In what very well could be the final regular season matchup between storied college football programs Michigan and Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish dropped 21 unanswered first half points on their way to a 31-0 victory over the Wolverines. The star of the show was quarterback Everett Golson, who appears to have shed any rust accumulated during his year away from the team.
For Michigan, it was a game of close calls. Greg Mattison's defense proved adept at forcing third downs, but consistently failed to send Notre Dame's offense back to the sidelines. The Wolverines offense endured similar struggles, with quarterback Devin Gardner unable to settle into a rhythm throughout the game.
The win sends Notre Dame to 2-0. The Irish will take on hapless Purdue followed by Syracuse before entering the toughest stretch of their schedule. Michigan, which hadn't been shut out since 1984, will welcome Miami (OH) and Utah into Ann Arbor in the coming weeks.
Three things we learned
1. Everett Golson back to full speed following a year in exile
The 2013 Notre Dame Fighting Irish went as far as Tommy Reis could take them - a 9-4 record and the 49th ranked offense in the nation. The missing ingredient was Golson, who cost himself the season due to academic violations. Though he made his way back onto the roster, there was no guarantee that a player who hadn't played a meaning snap since the 2012 BCS Championship was going to come back the same. After a competent showing a week ago, Golson came out with fire tonight, scorching Michigan's defense for 226 yards and three touchdowns on 23/34 passing. Notre Dame's roster is overall weaker than it was a year ago, but Golson's ability to put points on the board makes this year's team more dangerous.
2. Doug Nussmeier may not have the horses to run his offense
The Michigan offense looked potent enough during its opening week teardown of Appalachian State, but against an FBS defense it sputtered out drive after drive after drive. Part of that falls on QB Devin Gardner, who missed open receivers throughout the game and fell apart during the third quarter. Yet what hindered Michigan most was the play of its offensive line. Gardner rarely had the opportunity to work from the pocket, instead being forced to scramble towards the sidelines. Until the line settles, there's a cap on how far the Wolverines offense can go.
3. Even without suspended players, Notre Dame looks close to full strength
When the Irish suspended five players over academic fraud allegations, it jettisoned a handful of starters and an important reserve, including its top cornerback and wide receiver. Even for a program loaded with five- and four-star talent like Notre Dame, such represents a tremendous blow.
Yet against Michigan, there was no apparent drop off for Brian Kelly's crew. The defense, which endured the greatest hardship due to the suspensions, had no trouble stopping the Wolverine's offense. They forced bad throws from Gardner while holding the Michigan running attack to a feeble 2.9 yards per carry. While the absences will be felt later in the season, they weren't noticeable tonight.