Michigan-Notre Dame: A Second Look (Part Two)

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Thoughts on the second half after a second viewing.

Third Quarter:

- First thing's first, Michigan makes Notre Dame pay for sending the linebackers hard at run action as Gardner pulls and heads to the backside for a seven yard gain. What does that mean?

- A better hole for Toussaint on second down.

-Gardner is so scary when he pulls the ball down, and he has a really good use of a quick pump fake to keep defenders on their heels. Gardner uses this one to buy himself all sorts of space to get the first down.

- Michigan keeps chipping away with a few short plays, but a third down rush up the middle gets Gardner and forces a Michgian punt. Wile puts it at the ten where it is fair caught. That was nice placement. Just work on the nerves, son.

- Notre Dame goes quickly to the ground because Michigan is conceding all sorts of space in the middle of the field to play more pass coverage, and Amir Carlisle gets a nice first down. Michigan is giving up yards to Rees in the passing game, but the defense is right there for a tackle every time, and the windows are tight.. It was a trade off, but it worked.

- Big props to Joe Bolden for tying down Troy Niklas short of a first down and allowing backup to come. That's a 30 pound difference in size between Joe and the big tight end.

- Of course Niklas would get the last laugh. He had a very nice catch and run to get close to the end zone, and then he has the awareness to stay up through the tackle attempt. Someone show Jake Butt video of that.

- I'd like to thank the producers at ESPN for only going to that stupid overhead view once (that I can remember). Your Oscar is in the mail, I'm sure.

- Gardner gets lucky after rocketing one off Jaylon Smith. There really wasn't a lane there and he avoided a big swing. Michigan also got whistled for a hold on Schofield which was kinda weak.

- Michigan calls the QB draw on third-and-eight and Gardner picks it up. Musberger calls him "Robinson" which isn't that far off.

- What is far off, at least from what Robinson was capable of, is Gardner's next throw, a near-prefect throw 35 yards down the field to a tightly covered Jeremy Gallon running a post route. Gardner hits him in stride and puts the ball low and in front so that only Gallon can get it.

/swoons

Here is the video from MGoBlog, because you have to see it to believe it:

- Toussaint picks up a could good gains on runs to get Michigan inside the 15.

- This is close enough for the quick waggle that sends Gallon through the backfield where he can turn it upfield and make it past a tackler for a really nice dive to the corner of the endzone. These two are really, really fun to watch play pitch and catch.

- Atkinson III brings the kickoff out to the 50. Michigan's special teams really must not like Michigan's defense.

- Given the holes that the running backs for Notre Dame are getting to open up the second level, it is impressive how quickly the rest of the defense is closing in. Notre Dame's long runs of the day were 16 and 14 yards. That's a solid day's work from linebackers forced to play in space and help in pass coverage.

- Rees stands in as Wilson comes at his front side on a blitz. The quarterback coolly dumps it off for a completion in tight coverage. There aren't a whole lot of quarterbacks that are going to be able to make this play, at least there aren't many on Michigan's remaining schedule. A few plays later Ross comes hard and Rees puts it right in the pocket Ross left, giving TJ Jones a chance to get it a few inches away from the first down.

The third quarter ends with Michigan still up 14 and holding Notre Dame just outside the red zone. What could possibly go wrong?

Fourth Quarter:

- A false start pushes Notre Dame back, and a big push from Ondre Pipkins up the middle flushes Rees out of the pocket and forces him to throw it away. Of course, with Michigan starting to get some pressure with the line and dropping everyone else in coverage, Notre Dame tosses a quick screen to Niklas that nearly gets the first down.

- But wait, Raymon Taylor beats a block from Niklas and blows a quick screen to the outside for a loss, forcing fourth down. Michigan dials up enough pressure to force a tough throw with Countess playing tight coverage. This was a really impressive stop from the defense after a promising start to the ND drive.

- Second and seven, Gardner takes a sack. HEY GARDNER, SOMETIMES THIS IS OKAY. Yeah, just saying. No reason or any—

- WHY GOD WHY!?

- Gardner doesn't want to get up. I don't blame him.

- I forgot about Hoke's challenge here, which is all sorts of stupid not only because Brindza shanks the extra point, but because the timeout could come in handly later and it was pretty clearly clean, and the booth didn't have any question.

- So, can't get any worse, right?

- The next series: a three-and-out in which Jeremy Gallon, Taylor Lewan, and Devin Funchess show signs of injury. Funchess jumps and erases the only progress of the short drive (a seven-yard reception by Gallon that led to him being shaken up). Gardner turfs one after not setting his feet. Then, to follow it up, Wile shanks the punt, badly.

- This is really the sequnce of the game. Michigan takes a big run from Atkinison III right up the middle which puts the Irish on the doorstep of field goal range, and then a first down puts the Irish inside the 30. How does Michigan respond? Coverage forces a perfect throw on a corner route by Rees to Jones that Jones can't haul in. A blitz forces a quick dump off to the flat that only picks up a couple, and Ross nearly pulls in a one-handed interception with good underneath coverage. A forced field goal here is a huge win for the defense starting a drive at midfield protecting a touchdown lead.

- Michigan's offense then takes charge and puts the game in a headlock with a ten play, 75-yard drive that takes up nearly five minutes of game time and makes it a two score game. Part of that is Toussaint breaking a run with the kinds of quick cuts and vision (you know, other than missing the truck sized hole on the front side) that made him so effective in 2011. Then, with Michigan doing so much underneath stuff to tight ends, Borges dials up a swing pass to Toussaint that goes for 31 yards and is so incredibly wide open that Toussaint ran 10 yards before there was anyone even near him in the frame.

- I forgot about the throw to the end zone for Jake Butt, and while he almost comes down with it, I'd like to see Gardner put this one deeper in the end zone so that Butt has a chance to go up for it.

- My problem with the first pass interference call: you have to allow the defender to get position. Sure, there is a slight push off, but the corner was sitting on the route and didn't have to move Gallon to get that position. It was only after he already jumped in the path that he really pushed, and it wasn't much of a clear out. If the jersey colors are reveresed, he doesn't get called for that push as a receiver.

- The second PI flag is at least a defensive holding, so its still a first down. Probably not much of a PI, but it was definitely a foul.

- Welker's route is just pretty. Want to know part of the problem with MSU's passing game? Nobody on the team can run a route like that.

- MIchigan opens the next drive with a sack. Still, Notre Dame turns 2nd-and-19 to 3rd-and-10 then converts the first because Troy Niklas moves like he shouldn't be able to. All of the sudden it looks like every other drive of the day, but that's the point. Notre Dame works its way down field, eats into the clock, and Michigan gets a smaller field to defend. By the time Notre Dame is close to the end zone, Michigan has clamped down and puts itself in a position to make a good play on a tipped ball. I'm happier with the defense upon second viewing. Given the flow of the game, Michigan did really well keeping Notre Dame out of the end zone.

- By the time Michigan gets it back there is just 1:29 left on the clock and a first down seals it. Gardner will take off on third-down to make it happen.

- Chicken Dance, yo.

Grades

Devin Gardner: B. You can't go any higher because of the mistakes, but he had a pretty strong second half if you take out the five minute stretch to start the fourth quarter, and when Michigan needed a touchdown to push it to two scores, he marched the offense down the field in 10 plays and bled enough clock to make Notre Dame have to seriously hurry. He is going to be very good. He already is, really.

Al Borges: A. I almost want to give him the A+, and the fact that I can't think of a single play that really seemed out of place is a strong statement. He moved the ball around to different players, used Gardner's legs to free up some room for the running backs to run, and took shots down the field to keep Notre Dame on its heels. Maybe you say "he should have called a run on that third down where Gardner threw the WORST INTERCEPTION EVER" but have you watched a Borges called game? Chicks dig the long ball. He was always going to go for it through the air, and the fact that he trusts his quarterback enough to go for the jugular deep in his own zone in the beginning of the fourth with a one score lead despite the fact that a huge swing play could turn the game around and give Notre Dame an easy path to a lead, makes me love the call that much more. Lloyd Carr and Mike DeBord run a harmless off-tackle play for two yards. Al Borges puts on his Def Leppard jean jacket, cranks the jams, and says "eff it, let's get the first." You know what? Eff it. A+. You earned it, Al.

The Front Seven Six: B. Given what this unit had to deal with in run support with safeties playing in the parking lot and corners not biting on the run added a level of difficulty to an already tough job against a good quarterback that made a bunch of quick decisions and nice throws into tight windows. Michigan didn't give up a run longer than 16 yards and it got just enough pressure on Rees at the right times to force a few mistakes.

The Corners: A. Did you see any missed tackles? Any badly missed assignments? No. Michigan's corners — Taylor, Countess, and sometimes Holowell — were all over it all game long, and three of the biggest defensive plays of the game were Countess's interceptions and Taylor's stick on third-and-short. A really strong performance.

The Safeties: B+. You really have to hand it to Jarrod Wilson. A fall camp like that which he was rumored to have had could have been a confidence death knell, but he has bounced back with two solid games that show the athleticism and range that he was supposed to possess. He hasn't had any really huge break downs yet and with Gordon, Michigan once again has a good defensive backfield. Michigan has allowed just one play of over 30 yards this season.

Special teams: F. Gibbons didn't kick a field goal this half. It was just the coverage units, a shanked punt, and not a whole lot on kick returns. This went from being a strength to a legit concern in the course of one game. Don't let the light get in your eyes, boys.

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