Michigan 45 Notre Dame 14 – Week 9 Recap


Final Score: 45-14, Michigan by 31 over Notre Dame
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 4.0 (+27)
CD Projection: Michigan by 3 (+28)


WEEK 9 RECAP vs. Notre Dame

When was the 2019 turnaround, officially?  Could it have been the bounce back on the road after Illinois had scored 25 straight points?  Was it when Jim Harbaugh proclaimed the Wolverines were entering their “finest hour” after halftime in Happy Valley?  The staff continued to send positive signals that this team was close to clicking, even in the toughest times. They finally hit on all cylinders tonight in the Ann Arbor rain versus Notre Dame.  Michigan pulverized the Irish 45-14, and it could have been worse.

The offensive unit was led through a driving rain storm by their veteran offensive line.  Michigan ended the night with 303 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. The Notre Dame defense employed a very blitz-heavy strategy, focused on taking away Michigan’s edge runs.  The high risk / high reward gambit turned out to be a mistake. Michigan was able to block the blitzing linebackers on the edges, while Hassan Haskins was led up the middle by pulling linemen and tight ends.  Haskins finished as Michigan’s leading rusher with 149 yards on 20 carries.

Defensively, I am sure the players and the coaches will be disappointed this game was not another shutout.  The Irish were still sporting a goose egg on the scoreboard deep into the third quarter, and were averaging just 1.5 yards per play at the time.  On 3rd and 10, Brad Hawkins’ interception was wiped out by a phantom pass interference call against Khaleke Hudson. Five plays later, Notre Dame got onto the board with a well designed tight end throwback pass from Ian Book to Cole Kmet.  Don Brown’s swarming defense held Notre Dame to 3.0 yards per play and only a 23% success rate when all was said and done.

Michigan moves to 6-2 on the season, and this rivalry win will help to remove some bad taste from their mouths.  Their Big Ten East division chances are on life support with Ohio State’s throttling of Wisconsin and Penn State’s handling of MSU earlier today.  Michigan still needs Ohio State to trip up before they come to Ann Arbor, and they need Penn State to lose twice. With that said, the Wolverines showed they are still very engaged in pushing this season to a successful conclusion.  This was a dominating victory over a top-ten ranked Notre Dame team that doesn’t play another ranked opponent. In the final four games, Michigan will need to avoid trap games @ Maryland and @ Indiana. These dangerous opponents are lurking in between the remaining rivalry games versus MSU and The Game versus the Buckeyes.  Onward to Maryland!

By the Numbers: Week 9 vs. Notre Dame


Another slow start cost the Wolverines as they fell short against Penn State, 28-21.   There were signs that the offense will indeed continue to grow through the season, but the Nittany Lions won 4 of the 5 SP+ factors.

NEXT UP: vs. Notre Dame: 19th, 17.0

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 4.0, Michigan Win Probability 59%
Through 3 away games and 4 home games: Michigan is under-performing the SP+ pregame margin projection by 1.3 points at home and by 3.9 points on the road.  In 2018, they were +7.9 points at home and -7.1 points on the road.

Michigan Offense (52nd) vs. Notre Dame Defense (35th)
The most encouraging bit from last week in Happy Valley was the continued return to form for the offensive line.  Shea Patterson’s success stems directly from the protection improvement. There is still room to grow, as the offense continues to build on plays and concepts that have been successful to this point.  The success of Michigan’s short passing game out wide to their talented wide receivers will put pressure on edge defenders. That in turn should continue to widen the running lanes inside for Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins.  Notre Dame’s defense started the season ranked 9th in SP+, but has slid down to 35th. The Wolverines’ success versus 12th ranked PSU defense last week should translate at home against the Irish. The question for this week will be whether or not we see the return of explosive plays.

Michigan Defense (4th) vs. Notre Dame Offense (13th)
The evolution of the 2019 Michigan Defense continues.  Michigan successfully limited Penn State’s success rate by mixing man-to-man and zone coverages.  However, the lack of interior pressure allowed Sean Clifford enough time to exploit coverage breakdowns and mismatches in the Wolverines’ secondary.  Notre Dame will pose a similar challenge this Saturday. The Irish consistently develop a strong offensive line, and Ian Book is a more seasoned quarterback than Sean Clifford.  As always, Don Brown will anchor his game plan on stopping the Irish running attack. Michigan absolutely must win more one-on-one battles than they lose. That starts up front where Carlo Kemp and Mike Dwumfour will be tasked with pushing the pocket into Book’s face.  On the outside, Lavert Hill and Ambry Thomas will need to keep 6’4” senior Chase Claypool from getting behind the defense.

PREDICTION: I don’t expect to see a lot of surprises or new phenomena inside the Big House against Notre Dame.  I think we’ll see Michigan’s defense perform well, but still allow 2 or 3 explosive plays in key moments.  Offensively, we’ll probably see the Wolverines out-gain the Irish in total yards. The struggles may continue down near the goal line, however.  When the dust settles, I think Michigan will narrowly hold on in a nail biter.
Michigan 24 Notre Dame 21 (PRESEASON Michigan 33 Notre Dame 13)


  • SP+ Overall: 14th (↓1), 18.5
    • SP+ Offense: 52nd (↑1), 30.9
    • SP+ Defense: 4th (↓1), 12.3
    • SP+ Sp. Teams 66th (↓4) 0.0
  • AP Poll: 19th (↓3), 440
  • Coaches’ Poll: 20th (↓4), 369
  • CFP Rank: N/A
Week 9 Resume

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

ExplosivenessNotre Dame – smallYards/Play (ND 4.57 / MICH 4.63);          IsoPPP (ND 0.61 / MICH 0.50)
EfficiencyMichigan – smallSuccess Rate (MICH 42.6% / ND 34.3%)
Field PositionMichigan – LARGEAvg Start (MICH Own 27 / ND Own 26);     MICH 99 yd KO Ret TD
Finishing DrivesNotre Dame – LARGEPts/Trip40 (ND 5.67 / MICH 2.50)
TO’s & PenaltiesNotre Dame – LARGETO 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!