In football they say if you win the turnover battle, you win the game. That held true this weekend as Michigan turned the ball over an unprecedented six times, five of which were just plain bad decisions. Denard accounted for five, with four interceptions and a fumble. Vincent Smith threw the other pick on an ill-advised jump pass as Manti Te’o was bearing down on him with Michigan inside the 10. Notre Dame swapped out Everett Golson after he threw two picks and Tommy Rees led them to victory, while scoring the first rushing touchdown of his career. It ended up being the only TD of the game for either team.#11 Notre Dame 13 – #18 Michigan 6
Final Stats 6 Final Score 13 2-2 Record 4-0 299 Total Yards 239 161 Net Rushing Yards 94 138 Net Passing Yards 145 19 First Downs 14 6 Turnovers 2 5-38 Penalties – Yards 5-49 1-34 Punts – Yards 4-151 33:19 Time of Possession 26:41 8-for-15 Third Down Conversions 3-for-9 1-for-1 Fourth Down Conversions 0-for-0 0-0 Sacks By – Yards 3-21 2-for-3 Field Goals 2-for-2 0-for-0 PATs 1-for-1 2-for-5 Red Zone Scores – Chances 2-for-3
But it wasn’t just the turnovers that killed Michigan. Several penalties on third down, on both sides of the ball, either stopped Michigan drives or extended them for the Irish. Michigan looked out of sync most of the game and going forward it’s going to be tough to know what to expect from this team.
Michigan looked good to start the game as Denard got great protection and Devin Gardner made a pass on an end around that just missed fullback Joe Kerridge. A flag was thrown on the play, but Michigan couldn’t capitalize as Denard overthrew Roy Roundtree on third and long with the blitz in his face.
Notre Dame started on its own nine and wasted no time in turning the ball over on its first play. Raymon Taylor picked off an underthrown ball for Michigan’s first interception of 2012. Yes, their FIRST interception this season. After taking over at the ND 10, Michigan looked like they would go up 7-0 early on. After a pitch to Toussaint led to a short loss, Denard was sacked on both second and third downs leading to a 4th-and-goal from the 29-yard line. Brendan Gibbons came up wide on the field goal attempt and Michigan failed to score once inside the redzone for the first time this season. The Wolverines were 9-for-9 coming in.
Notre Dame failed to do much on its next drive and Michigan again looked poised to capitalize after marching from their own 11 all the way inside the Irish 10-yard line again. But on first-and-goal, Vincent Smith took the pitch and proceeded to throw a horrible ball as he jumped in the air while Manti Te’o was in his face. Another missed opportunity inside the 10-yard line.
Once again, Notre Dame could not do anything on offense and Michigan took over at their 34 thanks to a poor punt. After a false start and a short gainer on a screen to Gallon, Michigan was faced with 2nd-and-12. Denard stepped back and threw a strike, right to Manti Te’o. The replay looked as if he meant to throw Te’o the ball, as no Michigan receiver was anywhere close. Notre Dame did capitalize on this mistake with a 33-yard field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, Michigan was set up with good field position by Dennis Norfleet who took the kickoff two yards deep and got out to the 35. However, the excitement was short-lived as Denard again threw an interception, this time on the first play. Gardner was open on the play but Denard didn’t set his feet and the ball was badly overthrown. That is three straight interceptions, for those not keeping track at home.
Bad snaps, turnovers, and penalties doomed Michigan's chances (photo by Darron Cummings, AP)
Luckily for Michigan, Notre Dame wasn’t taking advantage of all their miscues. After taking over at the Michigan 39, Notre Dame looked like they’d strike but Golson was picked off in the endzone by Thomas Gordon. It was this throw that led Brian Kelly to yank Golson in favor of the veteran, Tommy Rees.
Down only 3-0 and with the ball again, despite three turnovers thus far, Michigan was still in good shape. Until Denard threw the fourth interception on another horrible pass. In Denard’s defense, he was under a lot of pressure, but he is a senior quarterback and should know better by now.
Notre Dame took the good field position and marched down the field, aided by a couple big passes to DaVaris Daniels and T.J. Jones. The Irish suffered a setback as they were flagged for an illegal shift and then a false start setting up 2nd-and-goal from the 11. Michigan held strong on second down, but true freshman Jarrod Wilson was flagged for pass interference on third. Rees took it in the next play for six. 10-0 Notre Dame.
Wilson was flagged for holding on the ensuing kick return and Denard threw another pick as time expired in the first half. This pick wasn’t costly as it was a last second heave down the field and those are hardly ever caught by your own team.
Despite the extremely atrocious play and several turnovers and otherwise missed opportunities and key penalties, Michigan was fortunate to only be down 10-0. Neither quarterback could get things going. Unfortunately for Michigan, they did not have a veteran QB to step in, since Denard IS their veteran QB. But they were down 10 at the half last year and Denard is always a threat to take it to the house on any play.
Notre Dame had left the door open at half, and after their first possession of the second half that door was open even more for Michigan to come back. And the Wolverines took advantage, marching right down the field…only to be turned away as Denard was stripped on a third down run in the redzone, Michigan’s sixth turnover of the game.
Last year, Michigan got all the bounces. This year, not so much (photo by Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)
Notre Dame again didn’t do much and Michigan got the ball at the 42, still in position to make this a game. Devin Funchess made his first catch of the game and Drew Dileo bailed out Denard on fourth down, getting low to grab another poorly thrown ball. But the drive stalled and they had to settle for a field goal. Still, only down seven with 13 minutes left against an Irish team that was not playing well either had Michigan fans seeing visions of the last three years of last second wins.
After the teams traded a pair of field goals, Michigan was looking to get one last stop and set up another epic come from behind fourth quarter drive. On 3rd-and-4 Michigan sent the blitz but Rees stood strong and hit Tyler Eifert for a huge, game winning, pass play. It was Eifert’s first catch of the game and it couldn’t have been bigger. After suffering three straight last second losses to a bitter rival the Irish finally got the better of their foes to the North.
It’s not that Notre Dame played that much better than Michigan but they made plays when they needed to, on both sides of the ball. It’s hard to win a game when you turn the ball over six times, have several untimely penalties and have to settle for field goals inside the redzone. The same could be said for Notre Dame last year, if it weren’t for all their turnovers and if a couple things went their way they might have won in 2011.
Regardless, the Irish won this game and they deserved to win. What does this mean for Michigan going forward? Poor play against Alabama was to be expected. Even struggling against the odd offense of Air Force can be overlooked. But a six turnover game against a team whose offense has been struggling and whose secondary was suspect at best brings up a lot of questions about Team 133. I haven’t lost faith in my Maize and Blue, and non-conference losses don’t hurt the main goal, but it does make me a bit uneasy as we look ahead to the Big Ten schedule.
Michigan has a week off before it heads on the road to face a tough Purdue team and then coming back home to take on Illinois. Neither of those teams will be walks in the park but Michigan had better get it together soon, because they face Michigan State and Nebraska in back to back weeks after the Illinois game. These next four games could potentially knock Michigan out of the Big Ten hunt. Or it could just as easily put them at the forefront.
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