Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly addresses the media following the Irish’s big win over Michigan.
David Woods, [email protected]
SOUTH BEND – If Notre Dame is to be a genuine contender for college football’s national championship, it must follow a template that is more 1960s or ‘70s than 21st century:
Pound the lines of scrimmage. Dominate on defense. Get crisp quarterback play. Limit errors.
That is what the No. 11 Fighting Irish did in an opening 24-17 victory over No. 14 Michigan on Saturday night. That is what they must continue to do.
Doyel: ND gets more special than silly from Brandon Wimbush in win over Michigan
“It’s a good win. But it’s just one win on our way to a national championship,” defensive end Khalid Kareem said.
In an era in which teams score in the 40s and average 500 or more yards, this game was not that. This Notre Dame team is not that. This quarterback, Brandon Wimbush, is not that.
What the Irish are will be determined over the next three months . . . and maybe longer. But perhaps no opponent the rest of the way will feature a defense as strong as Michigan’s, and every Notre Dame opponent will be uneasy about preparing for Wimbush.
As Irish coach Brian Kelly put it:
“When you feel really good about the physicality of your football team, the offensive line and defensive line, your quarterback is a spark . . . and on the perimeter, we won some 50/50 battles, that’s a pretty good football team. So, I think we’ve got a pretty good team.”
Wimbush led Notre Dame to three first-half touchdowns and was often unstoppable on third down, either with his arm or his feet. He was better than statistics reflected, although his final numbers were adequate:
He was 12-of-22 passing for 170 yards and one touchdown, 19 attempts for 59 yards rushing. So he accounted for 229 of Notre Dame’s 302 yards.
After he was replaced by Ian Book during a Citrus Bowl victory over LSU, he endured an offseason of scrutiny. He acknowledged it had been “a long time coming” since eight months ago.
“I think I made a statement, but I don’t think it was a necessary. That’s not what I was trying to go out here and do,” Wimbush said. “I told Book, ‘Whoever, whenever, whatever it takes, we’re going to get this W.’ Him and I are on the same team and that’s one of my best friends on the team.
“We had packages in for him, and we had packages in for me. And I think I did what I had to do to keep myself on the field, and that’s all I really wanted to do.”
Michigan, which once trailed 21-3, pulled within 24-17 on Karan Higdon’s 3-yard touchdown run with 2:18 left. The Wolverines had possession at their own 25 with 1:48 left, but Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery stripped the ball from quarterback Shea Patterson to secure the victory.
In four years of the College Football Playoff, none of the final four has been selected with more than one loss. So even though the calendar said Sept. 1, this game had January ramifications.
This was the Wolverines’ fourth successive loss, their longest such streak since 2009. Against rivals Ohio State and Notre Dame, plus bowl opponents, coach Jim Harbaugh is 1-6.
“It’s a beginning for us. We’re not treating it like the end,” Harbaugh said.
If it was deflating to Michigan, it was reinforcing to a Notre Dame program that was 10-3 last season.
The Irish QB led Notre Dame to a big win over the Wolverines on Saturday night.
David Woods, [email protected]
The Irish lost two top-10 NFL draft picks, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, from their offensive line. They barely felt it. The defense limited Michigan to 58 rushing yards (in 33 attempts) and had three sacks among seven tackles for loss. A breakdown in coverage resulted in a 99-yard kickoff return, but the Irish had just one turnover and four penalties.
Patterson, a transfer from Mississippi, may yet prove to be Harbaugh’s best quarterback at Michigan. Patterson’s numbers – 22-of-30 for 227 yards – look better on the stat sheet than on the scoreboard. Notre Dame’s defense kept Michigan out of the end zone for nearly 58 minutes.
Did such futility get to the Wolverines?
“You saw it in their body language out there,” Kareem said. “They’re kind of defeated.”
To open the second half, Michigan reached the Notre Dame 16 but got nothing after a fumbled hold on a field goal attempt. The Irish held again on the next possession, stopping Michigan on fourth-and-5 from the Notre Dame 45. In the fourth quarter, the Irish held on fourth-and-7 from the Notre Dame 44.
Notre Dame linebacker Te’von Coney had 10 tackles, two hurries and the final recovered fumble. He announced before the season he wanted to be a difference-maker, and he was.
So was Wimbush.
Of his first five completions, four went for 16, 28, 26 and 43 yards – the latter to 5-9 roommate Chris Finke for a touchdown. Wimbush said the Irish repeatedly practiced a script of opening plays, and that long throw was one. On the Irish’s lone second-half scoring drive, he kept it alive with a 22-yard run on third-and-18.
“I thought he played with an edge to him, a confidence,” said Kelly, who awarded the quarterback the game ball. “He really had an energy to him, which brought the group with him.”
It was a group needing a leader.
These were the first starts for players like Kareem; for Jafar Armstrong, who had touchdown runs of 13 and 4 yards, for offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg, and for linebacker Asmar Bilal of Ben Davis High School.
It was a good start for Notre Dame.
Email IndyStar reporter David Woods at [email protected] or call (317) 444-6195. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.