The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Michigan

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With no second viewing of Notre Dame’s 31-0 dismantling of Michigan available until a long trek home is complete, memory will have to serve today. But needless to say, columns like this are rather easy to write, especially when the victory was so decisive.

[VIDEO: Watch full replay of game ]

As the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry takes an indefinite break, the Irish’s most lopsided victory in the series leaves the programs in two very different places. Even as Brian Kelly plays 19 first-year contributors (true and redshirt freshmen), the Irish won all three phases of the game.

Yes, Michigan managed to out gain Notre Dame. But thanks to a dominant special teams performance and another sizable victory in field position — not to mention a +4 turnover differential — a look at advanced statistics like Available Yards tell the true, one-sided story.

Leaving Notre Dame Stadium in the wee early hours, the surrounding parking lots were filled with the remnants of tailgates. From an Irish perspective, it was proof that a great party took place. But for the Wolverines? It was an awful large mess to clean up.

With Purdue and the Shamrock Series just around the corner, let’s get to this week’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

Notre Dame’s Youth. Brian Kelly has often acknowledged that this was his youngest team. But he’s also said it was his most talented. And after watching the Irish’s kids beat up Michigan, it’s clear that the young guys are pretty good.

Brady Hoke has built a reputation as a powerhouse recruiter. But for the dozens of top prospects that were in South Bend this weekend, the display Notre Dame put on could make lasting impressions.

All the talk about the youth on the roster sometimes works as a crutch for a coach. But after the game, Kelly sounded like a coach who has truly embraced the youth movement.

“This team, its success is really in its youth. There’s young guys out there that are playing for this football team, and we have embraced that,” Kelly said. “It’s a group of kids that has bonded really well together on both sides of the ball.”

After the 2013 team didn’t play up to its potential, this group seems to be coming together perfectly.

 

Elijah Shumate. Shumate was thrown into the starting lineup less than 48 hours before the season kicked off, showing some rust and indecision in the opener against Rice.

Well what a difference a week makes.

Shumate played rock solid football, making 10 tackles, breaking up a pass, hitting Devin Gardner once and putting an exclamation point on the victory with a pick six to end the game.

(Sure it was called back after Max Redfield laid down a big crackback on Gardner, but just a small detail.)

Listening to the players that were made available after the game, their happiness for Shumate was abundantly clear. And as an athletic specimen, he’s a key piece of the puzzle in the secondary, even when Collinsworth is healthy.

 

Everett Golson and Will Fuller. Yes, Fuller needs to do a better job securing the football on the easy catches, but any question to his downfield or big play abilities was answered when he stutter-stepped Michigan cornerback Blake Countess off the line and put a third-quarter dagger into the Wolverines and their top cover man.

The chemistry between these two is only starting to grow, and Fuller’s vertical speed is starting to show itself to be the weapon that Kelly has talked about from the start.

Sure, Devin Funchess put up better numbers. But he didn’t have a bigger impact on the game.

Welcome to the party, Amir Carlisle (and C.J. Prosise). Since Brian Kelly arrived in South Bend, he expected to do big things with the slot receiver. That didn’t happen, even with Theo Riddick shifting unsuccessfully to the slot early.

With apologies to Robby Toma, the closest thing the Irish had to a dynamic presence at the position, Carlisle is showing himself to be the most effective weapon Notre Dame’s had at the position in years.

“The slot receiver position has been an area that has been a bit of a concern for me,” Kelly said. “We finally got a guy that can matchup inside out. And that inside out position puts him on safeties, linebackers, and we can do a lot of really good things there.”

Two touchdowns and some big-time catches showed Carlisle to be the type of difference-maker many of us expected to see last season. But better late than never.

 

Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day. Notre Dame needed to be tough on the inside. And the Irish defensive line absolutely abused the Wolverines interior, with Jones making six tackles and Day making five. With Jones anchoring the inside, he pushed the pocket back, stuffing the interior of the offensive line. Kelly was happy with the junior’s play this afternoon after watching the tape, hoping “to duplicate” the effort and pad level.

For Day, he harassed Devin Gardner for much of the day, getting four hits on him even if he was unable to get a sack. That’s two very productive Saturdays for Day, the leader of the defensive line.

 

Brian VanGorder’s intensity. Talk to just about every player made available and you can see that any worries that the Irish would be able to replace Bob Diaco’s presence in the locker room were for nothing.

VanGorder is the perfect coach for this group, able to take advantage of their athleticism and create complex, yet understandable game plans.

“Brian is very, very good at taking a scheme which he is very familiar with, and has run quite a bit of this stuff for a long time.  Because he’s so familiar with it, he can use words that allows for simplification,” Kelly explained. “It’s not complicated to him, so it’s so easy for him to describe it and communicate it to his players.”

And then, of course, there’s this. Well done, internet.

 

The Red Zone. Want a stat for the day? Notre Dame was four of four in the red zone, scoring three touchdowns. Michigan never got in the red zone.

 

Putting on a good show. Want some recruits to take notice? Go out in a historic rivalry game and lay an NCAA-record performance on them. Nice work by the fans in the stands as well, making a sometimes wine and cheese crowd into a group that was ready to party.

If a picture does speak a thousand words, consider this Jerry Tillery’s essay on the weekend as a recruit.

 

Quick Hits. Man, Kyle Brindza has been doing a phenomenal job. Consider the fact that he’s doing the job of maybe three different scholarship athletes, and he’s the best bargain on the roster.

Jaylon Smith is still just scratching the surface. That’s what makes 10 tackles so exciting.

A very nice night by the young defensive ends, with Isaac Rochell, Andrew Trumbetti and Kolin Hill doing some damage. The fact that Trumbetti got back in the game after Khalid Hill’s crack-back block solidifies the fact that he’s a tough kid.

(A question: How is that not a penalty if Max Redfield’s is?)

Great to see veteran Justin Utupo getting key minutes and a big sack on Devin Gardner. That’s how you make your fifth year count.  

THE BAD

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. But I’m having a hard time being too tough on any one particular group.

 

The Opening Drive and early timeouts. Credit Kelly for having this attitude, which I think is a smart one. First half timeouts aren’t anywhere near as valuable as second half timeouts. So Kelly’s rationale was to control the pace and dictate the early terms of the game and use the timeouts to get it right.

“We just were a little slow tempo‑wise. I think the moment was a little big for us,” Kelly explained. “I will use those timeouts if I don’t think I’ve got the right start to the game, because they really don’t mean much to me in the first half. I think I can manage the offense in the first half. Now, they’re very important in the second half.

“But, I’m more interested in getting it right early on and getting off to a good start. So, if I got to use a timeout and communicate with Everett, on some things, I was okay using them up. Because we weren’t moving in the right tempo, we just needed to polish up some things early on, and we cleared them up. And then, I think after we used that third timeout, we got our tempo right.”

Well played, BK. Even if the collective groan came from 80,000 arm-chair quarterbacks in the stands and about a million more at home on the counch.

 

When scheme doesn’t work. When you look at good matchups, I don’t think putting Romeo Okwara on Devin Funchess in coverage is a good matchup. But Michigan hit Notre Dame on an early blitz and Funchess was the beneficiary of a big gain.

It took a few series for the Irish defense to fully slow down Doug Nussmeier’s attack. But the first shutout of Michigan since 1984 isn’t shabby, and holding the Wolverines to sub-300 yards is a nice day at the office.

 

Wanna be great, wide receivers? Keep working on those hands. Will Fuller‘s clearly capable, as we saw on the touchdown catch. But the quick game wasn’t as effective as it could have been, and the bobbles hurt. Chris Brown had a drop, too.

 

The Ground Game. Yes, Greg Mattison made it awfully tough on the ground game. And no, I’m not sure why I’d want to put the game in Everett Golson’s hands if I was Michigan.

But after seeing great promise in the running attack, Saturday was a step backwards, though Kelly’s commitment to the ground game, a balanced 31 attempts, was impressive.

 

Cody Riggs might be new to the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry, so he doesn’t know that when he takes a chance and makes a mistake on punt return, that it almost kills thousands of Irish fans.

 

Hey Big Ten refs, how do you watch the replay on Corey Robinson’s catch and stretch and mark the ball at the three-yard line? A really curious spot, considering just about everybody watching it saw something completely different, expecting the ball to be placed inside the one.

 

THE UGLY

Only the aftermath for Michigan. The Wolverines have quite possibly the most expensive coordinators in all of college football. That they were so absolutely demolished has to be a brutal feeling for fans hoping that Team 135 was going to turn things around for the Hoke era.

In the postgame press conference, Hoke did his best to merely get through it, owning the loss and trying to look at it as one bad Saturday, not a trend that ends with him working with a defensive line next season somewhere else.

But Michigan fans must feel like Irish fans did back when the tide shifted so rapidly on both Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis, with painful change feeling right on the horizon.

But in a rivalry like this, one man’s pain is another man’s treasure.