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Aftermath: Michigan-Notre Dame

flickr.com/larrysphatpage

flickr.com/larrysphatpage

Final score: Michigan 38-34.  So, what have we learned?

Number one, the Irish are a completely different team when they are playing with a two TD lead vs. a close game.  In the former scenario, they combine a high powered passing game with a tough inside running game and a dominant passing defense that’s more likely to create a turnover than allow a score.  But in a close game?  Yeah, you can run on this team.  Nevada ran on them when they were in the game, and because ND didn’t put UM away in the first half when they probably should have, Michigan was able to use the ground game to create offense in the second half.

There appears to be little doubt that Notre Dame has more talent than their ranking coming in suggested (No. 18), but it could be three weeks before the Irish earn their way back to this level in the polls.  The story of this game is probably that a Notre Dame team that Michigan simply didn’t have the defensive personnel to stop were not nearly aggressive enough in the first half in putting away an inferior opponent.  305 total yards in the first half.  But the Irish settled for three field goal attempts, which became 6 points.

What would have happened if Notre Dame had pushed forward and tried to convert it’s third and fourth downs in the first half?   Could those 6 points have become 14, 17, or even 21 points?  I have to think they could have been.  Notre Dame could have gone into the locker room leading by two scores at half, and instead went in by 6 points.  And coming out, they weren’t a markedly better team than the Maize and Blue were.  They let Michigan keep the ball on the ground which is their offensive strength and Notre Dame’s defensive weakness, and that takes a potential blowout game and makes it an even playing field in the Big House, which is never really an even playing field.

If anything, I’m more optimistic now that Notre Dame can win 10 games than I was at the beginning of the season.  Everything clicks for this offense, which can score points on absolutely anyone, even USC.  But I think there’s a difference between having Brady Quinn behind center and having Jimmy Clausen.  With the former, keeping the game close and trying to win it at the end is a sound strategy.  With the latter, you really have to push the physical dominance of his team over the other, and not let Michigan have a meaningful drive at the end of the game.  Clausen showed his resiliency coming from 11 points down to having a 4 point lead and a chance to run out the clock, but the guy isn’t Brady Quinn and may never be.

For Charlie Weis, it’s his first loss this year in which he probably left a win on the table.  If there’s a second one of those, he’s not the coach of Notre Dame next season.  The chances that he does not have this job next year seem to be about the same as the odds that the Irish lose to Michigan State at home.  In Weis’ first season, he lost a very winnable game to the Spartans at home in much the same manner that he just lost to the Wolverines.  If it’s a trend, well, the Irish can go 8-4 with someone else at head coach.

And for Tate Forcier, Rich Rodriguez, and the Wolverine Nation, it’s a well-earned signature win over a potential BCS team, and in this one writers opinion, I think it makes them the favorite to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl.  It breathes life into the lifeless rivalry with the Buckeyes, as the teams will likely meet again for the Big Ten title for the first time since 2006.  And it makes the Michigan Wolverines a good bet for 10 victories this year, which is more impressive than even the most optimistic of Michigan fans might have expected.  They just beat the toughest non-conference opponent on their schedule.  And they did it in a year when they play the Buckeyes at home.

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