Angelique Chengelis and Bob Wojnowski discuss Michigan's triumph over Notre Dame. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — For a team that has been knocked around this season by media and, at times, on the field, Michigan needed that coveted “signature" win.
The Wolverines got that Saturday night in rainy, windy conditions at Michigan Stadium in their last meeting with Notre Dame until 2033. The 19th-ranked Wolverines, who entered the game 1-10 against top-10 teams under coach Jim Harbaugh, had their most complete game of the season, upsetting the No. 8 Irish, 45-14.
Michigan improves to 6-2, while Notre Dame is 5-2.
“I just thought we needed to come out from start to finish and just play the way we know how to play,” Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson said, downplaying whether the Wolverines needed a statement win after losing two games this season. “I think that was kind of the first time on all cylinders we played our best game, and when we do that we’re really tough to beat.”
The Wolverines said they found their offensive rhythm in the second half at Penn State last week during a comeback that came up just short. They looked like they picked up where they left off, while the defense overwhelmed the Irish.
Patterson was 6-of-12 for 100 yards and two touchdowns, to Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins. Mike Sainristil also had a touchdown reception in the fourth quarter from backup Dylan McCaffrey.
Michigan relied on the run game early because of the nasty weather conditions. Hassan Haskins had 149 yards on 20 carries and Zach Charbonnet had 74 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. Tru Wilson also had a rushing touchdown.
Notre Dame entered the game ranked 30th nationally in total offense averaging 451 yards a game and 13th in scoring, averaging 39.2 points, but Michigan’s defense — led by linebacker Cam McGrone’s 12 tackles — gave the Irish no room. Starting quarterback Ian Book was 8-of-25 for 73 yards and had one touchdown, and the Irish finished with 180 total yards, including 47 rushing. They were averaging 189 rushing yards entering this game.
The Wolverines last held a team under 50 yards rushing earlier this season against Iowa, which was credited with 1 yard. Over the last five games, Michigan has held its opponents to under 65 rushing yards four times. Penn State, in its 28-21 victory last Saturday, rushed for 101.
Notre Dame scored two second-half touchdowns, the first on a drive extended by a questionable pass interference call, the second coming with 3:45 left.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh respects the fight and resilience his team has had this season. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“I knew what this defense is capable of,” said safety Josh Metellus, who had four tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. “I feel like we capable of shutting anybody out. If we execute at the right time, and everybody is locked in, doing their job, we can shut anybody out in the country. We start slow, once we pick it up, it’s hard to stop us. Once we started fast in that first quarter and we didn’t give up any first-quarter points, I knew the defense was going to be able to hold on the rest of the game.”
Expectations were high for the Wolverines heading into the season and they were picked by many media outlets to be the favorite to win the Big Ten East Division and perhaps the championship. But a 35-14 loss at Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener, after falling behind 35-0, was an enormous setback, and then, after spotting Penn State a 21-0 lead, Michigan came back but dropped the tying score on fourth down in a 28-21 loss a week ago.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh focused on his team’s resiliency in his postgame comments.
“The character and the effort of the whole team, just have so much respect for the players, some of the recent tests and the growth that’s come from that, and their mindset to work and improve and also led to a great victory,” Harbaugh said.
He credited an all-around team performance, starting with the defense.
“We’re just so fast,” Harbaugh said. “We’re running so good and the knockback in the defensive line was outstanding, really good coverage. (Defensive coordinator) Don Brown called a great game. He really had it wired. Can’t say enough about that. The offense, the same kind of production. And how about the elements? I think our guys had fun with it. Really relish playing in this game and great performances by so many.”
Michigan opened the second half with a 17-0 lead, but after dominating the first half with the run game in the rain and windy conditions, the Wolverines went three-and-out their first three possessions of the second half.
But the Wolverines would outscore Notre Dame 28-14 in the second half.
The Irish finally scored with 5:27 left in the third quarter but not without controversy. It appeared Brad Hawkins had intercepted Ian Book on a third-and-10 pass but Khaleke Hudson was called for pass interference, despite not appearing to have made any impact on the play. Commemorative towels that had been given to those in attendance, were thrown in into the corner of the end zone after Cole Kmet, caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Book.
The Wolverines immediately responded with a scoring drive that culminated with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Patterson to Peoples-Jones, giving Michigan the 24-7 lead. Haskins had a key 49-yard run up the middle and on third-and-11, and on an incompletion to Peoples-Jones in the end zone, Michigan benefited from a pass-interference call giving the Wolverines the ball at the 2-yard line. After a 6-yard loss from Patterson, he connected with Peoples-Jones for the score.
Notre Dame imploded its next possession with two false start penalties, and Michigan pounced. The Wolverines built a 31-7 lead when Patterson connected with Nico Collins for a 16-yard touchdown. On the play before, Patterson completed a 34-yard pass to Mike Sainristil.
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson praised the team for a solid game from start to finish. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Wilson added another score in the fourth quarter on a 27-yard run with 8:46 left. Backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey connected with Sainristil on a 26-yard touchdown with 4:23 left.
Michigan has four regular-season games remaining, including rivals Michigan State and Ohio State at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines go on the road next week to play Maryland. With the Big Ten race out of their control, the players last week said after losing to Penn State they still had much to play for.
That started with Notre Dame and why Harbaugh was so impressed by the performance.
“That’s why I have so much respect for our players. Just wonderful job by them,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve had some tests. They’ve taken some criticism. To have the mindset to keep working and keep growing, that leads to great victories and success like our players had tonight. That’s a great lesson for them, because not everybody can do that. That’s why I’m really proud for our team.”