Much like the rain in Michigan Stadium will eventually find its way down a drain, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish saw their hopes of reaching the college football playoff also follow that route as they were wiped out by the Michigan Wolverines by a score of 45-14.
The Irish were outgained 437-180 in total yardage and had no answer for the Wolverines’ running game that collected 303 yards on the night. That was compared to the mere 47 on the Notre Dame side, with seven penalties and a pair of turnovers also delivering a lethal gut punch.
Some critical aspects of the game include:
Running in Different Directions
On this rain-soaked night, the running game was going to be important for both teams. The problem for Note Dame was that after a five-yard gain to start the contest, they gained a total of 10 yards on their next 19 attempts, a level of futility that helps explain why they found themselves on the wrong end of a 17-0 halftime score.
In drastic contrast, Michigan racked up big chunks of yardage on the ground in the first two quarters, making pass attempts almost an afterthought. The Wolverines gained 167 yards on their 34 first-half rushes, a pace that actually cooled off as the half got closer since Michigan was gaining seven yards per carry at one point. The bulk of that was obtained by the tandem of Hassan Haskins and Zack Charbonnet, the latter of whom scored the first two Michigan touchdowns.
In addition to the struggling offense, some key mistakes helped make Notre Dame impotent on offense. After they got the ball back following a roughing the kicker call on their first punt, an inadvertent fumble, and false start call helped end that drive. That was followed later with a partially blocked by the Irish that was inexplicably touched by Jonathan Jones and recovered by Michigan. Aided in part by a pass interference call, Michigan scored the first three points of the game.
A shanked 28-yard punt by Jay Bramblett gave the Wolverines prime field position, and eight lays later, Michigan had their first touchdown. Then, with just over five minutes left in the half, Notre Dame appeared to be on course to put their first points on the board when Chase Claypool made an excellent catch for a first down. That was called back by offsetting penalties that included an illegal man downfield call on Liam Eichenberg, and the Irish lost the ball on downs.
After Notre Dame had gained no yardage in their first eight plays of the second half, they suddenly sprang to life, courtesy of a pass interference call that enraged the partisan Michigan crowd. The ensuing touchdown sliced the Irish deficit to 10 points at 17-7, but after a first down stop, the Wolverines broke off a 49-yard run and were the beneficiaries of two pass interference calls. Two plays after the second one, Michigan made it into the end zone.
That inability to stop the Wolverines was followed by a trio of consecutive three-and-outs, followed by a Notre Dame fumble, a stretch that left the Irish trailing 45-7. They were able to collect a garbage-time touchdown in the closing moments, but their missed opportunity proved to be deadly.
Closing the Book
In what served as his worst performance since taking over the starting job at quarterback last year, Ian Book completed just eight of 25 passes for 73 yards and one touchdown, While his first-half performance of three completions in 12 attempts for 14 yards could be attributed to the miserable weather conditions, his only real receiving option appeared to be Claypool, who made two great grabs for 42 yards.
A wide-open Cole Kmet notched the first Irish score of the night in the third quarter, but a fired-up Michigan defense kept applying plenty of pressure on Book. That resulted in six runs by the signal-caller for a mere 13 yards, a number that was indicative of the night the entire Notre Dame team endured. With Michigan ahead 31-7, Irish head coach Brian Kelly finally yanked Book in favor of Phil Jurkovec, who didn’t fare much better.
The Irish return home to face the Virginia Tech Hokies next Saturday and will seek to take the lead in this series that only began three years ago. Back in 2016, a floundering Irish team fell to Tech by a 34-31 score before gaining some revenge last year with a 45-23 victory in front of a rabid Hokie fan base at Blacksburg. Virginia Tech will enter the game coming off a bye week with a 5-2 record, rest that was needed after outlasting North Carolina in six overtimes, 43-41.