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What we learned from Michigan’s victory over Notre Dame

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Sweet, sweet victory.

Notre Dame v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

MICHIGAN IS WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE! Well, they are finally who we thought they were after a dominating 45-14 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday night.

If winning heals all wounds, then the thorough beating of a highly ranked rival on prime time television is the Jonas Salk of victories. The Wolverines were dominant on both sides of the ball and silenced narratives across the country. Well, at least until Paul Finebaum precedes Monday’s commercial break with, ‘Why Michigan’s win over an overrated Notre Dame team does nothing to restore confidence in Jim Harbaugh, coming up.’

The Irish had a BYE week to prepare, but it didn’t matter. Michigan was great on Saturday, let’s dive into it.

Offense

The 2019 offense was like watching Back to the Future Part 3, when we were all promised the original. Sure, they had their moments, but the weight of expectation and inconsistencies made it borderline unwatchable.

Saturday night against the Irish was the 1.21 gigawatt jolt of electricity this offense and team desperately needed. The Wolverines entered the game in search of a true identity and woke up Sunday with one: Physicality.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Battling the elements, the Wolverines were forced to almost exclusively run the football (57 rush attempts; 14 pass attempts). Notre Dame knew it was coming; coaches knew it was coming; fans knew it was coming and there was nothing the Irish could do to stop it.

Michigan racked up 303 yards on the ground, with Hassan Haskins (former linebacker, turned fourth string running back, turned starting running back) accounting for 149 of them. The Wolverines imposed their will with virtually no passing game threat against a tested and proven Notre Dame front seven.

Against Georgia, on the road, in ideal conditions, Notre Dame limited Georgia to 152 rushing yards as a team. A Georgia team with the threat of the pass always present with quarterback Jake Fromm, the best offensive line in the country, and projected first round draft pick D’Andre Swift in the backfield.

The offensive line played like the best line in college football on Saturday: technical, disciplined, and dominant. Jon Runyan Jr, Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz, Michael Onwenu, Jalen Mayfield, and even internet sensation Stephen Spanellis, were the stars on offense.

Michigan’s offensive success for the rest of the season will begin and end with the offensive line.

Defense

Take this for data:

-Notre Dame had less than 100 yards of offense through three quarters and went almost half the game without a first down.

-95 of the Irish’s 180 total yards came after Michigan was up by 31 points.

-In terms of total offense, it was Notre Dame’s second worst game in 11 years.

Negate garbage time or even the blown call inspired touchdown drive and this is an all time beating of a top 10 team. Where to start with this unit?

How about Aidan Hutchinson’s complete game rushing the passer and stopping the run? Or Cam McGrone’s (‘McGROWN’) speed and physicality, now coupled with a high game IQ? Or both safeties Brad Hawkins and Josh Metellus excelling in pass coverage and run support?

A defensive performance this impressive cannot be attributed to only one player or positional group. This was a team effort at every level. Matching the offense’s physicality, when Michigan’s defensive plays technical and cerebral, there is no defense better.

Coaching

Fun game to start this section, can you name all the victories over ranked teams in the Jim Harbaugh era?

2019 - #8 Notre Dame (45-14)

2016 - #8 Wisconsin (14-7)

2015 - #13 Northwestern (38-0)

2018 - #14 Penn State (42-7)

2019 - #14 Iowa (10-3)

2018 - #15 Wisconsin (38-13)

2017 - #17 Florida (33-17)

2015 - #19 Florida (41-7)

2015 - #22 BYU (31-0)

2018 - #24 Michigan State (21-7)

I present this question not to demean the record, but to magnify how important and impressive Saturday night’s victory was.

Much to the chagrin of the #FireHarbaugh crowd, Saturday was a statement win from a head coach that believed in staying the course, empowering his assistants, and motivating his players without the use of postseason grandeur.

Leading up to the Notre Dame game, the criticism was deafening. Michigan’s encouraging second half effort against Penn State had been spun into a ‘defeatist’s mentality’ narrative in an attempt to dissipate any optimism emerging from a loss.

Moral victories may not exist to fans, but they exist to players. Something happened at halftime in the locker room at Penn State that changed this season’s trajectory and it begins with head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Iowa v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In the face of failure, inundated by criticism, Harbaugh stood his ground. This team could have packed it in down 21-0 to Penn State. They could have packed it in still after their comeback efforts fell short in Happy Valley and chalked it up to, ‘What do we have to play for?’

But even without a conference championship or Playoff berth at stake, this team played like Notre Dame was the biggest game of their lives because of something intrinsic.

Harbaugh has instilled a sense of resilient pride into the program and into the players to make every game and every snap important. Contrarily, the city of Austin is currently going down in flames because Texas has lost their ‘Why?’

Why keep playing? Why suffer and sacrifice when we have already fallen short of our goals?

Michigan understands their ‘why’ and that comes from the top.

On Saturday, with the first two months being what they were, Jim Harbaugh delivered the gods like very few head coaches in his position could do. Much like savvy sea Captain Jack Aubrey, Harbaugh forged through treacherous waters and procured a meaningful victory.

Harbaugh heeded Bo’s words and they still ring true today:


2019 could in fact be Michigan’s finest hour if they handle their business and do the unthinkable on November 30. The season’s floor is now a presumptuous 9-3, which would include victories over two rivals, making for one hell of a basement.

Last week, I said Michigan was getting close; on Saturday, the Wolverines arrived with the best win of the Jim Harbaugh era.

Michigan is finally who we thought they were.