Notre Dame’s defence dominated Michigan on Saturday night.
And Michigan’s defence largely did the same in return.
So how did Notre Dame’s offence end up scoring three touchdowns to one from Michigan’s? And does the 24-17 Notre Dame victory accurately reflect the margin between these teams?
1. Notre Dame contained a mobile QB better than Michigan did.
Neither team was expected to have great passing from the pocket, due to some unproven receivers. But both Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush and Michigan’s Shea Patterson are rather mobile, though Wimbush has better top-end speed, and both have shown they can be dangerous outside of the pocket.
Knowing all that, keeping them in the pocket was going to be key. And Notre Dame was better in this area. Patterson was mostly bottled up. But Wimbush, time after time, was able to break to the outside, either on scrambles, designed runs, or the read game. And whether he was throwing it deep, throwing it away, or turning it up, Wimbush did considerable damage on the edge.
It wasn’t that Wimbush ripped off huge runs when he broke contain — his long was 22. But he had so many positive runs to keep Notre Dame ahead of the chains or to get the Irish back on schedule.
Notre Dame’s defensive line seemed to create slightly more pressure than Michigan’s, and while still keeping contain. Michigan’s defence made lots of plays but did occasionally play out of control. It was almost as if Notre Dame was able to create more pressure while also playing safer, to some extent.
2. Notre Dame’s new offensive line acquitted itself well. Michigan’s, less so.
Notre Dame lost two top-10 draft picks from its offensive line. That sort of production cannot be replaced. But the Irish do recruit the position well. And Michigan’s front, loaded with future professionals, is the toughest test the Irish will face all season. Relative to that standard, Notre Dame’s line did fine.
Michigan’s, behind new offensive line coach Ed Warinner, did not look as good. And one main difference was the rather immediate penetration Notre Dame was able to achieve. It was the type of pressure that ruins plays. And it usually came from the edge. Michigan seems to have had a tougher time replacing the departed Mason Cole than Notre Dame did replacing Mike McGlinchey.
3. Notre Dame’s receivers made great one-on-one plays. Michigan’s did not.
Along with Wimbush having a bit more time to throw in the pocket, and being able to escape the pocket somewhat more, Wimbush’s receivers simply won more plays down the field.
And Wimbush deserves credit for making several throws under pressure, though he did put the ball at risk a time or two.
Also credit Notre Dame for attacking Michigan’s reserve safety, who had been inserted into the game after starter Josh Metellus was ejected for targeting. The pass to Chris Finke went for 43 yards and the score to break the game open at 14-0.
WHAT. A. CATCH. pic.twitter.com/nIbX0Dii7o
— Notre Dame on NBC (@NDonNBC) September 2, 2018
4. Cluster luck. Notre Dame’s drives were all or nothing. Michigan had many wasted yards.
Notre Dame put together drives with multiple chunk plays, which ended in scores. Drives of 75, 96, 75, and 41 went for three touchdowns and a field goal. Notre Dame’s non-scoring drives went for -4, 28, 3, 0, 3, 13, and 8. This is mostly sequencing, like clustering hits in a row in baseball. That is not a skill, but it does have a large impact on the outcome.
Michigan, on the other hand, had a scoring drive of 80 and 31 yards, but substantial drives of 47, 48, and 52 went without points.
5. Both teams found little rushing success … with their running backs.
Michigan’s running backs went for 73 yards on 23 carries. Notre Dame’s went for 80 on 24. The difference in the rushing yardage, 132 to 58, was mostly the legs of Wimbush.
6. These teams are pretty similar.
Removing end-of-half and end-of-game drives, Michigan averaged 4.44 yards per play (302 on 68 plays) to Notre Dame’s 4.47 (304 on 68).
This game was seen as a tossup coming in, with the Vegas line being within a field goal either way all week. And if the two lined up and played again Sunday, I’d bet the line would be the same.
7. Looking forward: Michigan’s recruiting
I am not a believer that coaches need to win early in their tenure to recruit well. It is simply not true.
But I am a believer that programs need to win after the first few seasons in order to maintain their recruiting. I call it showing proof of concept.
2018 was a down recruiting class for the Wolverines. 2019 has a chance to be a bounce-back class. But only if Michigan can actually beat some good teams. And so far in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, that has not happened often enough.