Michigan viper Khaleke Hudson says "self-inflicted wounds" hurt the Wolverines against Notre Dame. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — The Michigan defensive players know the first half against Notre Dame was not their shining moment after allowing three Irish scores their first four possessions. But they’re hanging on to the fact that they recovered well in the second half as they prepare for the next game.
In the Wolverines’ season-opening loss at Notre Dame, the defense — the clear strength of the team — made a number of what end Rashan Gary called “stupid mistakes," was porous on third down, and incurred penalties that extended drives and led to scoring opportunities.
In the second half, however, they held the Irish to 69 yards and three points.
Michigan is preparing this week to face Western Michigan in the opener Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
“Talking about the first half, I feel that we hurt ourselves more than they hurt us,” Gary said Monday. “As you can see in the second half, once we got settled in and started rolling it was the Michigan football we needed. But it was too late by that time.
“The only thing I can really say is we hurt ourselves. Only two, three, maybe four plays can maybe hurt you at the end of the game, and that’s really what it came down to, and that’s just us hurting ourselves.”
A critical moment that illustrates that point was Josh Metellus’ ejection for targeting on third-and-9 to keep alive Notre Dame’s second scoring drive.
“Just self-inflicted wounds we feel is the reason why we lost,” viper Khaleke Hudson said. “Big third-down penalties and just a lot of stuff we usually do right, (we did) wrong.
“Just stupid penalties. We had the pass interference calls and some late-hit calls, just small thing things that hurt us in the long run.”
Michigan’s defense played more inspired in the second half. Brandon Watson had a third-quarter interception and after giving up critical third-down conversions in the first half, the Wolverines stuffed Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush for no gain on third and 16 at the Michigan 31 and forced the field goal.
After one game, Michigan’s defense ranked No. 3 after last season, is No. 42 nationally (302 yards) and 94th in third-down percentage defense.
But the players said that corrections are being made as directed by defensive coordinator Don Brown.
“Everything that happened was on us,” Gary said. “(Brown) said what we needed to do (in the second half) so everybody had to settle in, calm down and play football. He wasn’t mad about it. Looking back,at the game, (things are) easily fixed. Everything happened because of mistakes we made.
“Coach Don Brown is focused on Week 2. What we did is in the past. He’s not upset about it. He knows corrections that need to be fixed. Nothing is going to change the way Michigan flies to the ball, Michigan plays defense. We just have to make sure we control ourselves.”
The Wolverines are big favorites over Western Michigan.
“It’s a must-win,” Gary said. “We’re going to be in the film room extra hard this week and we’re going to practice extra hard than we did last time. What we did last week obviously didn’t give us the outcome that we wanted so we’ve got to keep pushing and keep going.”
Thomas to offense?
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t exactly rule out the possibility of cornerback/kick returner Ambry Thomas could play on offense, as well.
“I think we could (move him),” Harbaugh said Monday. “Consider all things.”
Thomas gave the Wolverines their first touchdown in the 24-17 loss to Notre Dame with a 99-yard kickoff return late in the first half. Running back Karan Higdon during Big Ten media days said Thomas is the fastest player on the team.
Receiver Nico Collins was asked Monday if there’s anyone on the team who can keep up with Thomas.
“Nobody,” Collins said, smiling. “He’s fast. There are guys who compare, but Ambry is different. He’s a fast dude.”
Brenda Tracy, a gang rape survivor and founder of #SetTheExpection who speaks across the country — she spoke to the Michigan football team before camp began — will be the honorary captain before Saturday’s home opener.
Tracy thanked Harbaugh and Michigan via Twitter on Tuesday for her selection.
Tight end SeanMcKeon on the bus-ride home from South Bend, and how the team will rebound from the loss: “Obviously a three-hour bus ride after a loss isn’t very fun. Just something you’ve got to take a nap, think about the game, think about what you could’ve done better to help the team win. I think our team is focused. We’re focused. We put the game behind us. We’re going to learn from our mistakes and we’re going to do better.”