It doesn’t really matter if this huge rivalry is belittled by the opposition in order to get out of a contract and not look too chicken about it. Devin Gardner and Michigan had enough fire in their bellies to show just how much this game mattered to them by winning, and to their fans by setting a new NCAA record for attendance.
Exactly 115,109 packed Michigan stadium as the Wolverines beat Notre Dame 41-30, with Devin Gardner, the Junior quarterback who seems to have no problem taking over the team after waiting for two years on the sidelines, as he threw four touchdown passes and ran for another one in what is undoubtedly his finest performance as a starter for Michigan, helping the Wolverines improve to 2-0 in what might put them in the top 10, after claiming the scalp of a ranked team like Notre Dame.
The meeting didn’t resemble the game between the two schools from last year in any way. The Irish defense wasn’t capable of getting big stops, as Michigan scored every time they reached the red zone. Gardner hardly felt any pressure, having no problem fairing rather well against the standing pass-rush, finding Jeremy Gallon for 184 yards and three touchdowns, most of them coming when Notre Dame didn’t blitz.
When they did blitz? Gardner was suddenly a lot less efficient – throwing an interception and completing 47% of his passes. Luckily for him, he made the most of when the Irish decided to play passively on defense.
The chicken dance was played across the stadium, pointing towards Brian Kelly and Notre Dame, announcing that next year’s game between the teams will be the last, for now, in a rivarly that began in 1887, but has seen quite a few halts in momentum, the most recent of them in 2000 and 2001, but also includes hiatuses of more than 30 yards.
Michigan doesn’t have the strongest defense in the nation or the Big Ten, but Tommy Rees looked really bad, throwing two touchdown passes to his two interceptions, as Notre Dame were chasing Michigan all game long, getting only 19 carries and 96 yards out of them. There was no similarity to the defense that carried them to the national championship game last year with an undefeated record until Alabama came along. Michigan? They’re exactly where they expected to be, and possibly slightly better thanks to Gardner having no problems playing big in big moments.
Gardner didn’t play a perfect game, as his interception could have proven to be a lot more costly if Notre Dame’s defense would have been a lot more consistent. He had a lot of help from Gallon, catching 143 of his yards through the no-blitz plays his team was helped by. The running game did very well as well, gaining 166 yards on 39 carries, with Garnder running for 82 and Fitzgerald Toussaint adding 77 more, most of them coming in clutch moments when Michigan really needed the short yard gain. It was more than a one-man show on offense.
Michigan are thinking Big Ten championship, Rose Bowl, and there are those daring to dream about something even bigger, but it’s too early, for now. But with a quarterback that seems to be quite ready to shine when the spotlight is on him on the biggest of stages, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be put into consideration regarding their own conference, at least, if not even more than that.