Defense, Wimbush Key Irish Win

Notre Dame’s defensive players remained silent the past few days while the pundits hyped the greatness of Michigan’s defense. On Saturday, their performance showed the college football world that they are even better. The Irish suffocated Jim Harbaugh’s revamped offense for 58 minutes and rose to the occasion during the final moments when matters became tense to preserve a 24-17 victory in the opener for both teams.

Brandon Wimbush led a first half blitzkrieg that staked the hosts to 21 first half points, and made the plays necessary to set up a third quarter field goal that provided a 14-point cushion for the defense to work with down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Wolverine offense misfired on several critical plays during an attempted second half comeback as Notre Dame refused to buckle. Two fourth down passes by Shea Patterson in Irish territory fell incomplete, and the final drive ended when tackle Jerry Tillery separated Patterson from the ball and linebacker Tevonn Coney scooped it up to turn out the lights on Michigan.

In what was billed as a defensive slugfest, Notre Dame started fast to stun the Wolverines. Wimbush hit Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool with sharp passes before Jafar Armstrong burst up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown just 1:25 into the contest. On the next series, Michigan safety Josh Metellus was ejected for a nasty hit on Alize Mack and the resultant penalty gave Notre Dame a fresh set of downs. Wimbush then fired a deep strike to Chris Finke, who took the ball away from a Wolverine defender in the end zone for a 43-yard score at the 7:09 mark.

After a Michigan field goal early in the second period, Armstrong capped a long drive with a four yard touchdown that stretched the Irish advantage to 21-3 late in the half. Unfortunately, Notre Dame suffered yet another special teams letdown in the Brian Kelly era as Ambry Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff for a 99-yard score to make it 21-10 at intermission.

The Wolverine defense asserted itself in the third quarter, but the offense could not get out of its own way or Notre Dame’s way. Successive drives ended in a botched field goal attempt, a failed fourth down pass, a punt, an interception by Julian Okwara, and another fourth down incompletion. Wimbush set up the only third quarter points with a brilliant 22-yard quarterback draw on a third and 18 play. Justin Yoon came on to drill a 48-yarder for a 24-10 margin.

Michigan broke through with its only offensive touchdown with 2:18 remaining in the game on a three yard run by Karan Higdon. Although the Wolverines got the ball back after an Irish three and out, Tillery and Coney made sure they did not get very far. The defensive performance was a testament to the depth of the squad, as the starters were able to remain fresh despite very warm and humid conditions that took a toll on a number of players from both teams.

Winning a high stakes opener of this magnitude will provide a tremendous lift to Notre Dame and generate excitement for the season ahead. There are several areas where improvement can be realized, however, not the least of which are kick coverage and returns. The offensive line battled against a tough opponent but was beaten badly on several occasions at the point of attack and in pass protection. Tackly Robert Hainsey tried to play with a nagging leg injury, but had a rough time of it before coming off the field in the second half. Hopefully he will return to full strength soon.

Let’s review the answers to the pregame questions:

Which team will gain the most points off turnovers? No points were scored following the lone interception thrown by each quarterback, but Patterson’s fumble at the end sealed the final result.

Which offensive line will be able to generate a respectable running game? Notre Dame outrushed Michigan by 132-58, with Wimbush leading the way for the Irish.

Can either Wimbush or Patterson complete 60% of their passes? Patterson was 20 for 30, but they were predominantly short tosses and the key throws fell harmlessly to the ground. Wimbush was 12 of 22 but had higher impact completions.

Which secondary will live up to its high expectations? The Irish were more solid, allowing one big play that did not lead to a score. Michigan was shaky in the first half and took a few cheap shots.

Which defense will generate significant pressure on the passer? Both groups exerted considerable pressure, although Wimbush fared better due to his elite escapability.

Will any freshmen have a measurable impact on the outcome? Not really. This was a big boy game and the freshmen will have to wait for their chance.

Who will win the battle between the talented field goal kickers? Both kickers looked strong in converting their lone opportunity. Michigan’s Nordin watched as a second chance was fumbled by holder Will Hart.

Which head coach will have the worst post-game press conference? Kelly’s was filled with coachspeak and cliches, but it had to have been more intelligible than Harbaugh’s attempt to explain his horrific offense.

Next on the schedule for the Irish is Ball State, which should allow Kelly to utilize his bench and test a few freshmen. Buckle up, this could be an interesting ride if the team can find a running game and keep Wimbush from taking too many vicious hits.

13 thoughts on “Defense, Wimbush Key Irish Win

  1. Wimbush still appears to be the achilles heel. He puts the ball up on long passes for grabs. Lucky in the 1st half.
    not so lucky in the 2nd half.

    Passing game must improve if Irish have a chance against Stanford, V. Tech, and Florida State. Consider starting
    Ian Book – better passer than W. and a decent runner. I like Wimbush – he simply appears to lack the passing
    skills needed/ Also, to be fair, W. didn’t get adequate protection in 2nd half/ Irish made no offensive adjustments
    while Michigan did. – coaching issue. Michigan took away QB run in 2nd half/ if W. stays as QB, I think
    the option should be a staple of his game because it is hard to defend w/ a fast QB. Offensive line unable to get
    a 1st down when we need it on the ground – same problem last year

    Defense – greatly improved over 2017 against a pretty decent Michigan offense

    Summary: best team won the game/ However, Irish O needs a lot of work

    • We MUST keep WImbush as the QB. His “escapability” was the thing that saved the offense since the OL was poor (although, against a great DL). Book is a good QB, but no one would have had time to throw in the second half, so at least Wimbush gave us a chance with his running.

      • Michigan had five players listed in a 100 best CFB players and ND had none. Even with two outstanding Michigan DEs, the offensive line held its own. A good performance considering the conservative approach during the second half. A good move to not unnecessarily show all your weaponscearly in the year.

    • Right tackle Robert Hainsey is trying to play through a bothersome leg injury, and that probably won’t be 100% for a while if at all this season. The rest of the guys should be okay.

  2. First half offense was vigorous but in the second half it looked like it was reverting to that old Kelly thing of looking to the sideline. Kelly said he’d get out of the players’ way in a game but that just lasted for one half. Here’s hoping it’s not back to blandness and enervation from being overly controlled by the coaches.

  3. Sorry, but I agree with the posters and espn journalists that still have serious doubts about Wimbush. There was a interception throw into double coverage in the end zone that Chris Finke somehow stole and an earlier one that I think it was Boykin that stole it away. A bunch of misses to open receivers too. So despite the fact that he is a little better in stepping into the pocket I didn’t see the major improvement that Kelly talked about. He must give Book some quality playing time in the next few easier games.

    On the other hand the defense was greatly improved but it remains to be seen how good Michigan really was and I don’t see any major tests until Stanford. But a win whose final score did not reflect how easily the Irish handled the Wolverines. There is hope, but hold the kool aid for a bit.

    • Agreed, still concerned about QB position. Saw multiple times in the pocket where he had time to set himself, but instead threw off his back foot.

  4. Solid win for the opening day! I don’t know if I have to much to add with my dopey comments:
    1. Hats off to ND for scheduling a competitive opener. Unlike the majority who schedule cupcakes, this was the earliest of tests. Bravo.
    2. As mentioned in the game summary, the defense receives an A+ for their game preparation, physical fitness, and aggressive play.
    3. Special teams gets a B-. But I will say that Justin Yoon is money! The punting game, not so much. And of course, the kickoff return, with it’s share of arm tackling was a real momentum breaker. This remains an area of ongoing attention for the staff.
    4. I don’t know what I can add regarding the offense. We were all excited about the fast start, however they certainly let down in the 2nd half. Wimbush is an exceptional athlete and perhaps the best back the Irish have, but he certainly is not an effective passer. Despite a great arm, he remains highly inaccurate and is nervous in the service (the pocket). The offensive line was in an all out war with an impressive Michigan group and was handled on occasion, especially on the ends, but they are a work in progress and will surely improve. The receiving corp appears talented and could do some major damage to opponents if Wimbush could only get them the ball. I like to think that Wimbush is on a short leash with plenty of talent in the wings, but it remains to be seen if Kelly would sit him down in favor of Book. I believe Ian is a much better qb despite not having the same level of athletic prowess.

    Overall, a good start to another exciting season. GO IRISH!

  5. great game, thus is the best game atmosphere since3 the hot era. I have been going since Are was a coach and really after about 96 there has been no game/ stadium atmosphere like that. We had a real home filed advantage. Thank God for the Jumbotron, piped in noise and game day activities. Really great.
    Defense looked great. Offensive game plan was average. In the first half when they crowded the box and only had one safety throwing deep outside was perfect and if there was no interference then we completed the pass. When they adjusted in the second half we still thew deep. I get that BQ has some issues but how about some throws to the TE or hitting the receivers oner the middle. we ran deep patterns and screens all night.
    As for special teams–well that is a real joke. Kelly just doesn’t care. yes JY was good but why until he kicked off we were worse than good high school teams. The filed goal Michigan got was a result of a TN bad punt that gave them filed position at the 40. It was amazing to me that with one offensive score they were still in the game until the fumble with less than a minute left. that is 100% the fault of the special teams. It will cost us down the line in a big game.
    With that said it was a great win for ND

  6. Frankly, I think the thing that helped ND win the most was running through smoke coming out of the tunnel. When I saw that I just sat back knowing a win was all but guaranteed. They’re definitely going to need some tunnel smoke when Stanford comes to town, so with three home games in Sept. I hope they don’t run out.

    There’s good things and not so good things about this win. The o-line got blown up a few too many times but it’s the first game against what could be the top defensive unit in the nation by end of the year. No, ND didn’t dominate but they did make plays when it counted and had fewer miscues than the skunk bears.

    At the end of the fourth quarter I feared that they might snatch defeat from the jaws of victory again but they made key plays to preserve the win. I hope Kelly and the team have finally turned the corner.

  7. The first half shows that ND is a well-coached and well-prepared team. (Please keep reading; I promise this is NOT a troll.) Opening games between well-matched opponents most often turn on which coaching staff has their units game-ready, particularly the defense. Reasonable minds can differ about how much Coach Kelly had to do with this, but Clark Lea and Chip Long clearly had the defense and offense firing on all cylinders right from the start. Michigan’s defense didn’t wake up until the second half. Compare the Washington Husky’s performance against Auburn; it’s hard to win a game when you spot the other team two scores right out of the gate.

    For discussion: would we still have won if we played Michigan in the second game of the season? I think our defense would have been just as good, but I’m afraid our offense might have looked a lot like it did the second half, except for the whole game.

  8. Wimbush is not the QB to win at ND but Kelly won’t change. Fire Kelly, Please!!! The O line is slow and weak. RBs are very bad. Defense is good. Only bright spot.