After all the hype for Shea Patterson, the talk of returning starters, the assurances that the offensive line had improved and the general hype for the 2018 Michigan football team, the Wolverines finally had their chance to prove that it wasn’t just hype on Saturday night against Notre Dame.
But in less than eight minutes, all of those hopes began to look more like pipe dreams.
It started on the first drive, when the 12th-ranked Fighting Irish used a few big plays to score in less than 90 seconds. Michigan punted, and at the end of Notre Dame’s next possession, the South Bend crowd was in hysterics once again.
Quarterback Brandon Wimbush lobbed a deep ball downfield, and Irish receiver Chris Hinke leaped over safety Brad Hawkins, hauling it in and putting the Wolverines in a hole. In the blink of an eye, it was 14-0.
No. 14 Michigan (0-1) spent the rest of its much-anticipated opener trying to play catch-up, but it never clawed back, losing, 24-17.
“The guys really prepared well for this ballgame,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “Not the outcome we anticipated or wanted, but we’ve just got to dig deep, make no excuses. Credit to Notre Dame and move on to next week.”
It ultimately was the first half that did Michigan in. Notre Dame (1-0) scored again in the second quarter on a methodical, 15-play march aided by penalties.
All the offensive production the Fighting Irish needed came before halftime.
“Second half I think we found our groove a little bit more,” said fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich. “This might be a hot take. I don’t mean it to be. They’re a great football team and stuff, but I just didn’t feel like they dominated us. I just felt like they went up and made some 50/50 plays.”
Maybe Winovich is on to something, because there were several moments when it seemed like momentum was starting to turn in the Wolverines’ favor, but those moments never bred any substance.
Sophomore Ambry Thomas answered Notre Dame’s third touchdown with a 99-yard kick return touchdown on the next play, but halftime came before any momentum could be sustained.
In the second half, Michigan’s vaunted defense finally found its rhythm. They gave up 233 yards in the first half and just 71 in the second, but the offense flubbed its chances.
The Wolverines even drove down the field their first chance after halftime, highlighted by a 54-yard bomb from Patterson to sophomore wide receiver Nico Collins. But that chance was thwarted when junior punter Will Hart bobbled the snap on a would-be field goal.
Then, fifth-year senior Brandon Watson intercepted a pass to give Michigan yet another opportunity to crawl back into things.
And yet again, the Wolverines couldn’t.
At the end of the game, Michigan made one final push, scoring with just over two minutes to go on a short run from senior running back Karan Higdon. The Wolverines got the ball back moments later after forcing a three-and-out.
But this time, Patterson, who finished the day 20-of-30 for 227 yards and an interception, fumbled while running from a defender for the umpteenth time of the night.
“Nobody really wants to start off like that,” Patterson said. “Our defense and our special teams put us in really good situations to make something happen. … Just gonna go back and learn from the tape.”
The offensive line, which was already being questioned, could never consistently keep Patterson upright. The offense that struggled all of last season fell short when it counted.
The Wolverines left South Bend with many of the problems they said they had fixed.
The season isn’t over — not by a long shot.
But the hype? The hype is all but gone.