Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame’s Ugly, Ugly Loss to Michigan

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.

Costly Blunders

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.

Momentum Killer

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.

Next Up

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.

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  1. It seems to me that the primary problem here is not on the field but instead at the top with the administration. I am not talking Daddy Swarbucks I am referring to Father Jenkins. He’s the guy that holds the purse strings and he’s not going to open that bag for any reason. And thats because he is satisfied with the way things are and the way those things are being done. Get rid of Jenkins and Kelly (throw Swarbucks in for good measure )and you will have the makings of the re-birth of an elite Notre Dame football team.

  2. The story is told that in the ND locker room after the 1988 Cotton Bowl blowout by Texas A&M freshman defensive line player Chris Zorich was crying with humiliation and anger. Lou Holtz saw that and remarked that Zorich would be starting for the 1988 team, which he did. In the years while Zorich played at ND it was said that his teammates played with equal fury because they were afraid of what Zorich would do for them if they didn’t.

    Are there any players like that on this team?

  3. This was a revenge game for Michigan – how can anyone see it any other way? They played with a vengeance and pushed us all over the place. Kelly stood and watched – helpless. Yes he and the players had ready made excuses for the press but the REAL players for Notre Dame – whether they saw the field or not on Saturday – are quietly stirring with anger over what happened.

    So – another year shot.

    IMO – Kelly is a GOOD coach, but this is Notre Dame, and good is NOT enough.

  4. I guess we have to put up with Kelly for 2 more years and if he gets an extension another 2 years.I wouldnt give him an extension myself but Jack most likely will. Notredame needs a great coach to win a national championship imo and Kelly is far from great. So since were stuck with Kelly I wish he would start Phil at home against Virginia Tech and let him play the last 5 games and at the end of the season fire Long and Reese and go out and get a great offensive coordinator and qb coach and give them full control of the offense.If its Book Long and Reese in 2020 its going to be more of the same I’m afraid.By the way my short list of coaches Matt Campbell Dave Clawson Kyle Wittingham PJ Fleck.All better than Kelly imo.

    1. none on your list have had the success of Kelly recently and he graduates his players taking real classes. like it or not, per Urban, this is the biggest issue with ND being a championship team.

  5. ND was absolutely ready to go……against the stereo system they practiced against for two weeks.
    But not against another team.

    And 74 would have been called offsides at least twice against the stereo.

      1. Throw that allegedly “loud” sound system out and replace it with a wall full of 200 Watt Marshalls. (Vacuum tubes, please). I’m not deaf in my left ear, and Jeff Beck doesn’t hear much in his ears beyond a loud, continuous drone of diamonds being dragged over glass, for no reason. If you are going to do it, do it full tilt boogie. Otherwise, find another way.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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