Notre Dame saw its College Football Playoff hopes go up in smoke Saturday night. The Fighting Irish were blasted by Michigan, dropping to 5-2 after a 45-14 defeat that was never very competitive.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Notre Dame loss:
1. Opportunity Turns Into Disaster — Notre Dame had a chance to make a statement last night against Michigan, and a statement it certainly made. The issue is that it wasn’t a very positive statement. Instead of showing it had taken one step closer to the best programs in the country, Notre Dame took a dramatic step back.
Small picture, games like this happen. A Purdue team that finished 6-7 last season beat an Ohio State team that finished 13-1 by a 49-20 score. The year prior, an 8-5 Iowa squad beat beat a 12-2 Buckeye team by a 55-24 score. During its national runner up season in 2017, Georgia was based by Auburn 40-17.
Big picture, this can’t be viewed as a one-off bad game by Notre Dame; this has become a trend. The Irish now drop to 4-12 in true road games against ranked opponents, and three of its last four road games against teams in the Top 20 haven’t been competitive, with the Irish losing by 31 (Michigan), 18 (Stanford) and 33 (Miami) points.
2. Ian Book Isn’t The Answer — I already broken it down earlier, but at some point you have to accept that what we’ve seen from quarterback Ian Book the last 11 games is basically who he is. Book has played against four Top 50 defenses (last night was the fourth), and in those four games Book has averaged just 168.3 passing yards per game, completed just 54.2-percent of his passes, averaged 5.1 yards per attempt, 9.5 yards per completion and has a passer rating of just 100.33.
Those are abysmal numbers.
If you take out the rain game his numbers are still really bad, with Book averaging just 200 yards per game, 5.7 yards per attempt, 9.5 yards per attempt and just a 107.55 passer rating. You can’t be a legitimate contender with quarterback play like that. Against Michigan, Book’s poor performance didn’t give Notre Dame a chance to compete offensively.
3. Offensive Line Looked Unprepared — Michigan did last night what they always do on defense; they attacked, they brought linebacker pressures, they stunted their defensive linemen and they tried to eat up all the gaps from tackle to tackle. If you watched film of the Wolverines in the previous six games they played you would know this.
That’s what makes the play of the offensive line, and its apparent lack of preparation to handle all of those pressures, was quite perplexing. When you consider the Irish had an extra week to prepare for Michigan it becomes even more disturbing.
Notre Dame has had issues with these types of movements all season long, and it was a problem last season as well. When a problem persists like this, a coaching staff must take a long, hard look at how it is preparing its players. Changes absolutely must be made.
4. Veteran Regression On Defense — Notre Dame entered the season with a defensive end depth chart that was considered one of the best in the nation, and it was one of just three teams - along with Clemson and Georgia - to return two Top 15 safeties according to Pro Football Focus. The play of cornerback Troy Pride Jr. in the last six games of the 2018 season put him among the best players in the country at his position during that stretch.
That makes the play of those veterans players all the more disappointing this season, and last night was rock bottom for that group. The ends made very few plays, especially Julian Okwara. Alohi Gilman committed a horrendous pass interference penalty that prolonged Michigan’s first scoring drive and he provided little impact in the game. Elliott had two blown assignments in coverage that resulted in big plays. Pride’s season-long issues playing the football continued.
In big games like last night, you need your best players to anchor the squad, and for the Irish defense its best players - its captains - were major disappointments against the Wolverines.
5. Run Defense Must Get Fixed, Now — Notre Dame has now allowed three of its first seven opponents to rush for at least 212 yards, and last night was rock bottom for the Irish defense. Despite knowing that Michigan was going to run the ball - a lot - Notre Dame allowed the Wolverines to rack up 303 yards on the ground and 5.3 yards per attempt.
Not much explanation is needed. That is an embarrassing performance by the run defense, and its the fourth time this season you could make a similar evaluation of the run defense. The Irish coaches need to find answers, now, or Notre Dame will drop another game by season's end.