With all the talk last week of rivalries and remembrances, Notre Dame’s final foray to The Big House, until we decide to go back, was one to forget. While the game had all the thrills and drama we’ve come to expect, it featured an ominous, and unexpected, impotence by the very unit upon which so must was built in 2012, and upon which so many hopes had been piled for 2013: the defense. In short, Diaco’s boys had few answers for a rampant Michigan signal-caller, whiffed on a couple of key tackles, and gave up game-killing penalties.
Devin Gardner, Michigan’s quarterback, gave Notre Dame fits over the course of a heroic performance. Running for 82 yards and a touchdown and passing for 294 yards and four touchdowns, Gardner kept drives and plays alive with his arm and his feet. His one poor decision on the night, in which he tried to save himself from a safety and ended up writing himself into Stephon Tuitt’s forever highlight reel, was rendered meaningless by back-to-back pass interference calls against the Irish on the following Michigan drive. Those two calls, which will stand out among the several missed and awful calls perpetrated by the ACC officiating crew, gave Michigan the ball on first and goal and a too-easy touchdown to put the game out of reach in the final minutes.
Notre Dame’s quarterback, Tommy Rees, never got hot. He completed twenty-nine of fifty-one passes for 314 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, both daggers at crucial moments in the game, one at the half and one at the bitter end. TJ Jones had another strong performance, catching nine passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. Troy Niklas had a terrific second-half, catching six passes and one for a score. Apparently, of his eight career catches, something like all of them are for TD’s. Amir Carlisle was the leading rusher, netting 64 yards, on a unit that didn’t get a lot going. Special teams, though, were better, if not markedly so, over last week and certainly last year. Kyle Bryndza was three-for-three on FG’s and both GAIII and TJ Jones had flashy returns.
But, it was ND’s defense that failed in this one. Thirty points should have been plenty. Diaco just didn’t have any answers for Michigan’s offense. Louis Nix was largely ineffective, never really harassing Gardner. The Irish secondary was terrible, blowing coverages and missing tackles, extending Wolverine drives. Tackling, overall, was pathetic, with short runs too often turning into long gains.
Long story short, this was a game the Irish could have won. They did just enough to keep us hoping all night and Stephon gave us a play for the ages, but Michigan was clearly the more ready and prepared, if not better, team last night.