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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Notre Dame wide receiver Jafar Armstrong scores a touchdown in front of Michigan linebacker Devin Bush in the first half of the season-opening game Saturday in South Bend. 

Sunday, September 02, 2018 1:00 am

Notre Dame 24, Michigan 17

Irish hold on to top rival

Led throughout but forced to sweat out final minutes against Michigan

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – The previous time Michigan and Notre Dame had met, in 2014, the Irish ran away with the game, winning 31-0.

When the teams renewed their rivalry to open the season Saturday night, the 12th-ranked Irish picked up where they left off, racing out to a two-touchdown lead in the first eight minutes and holding on in the final minutes for a 24-17 victory at Notre Dame Stadium in front of mostly green-clad fans.

No. 14 Michigan went 80 yards on seven plays late in the fourth quarter and drew within seven when Karan Higdon punched the ball in from three yards out for a touchdown. The Wolverines got the ball back after a Notre Dame three-and-out, but Jerry Tillery forced a fumble and Te'von Coney recovered to seal the win.

The Irish got the ball to start the game and wasted no time moving the ball downfield. Jafar Armstrong took a read-option handoff and raced 13 yards through the vaunted Michigan defense to cap a seven-play, 75-yard drive that took just 1:25.

The next time it had the ball, Notre Dame topped that opening drive, going 96 yards in only 3:07 for another score. Slot receiver Chris Finke made the play of the night to put the Irish up 14, grabbing a deep ball from Brandon Wimbush over the helmet of a defender for a 43-yard touchdown.

The Notre Dame offense was mostly quiet for the rest of the night, save for one long touchdown drive in the second quarter, but it didn't matter because the defense was dominant. 

Michigan was unable to get anything going on the ground because the Irish defensive line consistently stuffed the middle. The Wolverines averaged just 2.1 yards per rush.

The passing game wasn't much more effective for Michigan. Quarterback Shea Patterson, making his first start after transferring from Ole Miss, was under near-constant pressure and Jerry Tillery and Khalid Kareem each got to him for sacks.

Pressure also forced Patterson into his only interception of the night, when Coney broke through the line on a blitz and Patterson had to throw off his back foot. Defensive end Julian Okwara read it perfectly and picked it off on the sideline for his second career interception.

Michigan didn't score an offensive touchdown until that final drive, their only previous score coming on a 99-yard kickoff return from Ambry Thomas in the second quarter. Coney led the Irish with 10 tackles and hurried the quarterback twice, in addition to his fumble recovery, while safety Alohi Gilman, a transfer from Navy, had seven tackles, including one for loss, and a pass breakup.

dsinn@jg.net