Grading Michigan after its 24-17 loss to Notre Dame
The high-profile game of the weekend — Michigan at Notre Dame — didn’t turn out the way the Wolverines wanted, losing 24-17 Saturday night.
Here’s what we thought of their effort in the season-opening defeat:
What I liked
1. The effort was there until the very end: There is no such thing as a moral victory at Michigan, and there never should be. There are no bonus points for effort either, but it’s worth noting at least that despite all the adversity they encounter all night long in South Bend, they were right there at the end. Prior to Shea Patterson’s fumble in the final minute, I felt confident they were going to move down for a tying score. “The guys really prepared well for this ball game, not the outcome we anticipated or wanted,” Harbaugh said. “We have to dig deep. Make no excuses. Credit to Notre Dame and move on to next week.”
2. After two early scores, the defense tightened up: Those first two touchdown drives were disappointing, but from there the vaunted Michigan defense got better. Notre Dame had only 302 total yards, and 171 of those came on the first two drives. Notre Dame averaged only 2.8 yards per rush. “To be honest, I’m not really sure where they beat us,” Michigan defensive lineman Chase Winovich said. “I’m still kind of confused. I came in the locker room, I looked around, I’m just kinda confused how we lost that game, because it didn’t feel like they had dominated us in any aspects. Ultimately, they made plays when they needed to, and that’s a credit to them.”
3. Patterson can go deep, if given time: On the first play of the third quarter — after a stupid opening delay of game penalty — Patterson threw a beautiful pass to Nico Collins that went for 52 yards. It was an isolated incident, sadly, but it showed the potential of a deep passing game if the offensive line can give him some protection. This is going to be an area of growth that will make a difference down the road. It will need to be.
What I didn’t like
1. Oh, the O-line: Clearly, the offensive line is a massive issue, one glaring problem that ruined the 2017 season and one we thought would be fixed this year. Give Notre Dame some credit, because its defense is legitimately good, but this loss is on the O-line. No denying it. Patterson didn’t have time to throw most of the time and the running game was anemic, with no holes to hit. Michigan gained only 58 yards rushing on 33 carries, which just doesn’t cut it.
2. Defense disappoints early: In a huge game like this on the road, it’s up to the defense to set the tone. That should always be the case with Michigan’s defense, which has been a top-10 defense every year under Don Brown. Those two long drives by Notre Dame put Michigan into an early 14-point hole, one it could never recover from. Sure, the offense struggled, but the Michigan defense will collectively have to look hard into the mirror as well.
3. Bailing on this team already is a mistake: I knew it would happen if Michigan lost, that the critics would want coach Jim Harbaugh fired because, into his fourth year, things aren’t any better. There’s no disputing that Michigan can’t win a big game — it’s been a dozen years now since they beat a highly ranked team — but this is also Sept. 1. This team can still turn it around. Don’t turn your backs yet.