ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Notre Dame exited Michigan Stadium with most of an NCAA record crowd of 115,109 dancing in the stands to the "Chicken Dance."
With the series between the No. 14 Irish and No. 17 Wolverines ending after next year's game in South Bend, Michigan sent Notre Dame home with a 41-30 loss and a jab.
Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said at a May luncheon that Notre Dame was chickening out of the series as the Irish, for the moment, will continue to play Michigan's Big Ten counterparts Michigan State and Purdue.
But Saturday night's loss was not about the second-to-last game in the series for the foreseeable future for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
Instead Notre Dame's first regular-season loss since falling 28-14 to Stanford on Nov. 26, 2011, showed a lack of offensive punch and discipline to Kelly.
"We had a chance to put more points on the board than we did," Kelly said. "We've got to be smarter and more disciplined. … We're going to go back to work on Tuesday with the emphasis on a more discipline approach to everything."
Notre Dame produced two touchdowns and a field goal in five red zone trips, and Kelly said that is not enough against a team like Michigan.
Irish quarterback Tommy Rees threw for 314 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. TJ Jones had nine receptions for 94 yards with a TD, and Troy Niklas had six catches for 76 yards with a touchdown.
Rees' first interception came on a bad throw as he was rolling to his left just before halftime that led to Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon catching a 13-yard touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to take a 27-13 lead with 1:09 to play in the half.
Rees' second interception came with 1:29 to play when his throw from Michigan's 6 bounced off a defender and into the hands of the Wolverines' Blake Countess, who also intercepted a pass in the first half.
"It feels like it's just one or two throws there that could have put 44 points on the board," Kelly said. "We were close, but not good enough. We need to make a couple of more throws."
The defense also had its troubles, especially with penalties on Michigan's final scoring drive.
The Wolverines, who were clinging to a 34-31 lead with 9:15 to play after Kyle Brindza connected on his third field goal of the game, marched 75 yards in 10 plays with plenty of help from the Irish.
On second-and-9 from Michigan's 48, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was left wide open on the sideline and gained 31 yards on a reception. Then on third-and-12 from Notre Dame's 23, Bennett Jackson got flagged for pass interference and Michigan moved to the 14 with a fresh set of downs.
After the Irish put the Wolverines in third-and-5 from the 9, Matthias Farley was flagged for pass interference and Gardner hit Drew Dileo for a 4-yard touchdown two plays later to produce the final score.
"The players are in a position to make a play, but everyone individually didn't make a play at times tonight," linebacker Dan Fox said.
Gardner proved to be a challenge for most of Saturday night.
The Michigan quarterback completed 21 of 33 passes for 294 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 82 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown.
"We knew that Gardner is certainly a very difficult quarterback to defend," Kelly said. "We also knew offensively, we're in a position where we need to score more points. I didn't think this would be like last year (when Notre Dame won 13-6). I thought this was going to be something of a high scoring football game, and I think that is going to be the case in games where you have two really good football teams, we are going to have to score more points.
"The quarterback tonight made a lot of plays. He's difficult to defend."
Most of Gardner's throws went to Wolverines receiver Jeremy Gallon, who had eight catches for 184 yards and scored on receptions of 61, 12 and 13 yards.
Brindza missed the only chance he got at a field goal last week against Temple, but he was perfect against Michigan.
Brindza connected on field goals from 44, 24 and 40 yards. He also had two punts for 80 yards and averaged 64.1 yards on seven kickoffs.
"I thought he preformed well," Kelly said. "He punted effectively, great hang time. He kicked the ball off extremely well."
Notre Dame's loss to Michigan had a few odd plays, and a couple went the Irish's way:
- On Notre Dame's first TD, Rees' pass went off running back George Atkinson III's hand but the ball zipped into the arms of Jones. That touchdown cut Michigan's lead to 10-7 with 2:01 to play in the first quarter.
- Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt scored his second career touchdown thanks to a poor decision by Gardner. The Michigan quarterback was chased into his end zone from the Wolverines' 16-yard line, and when he tried to throw the ball away to avoid the safety, it floated right into Tuitt's arms in end zone to cut Michigan's lead to 34-27 with 12:06 to play.