Nobody saw this Notre Dame blowout coming

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Nobody, not even the Irish football players, anticipated Notre Dame’s 31-0 domination of Michigan Saturday night.

Was it a matter of Notre Dame’s grit and gumption? Or the Wolverines’ lack of resolve?

Those questions will be answered in the coming weeks.

With Purdue and Syracuse on the horizon, the Irish have put themselves in a position to head into their October gauntlet – Stanford, North Carolina and Florida State – at 4-0.

Plenty was learned through the Notre Dame performance against Michigan. Here are five things that could be taken away from it.

Intangibles count

In critical situations, on one of college football’s biggest regular-season stages, freshmen Kolin Hill (linebacker), Drue Tranquill (safety), Daniel Cage (defensive tackle) and Grant Blankenship (defensive end) are playing quality snaps.

All contributed at least a tackle. Hill had a sack and shared a tackle for loss. Tranquill had a tackle for loss.

“(This team’s) success is in its youth,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. “There are young guys that are playing for this football team and we have embraced that.

“It’s a group of kids that has bonded really well together on both sides of the ball.”

Can’t take that for granted because it’s really rare.

Golson is versatile

If Michigan was going to pack seven guys near the line of scrimmage and dare the Irish to pass the ball, so be it.

“We were glad to oblige them and throw the ball,” Kelly said.

There were some tempo issues, according to Kelly, which necessitated two timeouts on the first possession (heck, one before the first snap) and Notre Dame’s final timeout of the first half on its second possession.

Once that was resolved, the offense seemed to flow.

Coaching works

Last week’s shortcoming became this week’s strength.

After the win over Rice, one of the biggest problems Kelly had was the communication within his defense, especially at the safety position. Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate were at the center of that concern.

What a difference a week can make. After a little coaching up, Redfield and Shumate were downright productive and dynamic contributors. Each had an interception. Shumate collected 10 tackles and Redfield had six.

“They knew it was their time to step up and lead back there,” Kelly said of his two safeties. “It’s really outside their comfort zone. They’re not great communicators as it is. They’re very quiet kids.”

Their play spoke volumes loud and clear.

Scheme matters

Despite having some obvious holes in terms of experience and proven impact players, an aggressive defensive scheme that can create havoc and fluster the opposition can be successful.

There were plenty of skeptics who wondered if Irish defensive coordinator’s reliance on a brash, in-your-face approach would work. So far, so good.

Remember though, this was against a Michigan offensive line that could be characterized as “in a shambles.” That wasn’t the typical Wolverine attack, even though the skill position players were still pretty good.

How the Notre Dame defensive scheme plays out in October will be a better gauge.

Stats can deceive

Michigan had nine more yards of total offense than Notre Dame (289-280). Judging just by those numbers, the game should have been a low-scoring, tight game. Michigan actually won the time of possession battle (33:04-26:56).

Field position and turnovers can make a huge difference. Four Michigan turnovers and Notre Dame’s red-zone proficiency (4-for-4, three touchdowns and a field goal) turned that close game into a rout.

In fact, Michigan never even reached the red zone (inside the Irish 20). Its deepest penetration was the Notre Dame 29.

Notre Dame’s Amir Carlisle, right, makes a catch next to Michigan’s Blake Countess during the Notre Dame-Michigan game on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN