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.
RECAP OF RECENT GAMES:
2007: Both 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.