Notre Dame’s Defensive Grades Against Michigan


Notre Dame fans heard the same word over and over again when talking about Brian VanGorder’s defensive scheme, attacking. It was on full display Saturday night when the Irish thumped Michigan for the last scheduled meeting between the two teams.  VanGorder called up blitz after blitz to slow down the thought-to-be high-powered Michigan Offense.  Michigan only was able to muster up 289 total yards after dropping 560 total yards against Appalachian State in the team’s opener.  The Irish defense looked light year’s better than it did against Rice in the opener and we can contribute that to VanGorder.   The Irish forced four turnovers and only allowed the Wolverines past the 50-yard line three times. They also forced four turnovers while not giving the ball away.  This is going to be an easy grade for the Irish seeing that they had an overall dominating performance.

Defensive Line – A

After I criticized the defensive line for not getting ample pressure on the quarterback against Rice, Sheldon Day and crew looked dominate against the Wolverines. They put constant pressure on Devin Gardner and did allow the senior play caller to hurt them with big plays. More importantly, they contained Gardner to stay in the pocket and try and hurt them with his arm. Notre Dame is accustomed to allowing Michigan quarterbacks to run freely and break off big plays. Not Saturday night though. This was evident on a play in the 4th quarter where Devin Gardner tried to spin out of the pocket and take off.  But freshman Daniel Cage gets one hand on Gardner’s jersey and this allows Justin Utupo to clean up and prevent the big play. In the past, Gardner would have taken off and probably busted a play for big yardage.

Linebackers – A

The linebackers played as well and maybe even better than the D line by containing Gardner and also the Michigan running backs.  Michigan averaged 9.7 yards per rush against Appalachian State but was only able to put up an average of 2.9 yards against the Irish. This is because of the dominating performance put on by star linebacker Jaylon Smith.  For how pedestrian Smith looked in the opener, he looked like the All-American people think he is going to be. One play that stood out to me was on a 3rd and 5 in the first quarter.  Gardner decides early in the play that he was not going to throw the ball so he takes off for the first down marker. Smith hunts Gardner down and stuffs his well short of the first down. This play displayed Smith’s elite skills and what to expect from him in the future. Also, the linebackers didn’t allow Michigan to make small completions and turn them into huge plays by running after the catch. This has haunted the Irish in the past.

Secondary – A+

I am only giving the secondary an A+ because of the remarkable turn around it had after the Rice game.  I could only imagine what VanGorder had said to safeties Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield during the week prior to Saturday night’s game, but he got his point across. The Irish secondary did not allow any big plays all while keeping the Michigan passing offense in check.  Gardner looked like he was locked into Devin Funchess the whole night and forced a few throws his way. The dominant play by both the linebackers and defensive lines allowed the secondary to make huge plays. Cody Riggs looked like a veteran defender and this was evident with his interception of Gardner at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Notre Dame intercepted Gardner three times overall with Redfield and Shumate also having interceptions.