Notre Dame makes history in last bout with Michigan
SOUTH BEND — For a game so hyped in historical implications and wrapped in nostalgia, it was 16th-ranked Notre Dame’s suddenly optimistic future that came into focus time and time again Saturday night.
Irish quarterback Everett Golson more than held up to the brighter lights and better defense Michigan offered in the 42nd and foreseeably final meeting in a rivalry gone rabid. But the Irish defense that was supposed to offset Golson’s brilliance actually turned out to be a stunning complement.
Notre Dame said goodbye to the Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium, early, often and emphatically in a 31-0 farewell kick to the backside that had new Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s imprint all over it.
“We’re setting our own standard here,” said VanGorder’s prize pupil, linebacker Jaylon Smith. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
The final score – the most lopsided of ND’s 17 victories in the series, by eight points – could have been worse. A penalty during Elijah Shumate’s 61-yard interception return for a touchdown with no time left took the points off the board and forced the Irish into an offensive knee-down.
As it stands, VanGorder’s youth-heavy unit held a Michigan offense, that set school records last week against Appalachian State for yards per offensive play and yards per rush, to 289 total yards, forced four turnovers and pitched the first shutout against Michigan since Iowa accomplished the feat 365 games ago.
That was in 1984, when Bo Schembechler was still stalking the sidelines as the Wolverines’ head coach and finished with the worst record of his era (6-6). The 365 games without a shutout is an FBS record, but now it too is history.
“Obviously Notre Dame played a very good football game and we didn’t,” Michigan head coach Brady Hoke understated, as the Wolverines lost their 11th successive road game to a ranked team. The last such victory was 11th-ranked Michigan beating No. 2 Notre Dame in South Bend eight years ago.
The 100th Irish victory over a Big Ten team in the history of Notre Dame Stadium did produce a couple of significant historical footnotes. It kept Michigan (1-1) from flipping back to the top of the all-time winning percentage list a few thousandths.
And coupled with a 41-7 BYU rout of Texas in Austin Saturday, the Irish (2-0) climbed into a second-place tie with the Longhorns in all-time FBS victories with 876.
But the focus kept coming back to whether this Irish team’s potential for growth or growing pains was more genuine.
“My hats off to the defense,” Golson endorsed of a unit that also got interceptions from Florida transfer Cod Riggs and sophomore Max Redfield and a fumble recovery by end Isaac Rochell after linebacker Joe Schmidt jarred the ball loose from Michigan QB Devin Gardner.
“They played great today.”
Sophomore Smith, with an underwhelming three tackles in his debut as a weakside linebacker in the Aug, 30 opener against Rice, was dominant with 10 Saturday. Shumate, filling in for the injured Austin Collinsworth at strong safety, also had 10 tackles, a week after getting burned multiple times by being in the wrong place.
“It feels great to beat Michigan,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “It feels great that we’re the first team in the history of Notre Dame football to shut out Michigan. I temper it by knowing we have a long season ahead of us.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it felt great to shut out Michigan, 31-0.”
Michigan’s own defense largely bottled up the Irish running game, but left seams and gaps for the passing game to thrive. Golson seemed to take advantage of every one of those.
The senior, who got pulled in a 13-6 win over Michigan two years ago after throwing two picks and producing a career-low 19.0 pass-efficiency rating, finished 23-of-34 for 226 yards and three touchdowns.
“Yeah, put him up for it,” Kelly said with a chuckle, when a reported asked him if Golson belonged in the early Heisman buzz. “Throw him in there. I saw one list (where) he wasn’t even listed in the top 10 quarterbacks in the country.
“it’s still really early, He’s got a lot more development that needs to take place, but sure, whatever list you’ve got, put him on.”
Golson had some new co-stars Saturday night. Sophomore Will Fuller finished with a career-high nine receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown. Senior Amir Carlisle also put up career numbers, with seven catches, 61 yards and the first two touchdown receptions of his college career.
“I was really impressed with Amir tonight,” Kelly said of the former running back and USC transfer Kelly converted into a slot receiver this offseason. “The slot receiver position has been a little bit of a concern for me.
“We finally got a guy that can match up inside out. I thought he made some outstanding catches in traffic, held onto the football, toe-tapped one of the sideline, showed a really good skill set at that position.
“I thought he was big today. I thought it was a statement game for him.”
The closest Michigan came to a score were two missed field goals by kicker Matt Wile, now 1-for-4 this season and 6-for-12 for his career, and a late drive down to the Irish 22-yard line before freshman end Kolin Hill, in his collegiate debut, sacked Gardner on fourth down.
Gardner finished 19-of-32 for 189 yards and three interception. Vaunted Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess collected an impressive, but benign, nine receptions for 107 yards.
“We obviously have a good idea of what we wanted to do (defensively),” Kelly said. “Get this quarterback into third down and give him a lot of different looks.”
The game started shakily enough for the Irish. Notre Dame called timeout four seconds into the game and then called its second at the 12:57 mark, both on a drive that netted 14 yards and ended with a 47-yard punt.
The Irish took their third of the half before the first quarter was over, at the 2:27 mark facing a first-and-10 from the Michigan 13. This time it turned into something good. Two plays later, running back Cam McDaniel muscled in from one yard out for the first score of the game.
Two pass interferences penalties on Michigan cornerback Jordan Lewis helped fuel the 71-yard, eight-play drive. And Michigan spent the rest of the night backpedaling on offense and defense.
“This means everything,” Smith said. “A great rivalry coming to an end, at least in our era, and especially because I have a brother that plays for Ohio State. And they hate Michigan, so it really goes to show upon a family the fact that we can get the victory.”