Notre Dame-Michigan is always a big game. But when the two rivals haven’t played in five years, both are ranked in the top 15, are visited by College GameDay and meet in the first game of the season, the stakes are even higher.
The Irish fans donned their green shirts and packed into Notre Dame Stadium, creating a great home-field advantage.
“The fans did an amazing job,” senior wide receiver Chris Finke said postgame in an interview with Fighting Irish Media’s Tony Simeone. “We couldn’t do it without them ... best fans in the country.”
The game was predicted by many to be a defensive clash. Notre Dame and Michigan had two of the top defensive lines in the country, and many thought that rushing yards would come at a premium. The Irish were not intimidated and started scoring early and often. Sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong scored his first career touchdown in his first start just 1:25 into the game. On their next possession, the Irish scored on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Wimbush to Chris Finke.
Finke made a miraculous leaping catch, reaching over a Michigan defender to put the Irish up 14-0 early on.
“That’s a play we’d been working on all week in practice ... Brandon put up a beautiful ball,” Finke said.
After a few unsuccessful drives by both teams, Michigan finally kicked a field goal to make the score 14-3 with just over 10 minutes left in the second quarter. The Irish responded quickly, however, with another Armstrong rushing touchdown. This time it was only for four yards, but Armstrong made a great play to sneak in to the corner of the endzone and avoid multiple white jerseys.
This 21-3 lead did not last long as Michigan’s Ambry Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Both teams went into the locker room at halftime with Notre Dame leading 21-10 with plenty of football still left to play.
Both defenses proved why they were considered two of the best in the country in the second half. After several fruitless drives, the Irish scored their last points of the game off the foot of senior kicker Justin Yoon. Yoon kicked a 48-yard field goal with 4:59 left in the third quarter to put the Irish up 24-10.
Highlighted by junior defensive end Khalid Kareem’s nine tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, the Irish defense stifled Michigan’s offense led by transfer quarterback Shea Patterson. Kareem was named the FBS Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts. The defense did not allow an offensive touchdown until late in the fourth quarter when Michigan converted on a 3-yard rush to put the Wolverines within seven.
After a quick three-and-out by the Irish, Michigan regained possession with less than two minutes left and had a chance to tie the game. That’s when senior captain Jerry Tillery stripped the ball out of Patterson’s hands, sealing the Irish victory.
This was not only an important win for Notre Dame to move up in the rankings (now ranked No. 8 in AP poll), it also provides the team a lot of confidence going into the rest of the season for the team. For now, the team isn’t getting too far ahead of itself.
“We’re always pushing forward,” Finke said. “We always want blowouts so we’re going to work on trying to put the nail in the coffin a little sooner going forward.”