SOUTH BEND – SOUTH BEND – Michigan kept giving, Notre Dame started taking after changing quarterbacks and then hung on for a 13-6 victory Saturday night.
The No. 11 Irish improved to 4-0 for the first time since starting the 2002 season 8-0, thanks to six turnovers by No. 18 Michigan (2-2) and by switching quarterbacks to Tommy Rees from Everett Golson in the second quarter.
“A great team win for our guys,” coach Brian Kelly said. “Defensively what can I say, six turnovers, limited what we felt is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the country to no touchdowns. Just an incredible performance by our defense.”
The six turnovers were the most Notre Dame had forced since creating six against Michigan in 2008. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson accounted for five of the turnovers, throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble.
Robinson, who had amassed 948 total offensive yards in two victories over Notre Dame, was held to 138 passing yards and 90 rushing yards Saturday night.
“I think it says a lot about our defense because Denard is going to continue to be Denard,” linebacker Manti Te’o said of what the Irish did to the dynamic quarterback. “He’s going to continue to make plays and do what Denard does. We’ve just got to keep getting better, and today was just another step in the right direction.”
The Irish turned to Rees after Golson threw two first-half interceptions and completed only 3 of 8 passes for 30 yards. Rees went 8-for-11 passing for 115 yards, and the junior scored his first career rushing touchdown on a 2-yard run in the second quarter.
“Whatever is asked of me, I’m willing to go in and help the team win,” said Rees, who wasn’t booed when he entered Saturday’s game like he was in the win over Purdue on Sept. 8.
“It feels good. I’m not going to lie. It feels good to go in there and help the team win.”
Kelly said Golson would remain the starter after the win, but the coach also said he would use Rees if it helps the team win.
“(Rees is) just a great asset to have if you need him to close out a game, we’ll continue to go that route,” Kelly said. “We’d like to continue to develop Everett so we don’t have to do that, but we’re still going to try to win football games any way possible.”
Te’o led Notre Dame’s takeaway charge by recording a pair of interceptions in the second quarter. His first interception set up the game’s first scoring play, a 33-yard field goal by Kyle Brindza, and his second interception led to the quarterback change.
Te’o, whose grandmother and girlfriend died last week, finished with eight tackles and two interceptions as many in the crowd wore leis to honor the Laie, Hawaii, native. Te’o will return home during the by week next week.
“It’s humbling, it’s really humbling,” Te’o said of the crowd wearing leis. “I love this school. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. That lei for me, represents family. It doesn’t represent me. It represents family, it represents everybody sticking together and everybody realizing what’s important in life, and that’s families sticking together and all this other stuff all this worldly stuff, it’s the same things from an internal perspective, I’m very humbled and I can’t thank my fellow students enough, I can’t thank the ND fans around the world, including non-ND fans.”
Rees replaced Golson when Te’o came down with an interception at Michigan’s 48 after safety Zeke Motta tipped Robinson’s pass.
Rees led Notre Dame to a touchdown by running the final two yards himself for a 10-0 Irish lead with 1:21 to play in the first half.
Robinson, who was also intercepted by Bennett Jackson, ended the first half by having a desperation heave picked off by KeiVarae Russell.
Michigan’s other first-half interception was thrown by running back Vincent Smith when he was picked off in the end zone by Notre Dame freshman safety Nicky Baratti. The end zone pick was the second time the Wolverines came away with nothing from the Irish’s 10-yard line in the first half.
Michigan was at Notre Dame’s 10 when Golson was intercepted on the Irish’s first offensive play and the quarterback was called for a facemask penalty trying to make the tackle. The Irish responded by dropping running back Fitzgerald Toussaint for a 2-yard loss then Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt recording back-to-back sacks on Robinson to put the Wolverines on the 25. Brendan Gibbons then missed on a 43-yard field goal attempt with 9:46 to play in the first quarter.
“I think that this game has made a statement for our ability for sure,” Motta said of an Irish defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown since the fourth quarter against Purdue.
Michigan finally scored early in the fourth quarter when Gibbons hit a 33-yard field goal with 13:10 to play.
Notre Dame answered by taking nearly 6 1/2 minutes off the clock as Brindza kicked a 39-yard field goal for a 13-3 lead with 6:46 to play.
Michigan got within a touchdown of Notre Dame when Gibbons hit a 31-yard field goal with 3:27 to play.
But Notre Dame converted to third-down plays – one a 38-yard pass to tight end Tyler Eifert and the other an 8-yard run by Theo Riddick – to seal the win.
“It feels real good,” Riddick said stopping a three-game losing streak to Michigan. “The monkey is off the back, but at the same time, after we go to sleep tomorrow and watch film, you have to put those guys in the past and we have to start working toward Miami.”
The Irish have a bye week this week before playing Miami at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Oct. 6.