Well, that was ugly.
Brian VanGorder was every bit the snake he was capable of being, and Everett Golson and his teammates played inspired and focused against an opponent they hated - an opponent that never landed a true punch across the face like Notre Dame did, an opponent that wilted under pressure, an opponent that underperformed and could not impose its will on the scoreboard. If Michigan had landed a good punch, things may have changed. But they didn't.
The 31-0 defeat, it's pretty safe to say, forces a conversation about how the Wolverines are doing. It's pretty safe to say that this was not what optimistic fans were expecting in this game. Saying this as a long-time Hoke supporter, ultimately these blowout losses to our rivals need to be answered by somebody. That's dangerous rhetoric, though. Let's get into some definable, productive criticism.
Like Michigan, teams like Penn State and OSU have different kinds of running backs. Against certain defenses, some tailbacks perform better. Against West Virginia, 6'3", 241-pound Derrick Henry rumbled to 113 yards off 17 carries. Kenyan Drake, a lighter, speedier back, got 7 yards, on 3 carries. In Week 2, it was Drake's turn, leading Alabama's rushing effort with 7 carries for 45 yards, more than any other runner and for a better average than either Yeldon, Henry, or Tenpenny.
This staff's love of 5'11", 220-pound tailbacks is fine. Coaches have prototypes. In fact, the staff has two of them, and here are their numbers: De'Veon Smith, 145 yards on 15 carries, and Derrick Green, 195 yards on 28 carries. The staff has fed Green to poorer results, and they have also not challenged defenses to defend Drake Johnson (speedier, still pretty powerful) or even Justice Hayes (hard worker, fast, light in pass protection). Johnson has run all of three times for 28 yards, but could not get a carry against Notre Dame. None.
Another criticism is both simple and complex: emotional preparation. The Wolverines have often looked soft in how they fumble and lose their calm against physical, fast opponents in pressurized moments. There's no special water in the South. These are four-star athletes, capable of committing to a winning style. It hasn't happened.
It's also become a tradition to come oh so close, yet remain so far away from victory. When Michigan went 8-5 in 2012, they lost to four elite teams, and a fifth in a game where they starting QB went down and Russell Bellomy came in. So close. Against Ohio State, the Wolverines pulled out magic from their playbooks, coming oh so close again. Last night, Michigan outgained the Fighting Irish, 289 yards to 280. The Wolverines outgained the Irish by 9 yards, but the final score was ND, 31-0.
There are some things that are not Hoke's fault. For one, press coverage is not some magic wand that eliminates an opponent's passing. The reason why it's been used as little as it has is because it's challenging, based on technique and perfection, and liable to surrender passing plays more easily if not executed well. Michigan's corners were aggressive, but that lack of discipline cost them when they were playing from behind after biting for a receiver's fake. Press coverage cost them because they were not a step ahead, figuratively, of the receiver - and press coverage is supposed to simplify an offense's choices. Instead, it just gave Notre Dame something to manipulate.
As for lack of discipline, it's not relegated only to the corners. The front seven's lack of discipline has cost them regularly in the run game before tonight. Gardner's lack of discipline has given the Wolverines a roller-coaster feel; regardless of the line's contribution to this, Gardner has compounded the problem by not growing into and understanding his athleticism and limitations. He has not learned how to use his tools. Age, roster depth, and inexperience are no excuse for the issues Michigan has had with discipline and assignments. The players that reach the field have talent, but there is a disconnect between the staff and the players about what really wins games, and what games are really like when the going gets heavy.
By the end, it was actually was a good idea to put in Shane Morris. Devin Gardner was playing with too much adrenaline, perfectly exemplified by a 3rd and 5 shovel pass to the boundary that flew over the head of Justice Hayes. It was perfectly exemplified in the interception to end the game. There's more - much, much more - to winning a game than talent. Even for just a series, it was a good idea to keep Gardner on the sidelines, to talk to him, to calm him down, and to remind him what the staff and the team needed.
Hoke is a good man, and he recruits well. But there are only so many losses to our rivals that the Wolverines can take. I've never been more proud of Michigan football from Sundays to Fridays - and rarely so embarrassed on Saturdays.
Hitting the Links Shuts Up
In case you forgot, here's the bad and the ugly.
There were some interesting post-game quotes in here, including plenty of celebration by Notre Dame.
One sentence that bothered me from this was, "We've got to get a lot better. I think we learned some things we got to get better at." There's something to that, but games are not for coaches to be learning what the players can and can't do well. Games are for coaches to hide what the players can't do well.
This was definitely a quality conversation with some great summarizing post-game analysis. The State of the Program hovers over the conversation.
This summarizes some of the rivalry's history but gets more pertinent at the end.
This was a good, quick assessment of this week's performance as opposed to last week's. Will Hagerup and Devin Funchess fill out Quinn's "Trending Up" category.
Brian Hamilton points to the Notre Dame's defense as a surprising factor, and discusses what this means for Brady Hoke.
Nick Baumgardner (unrelated to Devin Gardner) gives his highlights and lowlights, as well as a few game notes.
The next man has to step up, obviously.
Adam Rittenberg and Matt Fortuna sit down and talk about what's next for both these programs.
This article shares some memories and experiences, and mixes in some good nuggets of information.
Some of the photos of the fans were interesting; this does a good job of capturing the game day experience.