South Bend, Ind. — They had talked and talked and talked positively with the high hopes of the offseason and throughout preseason camp. The confidence was soaring entering the season opener for Michigan, and the Wolverines said the opener against Notre Dame would give them a strong indication of where this team is.
They might want to rethink putting that much stock in this first game, because across the board — including the highly lauded Michigan defense — the 14th-ranked Wolverines looked woefully inefficient and poorly prepared in a loss at No. 12 Notre Dame.
The Irish prevailed, 24-17, Saturday night in Notre Dame Stadium, extending Michigan’s drought of losses on the road against ranked teams. The Wolverines are now 0-17 against top-25 teams since beating then-No. 2 Notre Dame in 2006.
Michigan struggled in every phase.
The Wolverines’ only touchdown came on a kickoff return from Ambry Thomas, and the vaunted defense self-destructed with critical drive-extending penalties, particularly in the first half, that gave the Irish new life and 21 points.
It wasn’t the debut quarterback Shea Patterson could have imagined, but then again, the offensive line, which had boasted of renewed confidence under first-year coach Ed Warinner, revealed itself as the biggest question mark on the team — as expected — and collapsed on multiple occasions.
Patterson missed plays in the fourth quarter because of leg camping — Dylan McCaffrey was the next quarterback in — but came back with five minutes left and led the best drive of the game for the Wolverines. McCaffrey started the drive, but Patterson was the catalyst in the 80-yard, seven-play drive that culminated with a 3-yard touchdown run by Karan Higdon that pulled Michigan within 24-17 with 2:18 left.
Michigan got the ball back with 1:48 left and a chance to tie the game, but Patterson fumbled with 46 seconds left. He looked distraught lying on the field. Patterson was 20-for-30 passing for 227 yards in his Michigan debut. The Wolverines had 307 total yards and mustered only 58 rushing yards. They also had seven penalties for 52 yards.
Notre Dame had 302 total yards and was 7 of 15 on third down and 1-for-1 on fourth down.
Michigan trailed 21-10 at halftime and opened the second half with promise. Patterson completed a 52-yard pass to Nico Collins on the first play of the half after a delay penalty to the Notre Dame 28-yard line. Michigan was going to settle for a 34-yard field goal attempt by Quinn Nordin when Will Hart dropped the snap.
The Wolverines’ quickly responded when Chase Winovich hurried Brandon Wimbush who was intercepted by Brandon Watson. Michigan’s offense generated very little and turned the ball over on downs.
Notre Dame added a 48-yard field goal to build 24-10 lead on a drive that had what looked like another touchdown nullified because of an illegible receiver.
The Irish took advantage of three critical penalties by Michigan’s defense on each of the Irish first-half scoring drives. The Irish outgained Michigan 233-90 in the first half and had 148 yards passing. Michigan had five penalties for 42 yards.
The Irish took a quick 14-0 lead, decimating the Michigan defense for 143 yards, including 115 yards. Notre Dame had eight first downs in that span, and the Wolverines had two critical penalties, including a targeting call on Josh Metellus on a third down play from the Irish 5-yard line during their second possession.
Notre Dame burned Michigan’s secondary with a 43-yard reception by Chris Finke, giving the Irish the 14-0 lead on a 96-yard, seven-play drive.
Michigan moved the ball to the Notre Dame 25 on its next possession, but the offensive line, long considered the question mark heading into this season, particularly at the tackles, couldn’t withstand the Irish attack. The Irish blitzed and threw incomplete on second down, a pass intended for Oliver Martin that was nearly intercepted. The next play, Patterson was sacked for a 16-yard loss, forcing the punt.
After Notre Dame went three and out, the Wolverines moved to the Irish 2-yard line when Patterson was sacked for an eight-yard loss. His pass to Zach Gentry in the end zone was broken up by Alohi Gilman, and the Wolverines settled for a 28-yard field goal by Nordin to get Michigan on the board, 14-3.
The Irish built a 21-3 lead on a 75-yard, 15-play drive that used 7:37 of the clock. The drive was extended by a Michigan holding on third down and the Irish converted on a fourth-down-and-one. The Wolverines also had a roughing the passer penalty.
Special teams gave the Wolverines a pulse in the second quarter when Thomas, considered the fastest player on the team, went 99 yards for a touchdown, drawing Michigan within, 21-10. It was Michigan’s first kickoff returned for a touchdown since Jehu Chesson in 2015.