ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Few things went right for No. 8 Notre Dame at No. 19 Michigan on Saturday, and even those that did, they still went wrong in a 45-14 loss. When the Irish (5-2) blocked a punt, it resulted in a Wolverines first down. When Notre Dame’s defense stopped Michigan (6-2) for six straight drives, its offense did nothing with the opportunities. When the coaching staff waved a white flag by turning to sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec, he stumbled untouched for a 12-yard loss on his first snap.
It was that kind of night for the Irish.
“They were the better team tonight in all phases,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “We certainly didn’t coach well enough tonight and didn’t play well enough. … That’s not our identity, but that’s what we showed tonight, and we own what we showed this evening.
“It was by the score of whatever it was, by a wide margin, Michigan’s night. They were the better team.”
The 45-14 final tally will undoubtedly be remembered, as a couple other scores have been in this rivalry, but Kelly was right that this shellacking went beyond the scoreboard. No single number can entirely encapsulate how poor Notre Dame’s showing was, but nearly any stat illustrates how ineffectual its offense was. The Irish sent Jurkovec out behind center halfway through the fourth quarter, a choice Kelly said was a result of the then 31-7 score. Up to that point, with senior Ian Book leading the way, Notre Dame had gained 103 total yards.
“Everybody is accountable, coaches, players. We have to coach better and we have to play better,” Kelly said. “I’m not going to sit up here right now and say that Ian Book is the reason, Brian Kelly is the reason. We’re all accountable.”
Book finished with 73 yards and a touchdown on 8-of-25 passing, adding five rushes for 15 yards (sack adjusted). The score was one of his two targets of junior tight end Cole Kmet, usually the most dynamic offensive skill player.
As stagnant as the Irish passing game was, its rushing attack was no better, finishing with 53 yards on 29 carries (sacks adjusted), a 1.83 yards per rush average.
“We knew we had to establish a ground game,” junior right tackle Robert Hainsey said. “We didn’t do that. We didn’t play to our standard.”
While that ground game was never established — it staggered to 20 yards on 15 attempts in the first half — those efforts were compromised further when senior running back Tony Jones did not return after halftime due to a cartilage (ribs) injury.
The Wolverines, meanwhile, capitalized on big play after big play after big play. They gashed Notre Dame’s defense early, rushing for 20 or more yards on four separate first-half plays. Each of those drives resulted in a score, slowly building a 17-0 halftime lead that felt much bigger given the Irish offense’s ineptitude.
“We just didn’t execute the way we were supposed to,” senior safety Alohi Gilman said. “And didn’t play as physical as we were supposed to and to our standard as a defense.”
Eventually, the defense settled down, keeping Michigan in check for a six-drive stretch that included 21 plays gaining 21 yards. In Notre Dame’s corresponding four drives, the Irish gained 11 yards on 13 plays. Not getting support, literal or moral, the Irish defense subsequently broke, yielding four touchdowns on the next five Wolverines possessions.
Not that those scores much mattered. As Kelly said, it was Michigan’s night, by a wide margin.
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
Notre Dame had one and only one genuine chance at gaining momentum. It is quite a leap to think that momentum would have changed the night’s outcome, but missing out on that chance assured the seemingly inevitable.
The Wolverines’ opening drive initially went nowhere. A pair of three-yard rushes preceded an incompletion and a punt from their own end zone, a punt Irish sophomore linebacker Bo Bauer deflected.
“Football is a game of momentum,” Gilman said. “That would have been a huge momentum shift for us.”
Would have been.
Instead, senior linebacker Jonathan Jones attempted to dive on the ball. By touching it — but not collecting it cleanly — Jones made it a live ball. When the Wolverines landed on it at the 33-yard line, they had a first down.
“What happens in the moment, there seems to have an effect on somebody’s judgment at that time,” Kelly said of Jones’ gaffe. “Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do at that time, but that’s where you have to over-communicate and over-coach. Unfortunately, we touched that ball in that situation.”
Michigan turned that gift into a field goal and a lead it would never come close to relinquishing.
PLAY OF THE GAME
In retrospect, it was window dressing, but when Notre Dame reached the end zone in the third quarter, helped by a questionable pass interference call negating a Wolverines interception, there seemed to be a sliver of momentum available. After all, the Irish trailed only 17-7 with 5:27 left in the third quarter.
Michigan responded by efficiently moved down the field, itself helped by two pass interference calls, before facing a 2nd-and-goal from the eight-yard line. Senior quarterback Shea Patterson was hit as he threw the ball to the back corner of the end zone, a fluttering pass if there ever was one. Yet, somehow, it got to junior receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
“It just felt like we weren’t up to the task tonight, and they broke it open with that late score,” Kelly said.
(LACK OF) PLAYER(S) OF THE GAME
To give credit where it is due, Patterson played a clean game, going 6-of-12 for 100 yards with two touchdowns, adding nine rushes for 58 yards (sacks adjusted). Just as importantly, he made no mistakes.
Wolverines freshman running back Zach Charbonnet gained 74 yards on 15 carries, scoring twice, while sophomore Hassan Haskins romped for 149 yards on 20 carries.
But for Notre Dame, it was the lack of skill players showing up that stood out. On his best day against a marquee opponent, senior Javon McKinley still should not be the leading Irish receiver, as he was with two catches for 42 yards and a touchdown.
Junior tight end Cole Kmet caught two passes for 25 yards, targeted by Book just twice, once for the touchdown and once for that dubious interference negating an interception. Otherwise, Book did not look to the player Notre Dame went to on its first three plays at Georgia. The other completion came from Jurkovec in garbage time.
Kelly said Michigan bracketed Kmet, comparing it to what the Irish did to star USC receiver Michael Pittman two weeks ago, and there is truth to that. But he was also open on several routes when Book simply missed him, the player the ball should be finding most often.
Compounding matters, senior receiver Chase Claypool had just two catches for 42 yards, the pair coming nearly three quarters apart. He was at least targeted another seven times.
STAT OF THE GAME
303 rushing yards. That is how many the Wolverines gained, a Kelly Era high, triple-option teams excluded. In fact, no other Notre Dame opponent had broken 300 yards since Kelly took over, again excluding the triple-option foes.
The previous high? 288 from Michigan in 2010, when Denard Robinson danced his way to 258 yards on 28 carries.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
5:25 — Michigan field goal. Jake Moody 21 yards. Michigan 3, Notre Dame 0. (9 plays, 65 yards, 4:09)
13:51 — Michigan touchdown. Zach Charbonnet 7-yard rush. Moody PAT good. Michigan 10, Notre Dame 0. (8 plays, 59 yards, 3:24)
9:52 — Michigan touchdown. Charbonnet 1-yard rush. Moody PAT good. Michigan 17, Notre Dame 0. (7 plays, 60 yards, 3:05)
5:27 — Notre Dame touchdown. Cole Kmet 7-yard pass from Ian Book. Jonathan Doerer PAT good. Michigan 17, Notre Dame 7. (7 plays, 57 yards, 2:50)
2:37 — Michigan touchdown. Donovan Peoples-Jones 8-yard pass from Shea Patterson. Moody PAT good. Michigan 24, Notre Dame 7. (6 plays, 75 yards, 2:50)
11:29 — Michigan touchdown. Nico Collins 16-yard pass from Patterson. Moody PAT good. Michigan 31, Notre Dame 7. (4 plays, 64 yards, 1:49)
8:46 — Michigan touchdown. Tru Wilson 27-yard run. Moody PAT good. Michigan 38, Notre Dame 7. (2 plays, 47 yards, 0:27)
4:23 — Michigan touchdown. Mike Sainristil 26-yard pass from Dylan McCaffrey. Moody PAT good. Michigan 45, Notre Dame 7. (4 plays, 45 yards, 1:55)
3:45 — Notre Dame touchdown. Javon McKinley 14-yard pass from Phil Jurkovec. Doerer PAT good. Michigan 45, Notre Dame 14. (3 plays, 75 yards, 0:38)