It was an outcome few could say they saw coming. Well, few outside the Michigan locker room, that is. After the game, Michigan senior safety Josh Metellus was asked at what point the Wolverines knew they could beat Notre Dame. Without hesitating, Metellus responded, “Since last year’s game.” Metellus and his mates may have been overly confident, particularly in light of how this season has played out so far, but they weren’t wrong. Saturday night, in a driving rainstorm, Michigan turned in its best performance of the season in a dominating 45-14 victory over a top ten Notre Dame team.
If it was surprising that Michigan defeated Notre Dame as handily as it did, it was even more surprising how the Wolverines did so - by dominating both sides of the line of scrimmage. How dominant was Michigan? Led by sophomore Hassan Haskins and his career-high 149 yards, the Wolverines rushed for more than 300 yards while holding the Irish to less than 50. And while Michigan may have only recorded two sacks on the night, its ever-attacking defense generally made life miserable for Notre Dame quarterbacks Ian Book and Phil Jurkovec.
Statistics aside, Michigan’s dominance in the trenches was perhaps best illustrated by two first half touchdown drives. In successive drives of eight and seven plays for 59 and 60 yards respectively, Michigan ran the ball on 14 of the 15 plays. Notre Dame knew what was coming (how could the Irish not?) but could do little to stop it.
Saturday’s game was Michigan’s most impressive, if not most balanced, offensive performance of the season. Looking for Michigan’s much-hyped “Speed in Space,” pass-first offense? Better look somewhere else this night. Through three quarters, Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson completed just three of six passes for a total of 30 yards, yet Michigan held a 24-7 lead. For one of the few times this season, and for the first time against a quality opponent in I don’t know how long, the Wolverines did just about whatever they wanted to do offensively.
But as well as Michigan’s offense played and as dominant as it was, its defense played even better and was even more dominant. Asked if Michigan’s defense played angry against the Irish, Metellus responded, “We always play angry.” They seemed to play angrier than usual Saturday night. The Wolverines played aggressively from the opening snap, and while that is not unusual, the Wolverines also played with more discipline than in past weeks. Gaps, both figurative and literal, largely weren’t there, and as a result, the Irish could get little going offensively.
In talking about Michigan’s defensive performance, Metellus credited much of it to the Wolverines’ preparation. “We knew they (Notre Dame) would be watching tape, looking at what’s been successful against us (in the past),” Metellus said. “We spent a lot of time working on cleaning things up.” Consider it time well spent.
After Michigan’s 10-3 victory over Iowa three weeks ago, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said that he felt That Michigan was not only making strides offensively, but was close to breaking out. In the aftermath of a performance in which the Wolverines were held to a single touchdown, Harbaugh’s claim was met with a certain amount of ridicule. It turns out that Harbaugh may have known what he was talking about. Over the past six quarters, Michigan has played its best football of the season, outscoring Penn State and Notre Dame by a combined score of 66-21.
Whether this is a nice game-and-a-half run or a sign of legitimate improvement remains to be seen. But one thing is certain, with Michigan and Notre Dame not scheduled to meet again for more than a decade, it was a nice way to go out for Michigan and its fans.