bpbrady and I were, in fact, at the football match between the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. There are so many things to say about this game so I guess I’ll jump right in.
First, there was a blimp there.
Next, I’ve always felt that “Notre Dame Fighting Irish” is confusing. Is this team a fight? As in, are they the embodiment of these “Notre Dames” fighting these “Irish”?
For more serious matters, there are the oft referenced “storied histories” between these two teams. All time records are apparently calculated with the traditional (W+T/2)/(W+L+T) formula (duh) giving Michigan a slight edge with 0.73466 over ND’s (nearly) equally impressive 0.73344. ND carries the edge in number of Heisman trophy winners with a slight 7-3 advantage. Although with that in mind, Michigan’s first Heisman winner, a #98 QB Tom Harmon from 1940, was honored at the game as a true Michigan man. His son Mark, the well known long time star of NCIS, took some time off taking down bad guys to honor his father in an “unretiring” ceremony moving his father’s number from the stadium rafters to current QB Devin Gardner’s back as a part of Michigan’s Legends program (still relevant with the newest conference realignment I swear)1.
The Irish also clobber the Wolverines in terms of National Championships. Such figures can be tricky, but Michigan fans usually concede this point. The final two oft-referenced records are the total number of wins (Michigan sneaking in ahead of Notre Dame 904-865 in that department) and total attendance. The official stadium capacities are 109,9013 in Ann Arbor compared to a more modest sized 80,795 in South Bend. With that in mind, the attendance at Saturday’s adventure outstripped the official number by over five thousand to 115,109 – an NCAA record for the largest crowd to ever watch a football game.
Other entertaining extracurriculars included an extended flyover (that included zero jetpacks sadly), a Beyonce halftime show of truly magnificent scope (which scored some tens of thousands of lucky fans with nifty LED bracelets), and an Eminem interview that was missed by 115,109 lucky souls (whose presence on the big screen did lead directly to a fifty yard run back by the away squad). We were also lucky enough to be seated about 25 rows above the fast food mascots (Wendy, Col. Sanders, Ronald, and the King) and right next to two hearty cowbellers from the other team.
I guess I’ve rambled long enough about non-football things. As fans may be aware, a touchback (of which there were many during the game) is brought out to the 25 yard line if the ball rolls out of the back of the zone. As avid and careful ALDLAND readers may be aware, I enjoy analyzing games for weak spots with potential areas for improvement. In the case of touchbacks, I propose the following rule change to the NCAA: A touchback that goes out of the end zone shall be placed on the 20 yard line. If a team gains possession of the ball in the endzone and subsequently is downed or goes out of bounds before leaving the endzone (my geographically closest NFL team ought to keep an eye on that part), then the ball shall be placed on the 25. Basically this encourages returners to attempt to catch lofty kicks and encourages kickers to knock them out the back of the zone altogether (while hopefully not introducing any new injury risk that kickoffs are so often filled with).
The game itself was fantastic. Highlights all over the place. That said, I was glad to avoid a repeat of the same matchup two years ago. I don’t think that my aged body could suffer that many more heart attacks. As previously mentioned on ALDLAND, Devin Gardner had a quality game. Yes he did make the biggest mistake a QB can make, I think (tossing the ball directly to the other team while going down in your own end zone), it was hopefully the kind of mistake a QB makes once in his life. The rest of his performance looked like a guy who knew what he was doing. He made a few good decisions (throwing it out of bounds while out of the tackle box (or while in it – the refs weren’t calling anything until it had been committed at least once or twice already)) and racked up 294 yards through the air and another 82 on the ground spread across a number of impressive scampers, often picking up just enough for the first down. This qualifies the performance as the ninth most total offense by a player in Michigan history (behind 8 Denard Robinson performances, including two others against Notre Dame). His pick-6 was his only interception, although there was another that was ruled both pass interference (a call that was certainly well into the questionable area) and out of bounds. Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees was generally less impressive, although his final drive down the field was a nearly perfect two-minute drill style execution – until a Blake Countess interception. Notre Dame’s rushing was a full on boom and bust cycle with a number of low double digit carries, but long stretches between them while Michigan’s defense put up a good combination of stops and turnovers. When ND did move the ball though, it was on all cylinders (except for the pass-heavy final drive that ended in an interception in the end zone).
The other notable fact that may not be obvious from the box score was Michigan’s pass rush: there wasn’t one. It’s obviously too early in the season to know which team that fact hangs on, but Michigan’s only sack in the game came on the first play of the Irish’s final drive to one of the loudest non-score related cheers of the game. The stats will tell you that Notre Dame only sacked Devin once as well, but there was often pressure both in his face and sweeping for the side. Rees almost always had clear passing lanes from the middle of the pocket.
The final topic from the game was the penalty situation. Basically, everyone was confused. The miscalls seemed to favor no team in particular (sometimes that is evidence that it favored my team, but I don’t think so). There were many missed holding and pass interference calls on both sides especially in the beginning of the game – remember this is the de-facto season opener for both teams and over reaching on offense or defense is inevitable. Then it suddenly seemed like the refs had been sitting around knitting flags and now they had too many and started calling all kinds of things that had clearly gotten free passes before. In any case, I hope that no one thinks that it affected the outcome of the game. It was a two score game and Notre Dame’s final drive ended on a clean pick, so hopefully the integrity of the game was preserved.
Next week Notre Dame faces a struggling Purdue team and Michigan allows Akron the opportunity to
be obliterated play a fun game of football in Ann Arbor. Also note that when players say things like “Every week is important,” what they really mean is “Phew! Thank goodness we got through last week! This week I’m attending classes and doing homework. Who are we playing again this week?”
1Mark was in full character as he pointed out that being a Michigan man was all his father was ever proud of – a comment that perhaps paralleled the sort of daddy issues his character on NCIS expresses from time to time. Harmon was producer of NCIS from 2008-2013.
2How did you get here? Now that you’re here I guess you may have noticed that I omitted the fact that these two “storied” programs with a history of great games over the last several years in addition to battling it out for some of the top records in college football have ceased a contract guaranteeing that they will play every year. I guess the reason is because I suspect that they will continue to play most years anyways. In any case, the final scheduled game is next year in South Bend, hopefully it won’t be the last as they have been very exciting games recently.
3Since 1955 (the first year with six figures in the official capacity of the big house), across six renovations, the official capacity of Michigan Stadium has always ended in “01” with the extra seat at an “undisclosed location” and reserved Fritz Crisler, Michigan’s AD from 1941-1968.