Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh tells reporters that the play of the offensive line has improved.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
Chase Winovich said he was confused Saturday night after Michigan’s 24-17 loss at Notre Dame. The senior defensive end wasn’t sure how the the Wolverines lost, and said he didn’t feel as if the Fighting Irish dominated.
Monday afternoon, two of Winovich’s teammates offered more clarity.
Junior defensive end Rashan Gary and junior ‘viper’ linebacker Khaleke Hudson agreed Michigan’s struggles on defense were “self-inflicted wounds.”
“Talking about the first half, like I said, I think we hurt ourselves more than they hurt us,” Gary said. “That’s just with the penalties. And as you can see, second half, once we got settled in and started rolling, it was the Michigan football that we needed. But it was too late by that time.”
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The Wolverines gave up touchdowns on three of Notre Dame’s first four drives, digging the team into an early hole.
Gary said the defense wasn’t caught off-guard by Notre Dame. He blamed the early struggles on penalties and “not playing the way Michigan plays.”
“It was nothing different, it was just more of what we did to ourselves,” Gary said.
Michigan was called for seven penalties for 52 yards. There was a targeting ejection. An illegal facemask. A defensive holding. And on the Fighting Irish’s third touchdown drive, Notre Dame got a fresh set of downs after Winovich was whistled for roughing the passer when the defense had forced an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal. The next play was a touchdown.
That penalty resulted in a four-point swing, and was the type of mistake Michigancould not afford.
“Stupid penalties,” Hudson said. “We had pass interference calls and some late-hit calls. Just small things that hurt us in the long run.”
Added Gary: “Ain’t nothing going to change the way Michigan flies to the ball, Michigan plays defense. We’ve just got to make sure we control ourselves a little bit better.”
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Quarterback Brandon Wimbush kept the Wolverines off balance. He let his receivers make plays, completing passes of 28 yards, 26 yards and 43 yards on the first two drives. He extended drives with his legs, scrambling out of the pocket and churning out yards in the run game.
A quarterback with Wimbush’s athleticism and running ability can put a lot of stress on a defense like Michigan’s, which plays primarily man coverage. When the secondary and linebackers have their backs turned to the quarterback, the defensive line must keep contain and limit rushing lanes. Linemen can’t rush upfield with reckless abandon. They must work together to keep the quarterback from breaking loose.
Michigan’s defense failed several times, including on a third-and-6 from midfield during Notre Dame’s second possession. The Wolverines ran a stunt with Gary and brought Noah Furbush and Winovich off the edge. But Notre Dame’s offensive line forced the edge rushers upfield and sealed the interior. Linebacker Devin Bush Jr. got lost in the wash and Wimbush scrambled seven yards for a first down. The next play, he connected with Chris Finke for a 43-yard touchdown.
“If you watch the game, (Wimbush) got us out of pocket a couple of times,” Gary said. “Like I said, that’s just us hurting ourselves. When we did what we had to do, we stayed inside the pocket, (he) made a couple bad throws. He’s a good athlete. He did what he had to do, and we could’ve did better.”
Those early gaffes cost Michigan 21 points and made for a difficult comeback. The Wolverines, though, are confident they’ll eliminate those mistakes.
“We’d rather have this happen in Week 1 than follow it down the line,” Gary said. “So we know it needs to be fixed, and it will be fixed.”
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Free Press sports writer Nick Baumgardner and columnists Jeff Seidel and Shawn Windsor dissect Michigan’s 24-17 loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 1, 2018.
Nick Baumgardner, Detroit Free Press