SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- You might have heard this was the final meeting between Michigan and Notre Dame for the foreseeable future, and it ended in a very foreseeable fashion: One fan base will likely never forget it, and one will look into group discounts on mind-wipes next week.
It was the Fighting Irish with the final word on Saturday, and that word was “bludgeoning.” Here are three thoughts from Notre Dame’s 31-0 shutout:
1. Everett Golson is playing as well as anyone in the nation
There might not be a college quarterback playing better than Everett Golson right now, and at worst Notre Dame’s signal-caller is on a short list with three to five others. Through two games Golson has completed 37-of-56 passes for 521 yards, a total that includes a handful of drops from his receivers. That’s laser-guided accuracy and impeccable command. He has accounted for eight total touchdowns.
Golson has been a revelation in even the smallest ways this year: On a play in the final drive of the first half, the pocket began to collapse around him. He took a step forward and bounced off one of his own linemen. Then he rolled to his left and needled a throw to tight end Ben Koyack along the sideline.
It went for a very modest five yards. But that’s a drive-killing sack for Notre Dame’s offense last season. This year it was forward progress. That adds up in the end, and one play later Golson lofted a pinpoint pass to Will Fuller for a 24-yard score.
Yes, Notre Dame called a timeout due to poor communication before it took its first snap. Yes, it burned a second timeout for the same reason on the same series. But while Golson looked a little like he did in 2012 on that possession -- out of sorts, almost nervous -- he looked like a Heisman candidate for the rest of the night.
2. This result does not bode well for Brady Hoke
Losing this game alone was never going to undermine Michigan’s entire season, nor was it going to amplify the pressure on Hoke to win. But losing this way? Hoke has to be on notice after this.
His offense looked lost after the first two series. Quarterback Devin Gardner devolved into a turnover-prone jumble, throwing two interceptions and fumbling once. Maybe no defense would have fared well against Golson on Saturday; he didn’t even give Michigan a chance, getting the ball out of his hands quickly and with tremendous accuracy. But the failure was thorough nevertheless.
It’s a 12-game season. There are plenty of opportunities for Michigan to right the many wrongs of Saturday night … and even that prospect took a turn for the disastrous when wide receiver Devin Funchess went down with an injury in the fourth quarter, putting no weight on his right leg when trainers got him upright.
Expect the sting of this performance to linger for a while. Without a massive turnaround, it will haunt Hoke all season, all the way to his job review.
3. Notre Dame’s defense is better than expected
The Irish defense might not be the weak link many thought it would be after losing some high-caliber talent to the NFL. Notre Dame surrendered just 17 points in its season opener against Rice, but suffered from some glaring communication issues on the back end. All of that vanished on Saturday. Michigan moved the ball on its first two possessions, but Notre Dame’s perimeter tackling was solid enough to force two long field goal attempts, both of which were missed badly. After that, the Wolverines spun their wheels all night. Irish sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith looked like he was shot from a cannon covering receivers and blasting into the backfield. Even the safeties shined, with sophomore Max Redfield intercepting Gardner on Michigan’s first possession of the second half.
There was some thought that the Irish would be in better position to compete for the College Football Playoff in 2015, given their pervasive youth on the defensive side. How far ahead of schedule might Notre Dame be in all senses, if its defense is farther along than many thought?