward…



IsoPPP: Points per Successful Play – Average change in Expected Points (yard line values) only on successful plays

Success Rate: Successful Plays / Total Plays (“Success” = 1st Down 50% of yards needed; 2nd 70%; 3rd & 4th 100%)

Pts/Trip40: Average points scored on trips inside opponent’s 40-yard line

Offense Net Penalty Yds: Offensive Unit’s penalty yardage – Opponent Defensive Unit’s penalty yardage

Explosiveness Notre Dame – small Yards/Play (ND 4.57 / MICH 4.63);          IsoPPP (ND 0.61 / MICH 0.50)
Efficiency Michigan – small Success Rate (MICH 42.6% / ND 34.3%)
Field Position Michigan – LARGE Avg Start (MICH Own 27 / ND Own 26);     MICH 99 yd KO Ret TD
Finishing Drives Notre Dame – LARGE Pts/Trip40 (ND 5.67 / MICH 2.50)
TO’s & Penalties Notre Dame – LARGE TO Margin (ND +1);                                  Offense Net Pen. Yds. (ND +35 / MICH +10)


For Michigan’s offense, the performance can be boiled down to staying on schedule, but an utter failure to convert to points.  After removing the bomb to Nico Collins to start the second half, Michigan averaged a very successful 5.3 yards on first down for the game.  Also on first down, Harbaugh was clearly looking for run/pass balance: 14 called runs, 16 called passes (11/14 complete), 2 QB scrambles.  I am certainly not going to complain about this complement-the-defense game plan for a road, non-conference, season opener versus Notre Dame.  Also, the data tells us they executed the initial phase of the plan.  These successes are major improvements over the 2017 offense, and we should be encouraged by these numbers.

All that being said, the frustration boiling over for many Michigan fans is still absolutely justified.  The difference in the game was Notre Dame’s ability to convert three red zone trips (inside 40-yard line) into two touchdowns and a field goal.  By contrast, Michigan converted four red zone trips into just one first-half field goal, and one fourth-quarter touchdown.  A brutal whiff for Michigan was in the first quarter, after Notre Dame had scored to go up 14-0.  On 2nd & 6, from the ND 25-yard line, an unblocked edge rusher hit Shea Patterson as he threw.  Notre Dame only rushed five on this play, and Michigan should have been able to pick up the rush from tackle to tackle.  On the ensuing 3rd & 6, the left guard gets beaten 1-on-1 by the 3-tech, and Patterson fails to throw the ball away.  The sack moves the Wolverines back out of field goal range.  These untimely failures of execution must be ironed out versus WMU & SMU before Michigan enters the Big Ten schedule on September 22nd against Nebraska.


Defensively, the stats show a different, equally toxic combination.  First, Don Brown’s defensive units still struggle to avoid sporadic-but-critical explosive plays, as shown by Notre Dame’s edge in IsoPPP.  On 3rd downs, Notre Dame was faced with an average of 8.6 yards-to-gain for the game.  Despite that, they managed to convert 46.7% (7 of 15)!  Again, these execution failures are what stick in the memory for most Wolverine fans, and were shocking coming from the defense.  In the first quarter, somehow Noah Furbush is covering a slot fade route on 3rd & 9.  Not only is the pass completed, but Metellus goes out for targeting.  In the 4th quarter, on 2nd & 13, Notre Dame tried to expose this issue again, and was nearly successful as pressure in Wimbush’s face allowed Josh Uche to gain ground in coverage.  This is a significant Achilles heel for Don Brown’s scheme, and I am BEGGING for some creativity to shore this up.

The other major issue for the defense to solve is defending run plays that target the aggression of the defensive line.  In one example from the 3rd quarter, we saw Notre Dame call a QB Draw on 3rd & 18 from their own 20-yard line. The conservative call showed that Brian Kelly expected to punt, but Wimbush gained 22 yards and moved the chains.  Another example came in the 4th quarter on 1st down, Notre Dame ran a “no trap” play where the entire OL blocked down, but there is no pulling lineman to trap the defender.  Chase Winovich was the trap guy, and his up-field momentum took him out of the play.  Meanwhile, the running back gained 10 yards into Michigan territory.    


Some Michigan fans must continue to wait for the offensive “savior”.  Other fans, myself included, have realized that expecting Shea Patterson, or really any one player, to be a “savior” is a mistake.  While the 24-17 loss to Notre Dame is a painful snap back to reality, it also provides us more reliable information about what we can expect the remainder of this season.  The S&P+ Five Factors give us a better sense of how the game stats line up with our perception from Saturday night.  Michigan laid a solid foundation to build on, but we can’t settle there.  The staff must quickly address critical flaws on both sides of the ball.


Two of college football’s most storied programs clashed again in beautiful Notre Dame Stadium Saturday evening under the lights, and one left South Bend crushed, looking as bad as last year in many respects and suffering their worst ND loss ever.  Coach Hoke said afterwards that he did not see it coming.  Nobody did.

This is a game in which every fan is a partisan for or against one side or the other, and scientific method and rational thought seldom has anything to do with for or against.  It’s a matter of feelings.  Of lifelong allegiances which are cemented in stone on both sides.

Each side wants to brag about being the best.  Notre Dame fans point out they are again in possession of the greatest overall winning percentage in college football.

Michigan fans laud their beautiful, but tiny stadium. Michigan likes to think that they taught Notre Dame to play football back in the early-early days of the game. UM fans point out that they have won more collegiate football contests than any other institution of higher learning.

Neither Michigan nor Notre Dame is among the group that has little proven relation to academic excellance.  They both have an established track record and great pride regarding academic excellence.

While a number of players were held out from this game by Notre Dame due to some alleged academic shenanigans, the fact that they were not on the field Saturday illustrates NDs dedication to their academic principles.  But Michian had no ability to take advantage of this.

Some Michigan fans felt the Irish had shunned the Big Ten.  Further, ND had deep sixed football competition with the Wolverines for the foreseeable future, establishing another hiatus..

This game had annually extended its magnetism across the nation.  It is one of the highlights of any college football season as both team elicit strong interest and are huge television draws.   This hiatus may detract from future college football seasons.  But all that does not matter.  What matters is the both M’s offense and defense appeared to revert to last year’s form which bad news.

Also, before we lament the hiatus excessively, remember the statement above that mentioned “huge television draws”.  In my opinion, rarity of the contests will only enhance the intensity of the draw.  TV constantly strives to enhance its revenues, and fill its airways with the most attractive competitions.  M, ND is a perfect vehicle to satisfy those requirements. Therefore, I think we may see the Irish in a bowl or playoff game sooner than later.

The game is not gone for good, but I still lament the fact the regular season series is at an end, and that the Wolverines were simply not competitive in this last of the series battle.  This is in contrast to the earlier games in the series where the Wolverines have more than held their own against the Irish, and some of the games have been spectacular.

An example of the long term quality of the series is the 1991 game which featured “the catch” by Desmond Howard.  Setting:  Michigan Stadium, late game, fourth and one. TD would win it.  Howard stretched out in the end zone “like a slinky” someone said.  It was a long reach as it eventually stretched out to a Heisman. No one but Coach Gary Moeller and QB Elvis Grbac expected it. A fine moment in M football history.

After yesterday’s thumping, you have to refer to the body of recent work to get an appreciation of the more current series.

2007: B
oth the Wolverines and the Irish were struggling to disperse wisps of faded football glory, of declining national prominence. Some cynics called this the bottom of the barrel bowl.

Irish Coach Charlie Weise ventured into M Stadium to confront Lloyd Carr in his last year and got skunked by the Wolverines 38-0. Mike Hart was hearty and Mallet hammered.

2008: Charlie struck back and ND prevailed 17 to 35, with the Blue sometimes emulating the Three Stooges too closely, by displaying 6 TOs, five of which belonged to Denard. Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez, and troops, went home from ND Stadium unhappy.

2009: fortunes reversed again, and RR’s Wolverines put a win on the board at M Stadium, 38-34. Late game Tate Forcier heroics, including a winning TD pass to Greg Matthews with 12 seconds left, secured the win.

2010: M traveled to ND Stadium, where Denard Robinson exploded for 502-yards rushing and passing.  Roy Roundtree ran in a 31-yard TD as the Wolverines prevailed 28 to 24.  The passing of the Great Ron Kramer was the only downer of the day.

2011: Brady Hoke edged the Irish in his Michigan Head Coaching Debut 35-31.  Roy Roundtree secured the victory, with 30 seconds remaining, making a spectacular end zone catch which he wrestled from a ND defender as he was falling out of bounds.  The M Stadium crowd was mesmerized.  The Irish had dominated until the final quarter.  M had 3 first downs in the first half.  Then Denard again became a football weapon of mass production as he engineered another spectacular defeat of the Irish.

2012: The Irish bested the Wolverines at home, 6 to 13.  Wolverine errors led to the production of no TDs, and while the defense played well, stopped the run. Golson threw a couple of interceptions and was replaced by Tommy Rees, who ran for the Irish TD. One Irish TD and a couple of FGs made the Irish victors.  The offense made mistakes.  A late interception ruined a golden opportunity at a critical time as Vincent Smith tossed one performing a trick play.  No one was fooled. Four earlier interceptions did damage as did foolish penalties. This game ended Denard’s spectacular success against the Irish.  Early, the Wolverines failed twice in the red zone.

2013: Devin Gardner’s heroics in tossing 4 TDs resulted in a 41 to 30 win.  But an almost perfect Gardner game was nearly ruined by Devin’s failed attempt to avoid a sack by tossing the ball up for grabs in the end zone.  Even a safety would have been better. He tossed up an end zone interception for an Irish TD.  Surprisingly, they couldn’t protect a 14 point lead. It was an unbelievably spectacular gaff late in the game.

Gardner regained his poise, Gallon had 184-yards receiving, Countess had two interceptions, and OC Al Borgess had called a great offensive game. M got the win.  Brady’s memorable after quote was that ND was “chickening out” of the series. Surprising from an absolute master of coach speak, but it was refreshing at the time.  This great win did not foretell a great Michigan season, as the Wolverine’s performance sagged from time to time all season, and especially in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

2014:  I wonder now if the usually close mouthed Brady Hoke regrets his “chickened out” comment.  In a nutshell, the Wolverine offense, defense and special teams were all lacking. Pass defense was not good, and where was the pass rush?  ND QB Everett Golson threw for 226-yards and 3 TDs going 23 of 34.  He had a magnificent game.  While M’s rushing defense was fairly decent, and the Wolverine out gained Notre Dame by 9-yards while  managing 289-yards to 280, the Wolverines were not capable of reaching the red zone, let alone the end zone, in the entire game.

Offensively, the addition of Coach Nussmeier and his offensive scheme did not remedy the consistent failure of the offensive line to open enough holes, to effectively pass protect, or to establish drives long enough to score.  Graham Glasgow at Offensive Right Guard seemed to make little difference. Tight End Jake Butt returned from injury for this game.

Obviously, the Wolverines met a better team on this night, and maybe we should leave it at that, but the progress of the OL that was perceived last week evaporated this week. Glimpses of last year’s night mares returned.

Devin Gardner did not play well, especially in the second half. Last year’s careless turnover problems returned as he threw three interceptions, and had a pair of fumbles in the second half, one of which was recovered.  Gardner finished the game 19 of 32 for 178-yards and 3 interceptions.  M rushed for 100-yards on 35 carries. Green, D. Smith, Norfleet and Hayes all contributed.

It boggles the mind more than a little that the Wolverines could not compete offensively with a team that lost three of their defensive players to questions of academic fraud.  ND had 8 tackles for loss.

There were good offensive and defensive plays, but not  consistenly.  Devin Funchess was the offensive bright spot.  Funchess made 9 catches for 107-yards.  He left the game gimpy.

Corner Ramon Taylor was injured in the first quarter, and in the first half his replacement, Jourdan Lewis, hurt the cause with a couple of interference penalties.  This helped enable the first Irish TD.  This is not to lay blame for the loss entirely on Lewis for losing is always a team failure, but these two mistakes helped the Irish to their first TD.  The secondary as a whole had a tough night.  Channing Stribling and Blake Countess both got beat badly as the score grew. Jabrill Peppers did not play due to an injury suffered last week.

Special teams did not let out a long run in kick or punt coverage.  But Matt Wile had a tough night, missing a couple of long but makeable, FGs.  He slipped as he tried to hit the last one which was a low liner.

Right now, there is not much take away from this game that bodes well for the future.  It aggravated Coach Hoke’s away from home loss woes.  While his win loss record at home is sterling, he has logged 5 away from Michigan Stadium losses against ND, MSU, and OSU.  If this continues it will become an albatross for him.

It was not very surprising to me that M had some offensive woes away from home, and I fully expected that early in the season the defense would have to carry the offense to some degree. What I did not expect was that the defense would fail to the degree it did, especially in pass defense.  The climb to success this year is steeper than anyone thought, and the improvement over last year seems less than previously thought.  Our pass defense could not match the rise in competition ND provided.

The usual platitudes after a thumping such as Saturday’s have and will surface, such as this is not a conference loss, games remain in which we can recoup our fortunes, it is just one game, we can get better, etc.  Platitudes or not, they contain some truth.   Whether or not the Wolverines can shake this one off is yet to be seen.  It will be a true test of their character.  They must come out fighting next week.

Bring on Miami.

Go Blue!

Michigan-Notre Dame Football– Looking Back – 2011

When Brady Hoke was introduced as Michigan’s head coach in 2011, he famously said that he would have walked to Ann Arbor to take the job. Initially, some people feared that when Hoke walked to Ann Arbor, charismatic quarterback Denard Robinson would walk away, possibly to a school with a team that featured a more wide-open attach similar to what Michigan used under former coach Rich Rodriguez.

Hoke’s first big victory occurred when Robinson chose to stay and continue his collegiate career at Michigan. His first big victory on the field came in his second game, when Robinson led the Wolverines on a comeback for the ages as the maize and blue hosted Notre Dame in the first night game in the storied history of Michigan Stadium.

Both teams wore “throwback” uniforms for the game, and in Michigan’s case, the jerseys really bore little resemblance to any that Michigan had worn in the past. Playing at night in unusual uniforms in front of a then-record crowd of 114,804, Michigan took the field and produced a win so electrifying that it has to be ranked among the most exciting football games of all time, and is almost certainly the most exciting game in Michigan football history.

It started slowly for Michigan, as Notre Dame took a 14-0 lead. Then Jordan Kovacs jumpstarted spirits when he jumped in front of a receiver to intercept a pass along the sideline, giving Michigan a slight change in momentum. Robinson followed the interception by throwing the kind of pass he threw numerous times at Michigan, literally heaving the ball downfield. Fortunately for Robinson and the Wolverines, wide receiver Junior Hemingway outmaneuvered Notre Dame’s defensive backs to catch the ball, and he dove toward the goal line, just barely getting the ball across the goal line for the touchdown. Suddenly, Michigan had life, and The Big House was rocking.

Undeterred, Notre Dame extended its lead to 24-7 in the third quarter. With less than two minutes left in the third quarter, things looked bleak for Michigan as Robinson appeared to be wrapped up by Notre Dame’s defense, a split-second away from a sack. Amazingly, Robinson stood up with a defender clutching at his ankles, and fired a long strike to Hemingway, who broke a tackle and sprinted 76 yards to the Notre Dame 7-yard line. As play began in the fourth quarter, Robinson scooped up his tailback’s fumble and ran into the end zone, preventing a game-losing turnover and scoring a critical touchdown, all in one motion. Michigan still trailed by 10 points, but anyone who knew the history of this rivalry knew there was plenty of excitement yet to come. The pace of the excitement started to accelerate when Robinson lobbed a pass into the Michigan corner of the south end zone, when Jeremy Gallon jumped back to come down with the ball, and there were only three points separating the two teams. Still, Notre Dame was threatening deep in Michigan territory once again, when quarterback Tommy Rees lost control of the ball, and defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen recovered the ball at the Michigan 10. Robinson went to work immediately, connecting with Hemingway for a 45-yard reception. A late hit was called on Notre Dame defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore, giving Michigan a first down at the Notre Dame 30. But the drive went no further, as Robert Blanton intercepted Robinson’s pass in the end zone, temporarily sinking spirits around The Big House. The Irish might have been able to run out the clock, but at that moment, the Michigan defense started to play like a classic Greg Mattison defense, and linebacker Jake Ryan began to develop his legend by tackling a running back for a 3-yard loss on third down. Michigan would get the ball back with slightly less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, an eternity for any offense with Robinson playing quarterback. Michigan advanced to the Notre Dame 21, where Robinson threw a throw-back screen pass to Vincent Smith, who scampered into the end zone to give Michigan the lead with 1:12. Now, Michigan had the lead, but Notre Dame had the ball, and it was time for some Irish offensive heroics. Following a pass interference call against Michigan, Notre Dame had a third down and five yards to go at the Michigan 29. Rees then completed a pass to a wide-open Theo Riddick, who fell into the end zone to give Notre Dame the lead back with just 30 seconds left. On second down, Robinson rolled to his right and found Gallon, who caught the pass in the middle of the field and outraced Irish linebacker Manti Te’o to the sideline, a play that was captured by Don Criqui on a Notre Dame radio broadcast that Michigan fans will listen to for another 50 years. Michigan had the ball on the Notre Dame 16 with just eight seconds left. Logic would dictate that the Wolverines should put the ball in the middle of the field and attempt a field goal. Fortunately for Michigan fans and alumni everywhere, logic wasn’t employed in this situation. With Michigan lined up in a bland, ordinary I-formation, Robinson took the snap from center and lobbed yet another pass toward the corner of the south end zone. This time it was Roy Roundtree who outmaneuvered cornerback Gary Gray, coming back to the ball and coming down with the ball and not just one, but two feet in the end zone, easily a touchdown. Michigan’s fans celebrated as raucously as they ever have at Michigan Stadium. With two seconds left, Michigan squibbed the kickoff, recovering the ball and nearly scoring another touchdown as the game ended.

It’s been only three years, but there simply aren’t enough superlatives to accurately describe the impact of this game. Robinson became a Michigan legend because of the entirety of his career, but Roundtree, Gallon and Hemingway etched their names in Michigan lore largely on their performances in this game. Michigan fans seldom quote Brent Musberger, but he captured the impact of this game when he said, “114,804 were here tonight, and more will say they were with them.”

Thanks to ESPN and youtube member WolverineHistorian. As always, I own no rights to this broadcast or these highights.

Michigan-Notre Dame Football– Looking Back – 1980

There were a lot of historic moments in 1980 before Michigan traveled to Notre Dame for a September football game. In February, the United States won a Gold Medal in ice hockey when a team of largely unknown amateur hockey players stunned the Soviet Red Army team in one of the greatest upsets in sports history. That was the good news. The big news story of 1980 was the Iran Hostage Crisis, which dominated conversations in every coffee shop in the country.

On the football field, Michigan and Notre Dame played a classic game that featured a number of lead changes in the final minutes, something this rivalry is known for. John Wangler took over at quarterback in the second quarter with Michigan trailing 14-0, and threw a pair of touchdown passes in 1:19 to tie the score by halftime. Momentum put on a winged helmet and a number 1 jersey at the beginning of the third quarter, as Anthony Carter returned the second-half kickoff 67 yards, giving Michigan the ball at the Notre Dame 32. Stanley Edwards scored from two yards out to give Michigan the lead. Notre Dame then scored a pair of touchdowns to take a 26-21 lead with a little more than three minutes to go. On Michigan’s final drive, Butch Woolfolk carried for 36 yards to the Notre Dame 4-yard line, and then tipped a pass that was caught Michigan’s Craig Dunaway for a touchdown, giving the Wolverines a 1-point lead with 41 seconds left. 

On the game’s final drive, Notre Dame freshman quarterback Blair Kiel threw a long pass down the sideline that resulted in a controversial pass interference call against Michigan defensive back Marion Body, putting the ball at the Michigan 48. On the next play, Michigan defensive back Jeff Reeves came ever so close to ending the game with an interception. Two passes later, Kiel connected with Tony Hunter, who inadvertently stepped out of bounds at the 34, setting up one of the fateful kicks of all time. Up to the line stepped left-footed kicked Harry Oliver, who kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expires, sending Notre Dame streaming onto the field. 

As the season went on, Michigan recovered quite nicely, reeling off nine consecutive wins, including a victory over Washington in the Rose Bowl, Notre Dame wound up losing its last two games to USC and Georgia. 

Oliver bravely fought cancer in later years and passed away in 2007 at the age of 47. But on that day in 1980, Oliver earned his spot in immortality in Notre Dame football, and in this rivalry. 

Thanks to youtube poster BlueGoldIlustrated for the footage. As always, I own no rights to this.