Recapping the top moments from college football’s Week 1 action, which include Maryland’s upset of Texas and how Ohio State fared without coach Urban Meyer.
SOUTH BEND — Brandon Wimbush was good enough at quarterback. Greatness was not required.
That was the role played by Notre Dame’s defense.
Wimbush guided the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish to three first-half touchdowns, and the defense kept No. 14 Michigan out of the end zone until nearly two minutes were left in a season-opening 24-17 victory Saturday night.
Michigan, which once trailed by 18 points, pulled within seven 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 Khalid Kareem 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.
Wimbush was better than statistics reflected, but his numbers were more than adequate: 12-of-22 passing for 170 yards and one touchdown — a 43-yard throw to Chris Finke — and 19 rushes for 59 yards. He accounted for 229 of Notre Dame’s 302 yards.
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Jafar Armstrong, a redshirt freshman making his Notre Dame debut, scored on runs of 13 and 4 yards.
The Irish would not have been threatened at the end if not for allowing Ambry Thomas’ 99-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. That touchdown rimmed the Notre Dame lead to 21-10.
The loss was the Wolverines’ 17th in a row against top 25 opponents on the road, dating to November 2006. Coach Jim Harbaugh fell to 28-12 in four seasons plus one game at Michigan. Against rivals Ohio State and Notre Dame, plus bowl opponents, he is 1-6.
Three reasons Notre Dame won:
A new and improved Wimbush
Wimbush left. Wimbush right. Wimbush up the middle. Wimbush drop back.
Notre Dame’s game plan was not quite that simple … but nearly so.
Of Wimbush’s first five completions, four went for 16, 28, 26 and 43 yards. He repeatedly kept drives alive with his arm or his feet. He had one pass intercepted on an ill-advised attempt, but he was otherwise as secure with the ball as he was dynamic.
Irish defense rises up
Michigan retained most of the defense that ranked No. 3 in the nation last year, but it was Notre Dame’s defense that proved dominant.
Michigan has not exactly had elite quarterback play under Harbaugh, but this defeat was not Patterson’s fault. There was little Patterson could do except throw underneath. Blocking would not allow deeper throws.
Patterson was 9-of-12 in the first half for 62 yards. Michigan managed 28 rushing yards on 15 attempts, although that net was affected by two sacks costing 24 yards.
In modern college football, it is rare for a top 15 team to be limited as Michigan was in the first half: 90 yards on 27 plays.
Notre Dame linebacker Te’von Coney finished with 10 tackles, two quarterback hurries and the final recovered fumble. He said before the season he wanted to be a difference-maker, and he was.
To open the second half, Michigan reached the Notre Dame 16 but was rebuffed and ended up with 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 after Michigan replaced Patterson with Dylan McCaffrey. Patterson received medical treatment on the sideline but later returned.
Even Notre Dame punter Tyler Newsome got into the act to start the fourth quarter, booming a 57-yard punt that pinned Michigan back on its own 4.
Michigan’s defensive blunders
The Wolverines might have limited Notre Dame to one first-half touchdown if not for three major defensive blunders.
Defensive back Josh Metellus collided with Notre Dame tight end Alize Mack, whose 26-yard catch on third-and-9 became 15 yards longer. The contact was ruled targeting, and Metellus was ejected. Once nearly at midfield, the Irish scored three players later.
Wimbush went long to Finke, who out-fought defenders in the end zone for a 43-yard score. That sent Notre Dame ahead 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
In the second quarter, a holding penalty on what would have been a third-down incompletion allowed the Irish to retain possession at the Michigan 35. Notre Dame would not have scored a TD on that series, either, except for the late hit by Michigan defensive end Chris Winovich after another apparent third-down incompletion.
Instead of attempting a field goal, the Irish had first-and-goal at the 4. Armstrong took a handoff from Ian Book on the next play and scored his second touchdown, expanding Notre Dame’s lead to 21-3.
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