It’s been much too long since Notre Dame put on a performance like the one that we all witnessed on Saturday. With Michigan in town for the last time, Notre Dame took it to their nemesis to the north and sent the Wolverines back to Ann Arbor with their tales between their legs following a 31-0 shutout. Prior to Saturday Notre Dame had never shut out Michigan and as a program, Michigan hadn’t been shut out by anyone since 1984.
Obviously, there was a whole lot to love about this week’s game so let’s just start with the obvious.
1. A 31 Point Beatdown
To start things off, it is impossible for any Notre Dame fan to not love the fact that in the last meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan, the Irish recorded their first shutout of the series and dominated the Wolverines from start to finish. During the down years of Willingham and Wies, Michigan delivered a couple similar beatings to the Irish making Saturday all that much more enjoyable for Notre Dame.
Over the last few years Notre Dame has made games with Michigan much more interesting than they needed to be. In 2012, Notre Dame could have blown out Michigan if the offense was able to take advantage of all of the turnovers the defense produced. In 2011, the Irish surrendered a double digit fourth quarter lead and lost in crushing fashion. That didn’t happen on Saturday. Notre Dame jumped out to a lead and then kept the pressure up until the clock read 0:00.
2. A defense that was flying around all over the field
The Notre Dame defense looked a little shaky early on when Michigan was able to drive the ball down the field with some success before missing two field goals, but once they dialed up the pressure Michigan couldn’t do much. Notre Dame ended up sacking Devin Gardner three times and limiting him to a total of 5 net rushing yards. They also intercepted him three times and forced him to fumble for a 4th Michigan turnover as well.
Two games into the season, it is very apparent how different Brian VanGorder’s defense is than the one we saw from Bob Diaco the last four years. It’s still way too early to say that one is better than the other since Diaco’s 2012 defense will long be remembered as one of the best in school history. It is not too early to say, however, that it is a lot of fun watching VanGorder’s defense and seeing a much more aggressive style of defense. Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt specially seemed to be seemingly all over the field throughout the night.
I also loved seeing the improvement in the communication between the safeties this week. Against Rice there were multiple breakdowns in communication that led to two Rice scores. That didn’t happen this week. Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield worked in tandem like the pair of ridiculously talented and physically gifted athletes they are. With Purdue, a bye week, and Syracuse up the next three weeks, the two will get plenty of more time to work on that communication before that rough October stretch of games gets here.
3. Special teams continuing to be special
Special teams have been atrocious at Notre Dame over the last few years, but two games into the 2014 season, the Notre Dame special teams units have been a strength. Thanks primarily to Cody Riggs, Notre Dame has more punt return yards in 2014 than they did in all of 2013. He did have one miscue that could have been costly, but James Onwualu was Johnny on the spot with the recovery.
Kyle Brindza has made kick-offs almost an after thought with all but one of his kick-offs this year going for touchdown backs. He’s been more than solid on punts too pinning Michigan inside the 20 yard line two. On the flip side, Michigan was 0-2 on field goal attempts with both misses coming while Notre Dame had seven or fewer points.
It was tough to judge the Notre Dame kick return game just because Michigan only kicked off once. You know because they were shut out. Being able to say that is not going to get old. Ever.
4. Not laying an egg in front of recruits
Notre Dame had a lot of elite recruits on campus this weekend for the yearly night game in Notre Dame Stadium – something they’ve done the last few years since reintroducing home night games to the schedule – but unlike years past, this year Notre Dame put on a show for the recruits on hand. In 2011, 2012, and 2013 Notre Dame was underwhelming in their “all in” recruiting weekends. In 2011 Notre Dame lost to a bad USC team. In 2012 and 2013, Notre Dame may have won both games but both performances were not the kind of showings that grab a recruits attention. The same could not be said about last night.
Notre Dame Stadium was electric on Saturday night – more on that in a moment – and the dividends from the beating the Irish gave the Wolverines should continue to come in for the next few weeks and months. If Notre Dame ends up landing Soso Jamabo and Tevon Coney in this year’s class, Saturday night’s performance will likely have played a role in getting them there. Add in some of the elite underclassmen recruits on campus like 2016 #1 ranked quarterback Malik Henry and it’s easy to see why Saturday’s beating will pay off for Notre Dame beyond this weekend.
5. The Environment in Notre Dame Stadium
There’s a reason the picture for this article has Brian Kelly front and center with his team behind him about to run out of the tunnel through a smoke machine, it added even more to an atmosphere that was already electric. In many ways, Saturday night’s environment highlights the changes that Brian Kelly has made to the program. Five years ago there wouldn’t have been a night game, there wouldn’t be FieldTurf, there wouldn’t have been music being played over the speakers in Notre Dame stadium. All of those have arrived since Brian Kelly took over the program and show how much of a mark Kelly is leaving on Notre Dame.
I’m sure there were some fans who weren’t happy about the fog machine, but I bet if you ask the players who ran through it or the recruits who were right there what their thoughts were and I’d imagine you’d be hard pressed to find one that didn’t love it. Notre Dame Stadium became a place that did not intimidate opponents post Holtz and while I don’t think you can say it’s become entirely intimidating to this point, the game day atmosphere has certainly improved.
Saturday night Notre Dame put on a show on and off the field for the students, alumni, and fans of the University.
There was a lot more to like about Saturday night too such as the play of freshman Drue Tranquil and Kolin Hill; the emergence of Amir Carlisle who scored the first two touchdowns of his career, the control with which the Irish defense had on the line of scrimmage; and of course the play of Everett Golson who has now accounted for 8 touchdowns and 0 turnovers through two games this season.
Like last week, it’s always a great problem to have when then’s more than 5 things to like. Hopefully that trend continues.