Sunday, September 13, 2009


Pretty much everything I feared could happen in the Michigan-Notre Dame game actually did. To summarize:
  • Notre Dame ran for over five yards per carry.
  • Boubacar Cissoko was completely dominated by Michael Floyd.
  • UM's defensive line got absolutely no pressure on Jimmy Clausen.
  • Tate Forcier threw a costly interception.
  • Brandon Minor's lingering ankle injury caused him to be held out for significant chunks of the game.
  • Notre Dame had an answer (several answers, actually) for Michigan's zone-read plays.
I assumed before the game that just about any one of those things would have resulted in a Michigan loss, and they all happened. None of it mattered, though, because of this:

I've spent the last 36 hours or so just letting it all soak in and trying to figure out what to say, and I still don't know. I just can't talk coherently about the game as a whole when there were so many momentum shifts and crazy plays, so I'm gonna break this post into bullet points to try to make it as readable as possible. Here we go ...

* Notre Dame is the better team and probably should have won. As noted above, the Irish did whatever they wanted on offense, and if not for a couple of costly penalties and unfortunate injuries (more about those momentarily), ND would be 2-0 right now.

* The difference in the game, in my opinion, was the incredibly untimely injuries of Armando Allen and Michael Floyd. Allen had been slicing through Michigan's D-line all day, and if he'd been available on the final drive, a couple running plays and a first down would have wrapped things up. As for Floyd ... well, he made Cissoko -- a former top-100 recruit -- look like a scout-teamer. The third-down play with about 2:30 left in the game, where freshman Shaquelle Evans was late turning to the ball on a deep out on third-and-10, was an easy completion all day with Floyd in the game.

* Tate Forcier has balls the size of my head and is everything he was advertised to be in spring practice. I've never seen a freshman with such an incredible understanding of what to do with the football (both throwing and running), and his accuracy is just ridiculous. The third-down TD pass to Kevin Koger with two defenders in his face, the juke move that led to a 31-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-3, the terrifyingly improvisational throw to LaTerryal Savoy that resulted in a first down at the Notre Dame 4-yard line with 22 seconds left, the ice-water-in-his-veins throw to Greg Mathews for the game-winner ... I could go on all day. The kid is a fucking player.

* I didn't think there was anything particularly controversial while watching live, but apparently there's been quite an outcry from the Notre Dame fans about the supposedly horrific officiating. Of the main complaints, though, I don't think any are justified.
  • The clock going from 11 seconds to 9 seconds before the final play? That was 100% correct, as the replay clearly showed that Theo Riddick deflected the ball before it rolled into the endzone. If anything, a little more time should have run off. This was thoroughly explained in the postgame wrap-up.
  • The holding calls? I'd be happy to point out a half-dozen missed ones, particularly when Craig Roh had his shoulder pad ripped out of his jersey on Notre Dame's crucial first-down pickup on a 13-yard run by Allen with three minutes to play.
  • The overturned touchdown in the first quarter? I honestly thought from the replay that Allen stepped out of bounds, but I wasn't sure if it was definitive enough to overturn. I suppose you could complain that the officials didn't have "indisputable evidence," but they got the call right (I can now say that without hesitation, because the Notre Dame television station actually captured a great screen shot of Allen's foot going out of bounds).
The only call I can understand being upset about was the officials' decision on the game's final play to let the clock run out. It looked to me like Golden Tate was down when he lost the ball, so there probably should have been a second left on the clock, which would have given the Irish the opportunity to take their last timeout and set up a Hail Mary.

* Throwing the ball twice with under three minutes left might not have been the safe call, but I believe it was the right one. A running play on second down might have made the third-down play a little more manageable, but with Allen out of the game and Clausen absolutely picking apart Michigan's secondary (outside of Donovan Warren, who had an outstanding game), passing in that situation was ND's best bet at a game-clinching first down. The only thing I question is throwing a bomb on second down. It didn't matter in that situation whether the Irish got 10 yards or 40 yards -- the first down was all that mattered -- so the 15-yard out pattern to Golden Tate that was open all day probably would have been the way to go.

* Forcier's interception in the fourth quarter wasn't a "freshman mistake" -- Mathews, a senior and three-year starter, clearly was unsure about his pattern there, as he didn't even turn to look for the ball until it was zipping past him into Kyle McCarthy's waiting arms. Mathews even acknowledged his mistake after the game, so it was pretty sweet that Savoy's drop with 16 seconds left (which nearly caused my heart to explode) gave him the opportunity to go from goat to hero in one of the last big home games of his career.

* Notre Dame will win 10 games this year. There isn't a better receiving tandem in the country than Floyd and Tate, and nobody except USC will have any chance at covering both of those guys. The offensive line was also way better than I expected, containing -- and occasionally holding -- a dominant pass-rushing defensive end (Brandon Graham) and an extremely talented young defensive tackle (Mike Martin) while creating holes all over the place in the running game, which has been this offense's biggest weakness since Charlie Weis took over.

* Rich Rodriguez must feel like a million bucks right now, and rightfully so. For everyone who's been defending him over the last 13 months, this was justification of what we know is possible from the Rodriguez offense when you have (1) a quarterback and (2) players who have some idea of what they're doing. Despite some inconsistency from the running game -- mostly due to mediocre play on the offensive line -- and the absence of Junior Hemingway, who is probably the team's best all-around receiver, UM put up 430 yards and 38 points against a solid Notre Dame defense. It's not exactly USC's circa 2008, but it's not Western Michigan's, either. And considering that Michigan loses only four offensive starters (Mathews, Minor, guard David Moosman and tackle Mark Ortmann) to graduation, things are only gonna get better.

* I'm not completely throwing away my original expectation of 7-5 this year, but to say I'm more optimistic than I was two weeks ago would be a hell of an understatement. One of the hardest lessons I learned from last season was to keep my expectations in check and not take anything for granted, but I haven't been this excited about the future of Michigan football in a long time -- and if feels amazing.

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