Michigan: Five things we learned vs. Notre Dame

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush leaves a host of Michigan defenders in his wake, including linebacker Khaleke Hudson (7), Josh Ross (12), Brad Hawkins (20) and Tyree Kinnel (23).

Five takeaways from Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News following Michigan's 24-17 loss at Notre Dame on Saturday night.

'D' needed to set tone

And it didn’t. So much has been expected of the Michigan defense considering coordinator Don Brown delivered the nation’s top-ranked defense in 2016 and the No. 3 defense last season with the Wolverines. With a new starting quarterback in Shea Patterson, who had 10 starts at Ole Miss before transferring, and an under-construction offensive line, the defense needed to — and was expected to — set the tone from the very start. Instead, on the first drive, Michigan gave up a 16-yard completion to Chase Claypool to convert a third-and-10 and then had a holding call and personal foul. The Irish scored to go up 7-0 and built their lead to 14-0 on the next series on a critical third-and-9 when Josh Metellus was ejected from the game for targeting. A third-and-6 was converted with a 7-yard run by quarterback Brandon Wimbush and a play later the Irish scored again. Then later in the first half, a 15-play drive with three third-down conversions, including two by penalty, gave Notre Dame a 21-3 lead. To be fair, the defense did show up in the second half and held the Irish to 69 yards and three points. But until this offense ever figures out its identity, that’s the type of defensive performance that will be required.

More: Wojo: Wolverines weren't ready for Irish, and that's on Harbaugh

More: National analysts weigh in on Harbaugh, Michigan

Stay the course

The danger of a big season-opening game on the road against a ranked opponent is that so much can be read into it, win or lose. Frankly, Michigan fans were set up to read even more into it because the players — and coaches — had spoken so glowingly about improvement in the offseason. So the moral of the story is, be careful of the setup. If the promise of something really good seems too good to be true, you’re probably right. That’s what this feels like judging from the response from Michigan fans still waiting for the program to win its first big road game against a ranked opponent in the last 12 years. The players, however, issued the “remain calm” request after the loss. Remember, despite getting in an early hole, Michigan did have a chance to score to tie or go for the win, and yet, the Wolverines failed to finish. Again. And that made it feel a bit like "Groundhog Day." But consider what running back Karan Higdon had to say: “We played hard, we played all four quarters. We can’t let this game define us. This is only the beginning. We’ve got another game next week and we’ve got to get back to the drawing board.”

Special, not so special

There was some good and some ugly from Michigan’s special teams. First, the good — a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Ambry Thomas late in the first half that drew Michigan within 21-10. And then the bad — holder Will Hart dropped a good snap on a 34-yard field goal attempt that would have given Michigan three points on its opening drive of the second half. Patterson hit Nico Collins on a 52-yard pass on the first play to reach the Irish 28-yard line. The Wolverines settled for the field-goal attempt that never had a chance. Hart was dropped for an 11-yard loss. Hart handled the punting for Michigan and averaged 43.7 yards. His first punt of the game was downed at the Irish 4-yard line. Brad Robbins, who was expected to be the starting punter, had back surgery in August, Harbaugh said.

McCaffrey fills in nicely

With Brandon Peters sidelined because of an undisclosed knee issue, redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey entered the game in the fourth quarter when Patterson had to leave with leg cramps. McCaffrey went 4-for-6 passing for 22 yards. It was his first college action, but the moment did not look too big for him. “I thought Dylan played well,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I thought he showed some moxie there and ran the offense, made some good throws. Coming off the bench like that, I thought he acquitted himself well.” Peters was not on the field early when the quarterbacks went out to warm up. Harbaugh said Peters, who started late last season for the Wolverines, “tweaked” his knee during practice earlier last week on a roll out. He had not practiced since Tuesday and was not considered “100 percent.”

Meeting packs a punch

The teams played for the first time since 2014 and folks took notice. There were 80,795 at Notre Dame Stadium for the season opener and NBC on Sunday announced a 4.51 overnight rating, the best overnight of any college football game Saturday. It was the best rating for an NBC broadcast of Notre Dame since the Michigan-Notre Dame in 2006 earned the same rating.