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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush throws against Michigan in the first half in South Bend tonight.

Saturday, September 01, 2018 9:30 pm

First-half recap, Irish lead Wolverines 21-10

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame got the ball first and was stuffed on a run on the first play of the game and nearly threw an interception on the second play.

After that, the rest of the first half was nearly all Irish, who lead 21-10 at halftime.

Notre Dame sped down for the field for two lightning-quick touchdown drives in the game's first eight minutes and jumped out to a 14-0 lead before Michigan seemed to have really settled in. The Irish scored again late in the second quarter without seeming to run into much resistance.

The most impressive aspect of the Irish's performance in the early going was the remade offensive line, which mostly held Michigan's defensive front in check. Rashan Gary had a couple of tackles at the line, but by and large, Brandon Wimbush had plenty of time throw and he took advantage of it. 

The junior quarterback went 6 of 9 for 114 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter, with all six completions going to different receivers. Miles Boykin and Alize Mack made highlight-reel catches for 28 and 26 yards, respectively, but the biggest play went to Chris Finke. The 5-foot-9 slot receiver found a soft spot between the corner and safety and Wimbush found him in the end zone for tremendous 43-yard touchdown, the first TD reception of Finke's career. Miles Boykin told the media in fall camp that Finke is a "baller" and it's clear he's more than the prototypical possession receiver; he's a big-play threat.

Michigan did occasionally get pressure on Wimbush, but even when it did, the quarterback was almost always able to scramble out of it. He frustrated the Wolverines defense by extending plays with his legs and twice ran for first downs when it looked like Michigan had gotten a stop on third down. He was only sacked once and ran for 47 yards on 11 carries outside of the sack.

The Irish defense was as advertised, getting plenty of pressure on Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson and sacking him twice, including once for a 16-yard loss after he'd tried to scramble out of it. Te'von Coney flew all over the field and recorded six tackles, while Jerry Tillery also had a sack. Alohi Gilman was particularly impressive in the secondary, recording two pass breakups, including on one pass that could have been a touchdown, and adding three tackles, including one for loss. 

The only issues for the Irish in the first half were on special teams, which it could be argued were at fault on all 10 Michigan points. Michigan's only touchdown came on a 99-yard kickoff return from Ambry Thomas, just when its back was against the wall trailing 21-3. The Wolverines also got a field goal after a very poor Tyler Newsome punt set them up in excellent field position. Without those two plays, this game might be a blowout.

Notre Dame seems to be pretty clearly the better team in this game, at least so far. The Irish have more playmakers on offense and more consistency on defense. Michigan gets the ball to start the second half, so a stop and then a score for the Irish could put them within reach of a win.