SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame and Michigan have met in football since 1887. After teaching their rivals the sport, the Wolverines won the first eight matchups. Since then, the series had generally been even, with each team claiming 16 victories.
In their last scheduled meeting Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish issued a demonstrative statement that the students had surpassed their mentors, embarrassing Michigan, 31-0.
Not only did it mark the end of the Wolverines’ NCAA record 365-game streak without being shut out, but Notre Dame also recorded its largest margin of victory ever over Michigan.
The result moved the Irish further ahead of the Wolverines as the school with the highest winning percentage in college football, and it delivered the harsh lesson that, in coach Brady Hoke’s fourth year at the helm, the program might not have progressed as much as it may have thought.
“There’s no question, I would be lying if to tell you that it doesn’t feel great to shut out Michigan 31-0,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
And the game wasn’t even as close as the score indicates.
Down by 21 points but having received the kickoff to begin the second half, fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner was intercepted while throwing a desperate pass across the middle of the field.
On their next possession, the Wolverines punted, then Notre Dame scored to go up 28-0, and the outcome was never in question again.
“It’s never one guy, it’s never a piece of the offensive line, or the quarterback, or the routes, or whatever,” Hoke said. “When those things happen, it happens as a team.”
Michigan had the game’s first real threat when it used 10 plays to get to the Fighting Irish 32-yard line on the Wolverines’ opening series, but senior kicker Matt Wile shanked a field goal attempt wide right.
Wile missed again early in the second quarter, slipping on the artificial turf and knuckling a blocked kick that bounced before reaching the end zone.
“We lost a lot of momentum,” Gardner said of the loss. “Football is a game of momentum, and we lost a lot of it.”
And as Michigan self-destructed, Notre Dame and quarterback Everett Golson coolly dissected the Wolverines defense, one series at a time.
The Irish drew first blood with 1:50 remaining in the first quarter. Running back Cam McDaniel punched into the end zone, capping a drive aided by a pair of Wolverines penalties.
Cornerback Jourdan Lewis was flagged twice for pass interference — including once in the end zone — to assist Notre Dame’s march down the field. The second infraction resulted in 1st-and-goal from the two-yard line, and McDaniel burst in two plays later.
After Michigan punted for the first time midway through the second quarter, Golson orchestrated a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that was kept alive by a fourth-down conversion. The quarterback then completed a 22-yard pass to the one-yard line and hit Amir Carlisle to put Notre Dame up by two scores.
Then, with just 1:24 remaining in the first half, Golson drove the Irish 56 yards in 50 seconds for another touchdown. Facing pressure from Michigan’s defensive line for the first time all night, Golson managed to escape rushes several times for completions. Then he dropped a perfect pass to William Fuller — who had blown by cornerback Blake Countess — with 34 ticks remaining.
Notre Dame scored on an inside screen in the third quarter to stretch the lead to 28, Gardner fumbled on the ensuing possession, and the rout was on.
With 12:03 remaining, the Irish capitalized on Gardner’s second interception of the night for a 43-yard field goal.
“They brought pressure when we did not expect it, and when we did expect it they did not bring it,” Gardner said.
Michigan outgained Notre Dame, 289-282, and Golson finished 23-for-34 with 226 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile Gardner went 19-for-31 with four turnovers, including a last-second interception that would have been returned for a touchdown if not for an Irish infraction.
That defensive penalty forced Notre Dame to run one untimed play. With the clock at zero and the fans roaring, the Irish lined up in victory formation before rushing to celebrate with the student section.
“It’s embarrassing,” said junior center Jack Miller. “Definitely not the way we wanted to end the series and perform tonight, but it’s over.”
If, or when, Michigan and Notre Dame meet again, the college football landscape may look significantly different.
In 1887, the Wolverines were in charge, but as the Irish affirmed Saturday, the tables have turned.