ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Michigan traveled to South Bend with a chance to make a resounding statement on a national stage.
Instead, the Wolverines are again searching for answers.
Coach Brady Hoke found some positives in Saturday’s loss, but there weren’t many in the 31-0 defeat, Michigan’s most lopsided of his four seasons at the helm.
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”We did some things very well and we did some things not very well,” Hoke said Monday. ”But we didn’t play well enough in the red zone, defensively. We didn’t finish drives. When you have opportunities to put points on the board, we have got to be able to do that.
”When we have a nine-play drive and you don’t finish, that gets a little disheartening. The good thing is, they stayed together and they kept going forward.”
The Wolverines held Notre Dame to 54 yards rushing – but gave up four touchdowns on four Irish red zone trips and a 47 percent conversion rate on third downs.
On offense, Michigan came out strong, putting together two extended drives into Notre Dame territory on its first two possessions.
Both, however, ended with missed field goal attempts from senior kicker Matt Wile. The Wolverines lost their offensive rhythm, gaining just 197 total yards after the second missed field goal.
The Wolverines parted ways with offensive coordinator Al Borges after struggling, mightily, to move the ball last season, averaging just 3.3 yards per rush and leading the nation in tackles for loss allowed (114).
Hoke hired Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama to lead the Michigan offense in 2014. Unfortunately, in his second game with the program, Nussmeier witnessed a shutout loss. The Wolverines had not been shutout in an NCAA-record 365 consecutive games, dating back to a 26-0 loss to Iowa in 1984.
”When you don’t score, as the offensive coordinator, it’s not good,” Nussmeier said Monday. ”It’s been a lot of reflection: what could we have done differently? I take big ownership in this. When you don’t score points, it falls on everyone, and you start with the offensive coordinator.”
Although the Wolverines outgained Notre Dame 289-280, they tallied just 18 total first downs, just 14 of which came after their first two offensive possessions.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner had three interceptions and a fumble in the second half.
It was similar to his turnover-prone start to last season, when he threw eight interceptions in the first four games, compared to just three in his final eight starts.
Before Saturday, he had not thrown an interception since a Nov. 2, 2013, loss at Michigan State.
”The flow of the game never got the way we wanted it,” Nussmeier added. ”We never got the consistency and the flow. We’d get some good things started, and then we’d do something that set us behind. You have to stay on schedule, and when we got hurt is when we got behind the sticks.
”Devin did some things that, obviously, neither of us wanted. But it’s all about the process of learning. We’re growing together. It’s the second game I’ve been with him.”
Although a 31-0 defeat at the hands of a rival in the last-scheduled game of the series is a tough speed bump this early in the season, Hoke remains confident in his team and its ability to accomplish its No. 1 goal.
”I feel very good about our football team in a lot of ways,” Hoke said. ”We have to execute a little better, but as far as where this team is, I am excited about it. Our goals are still out there. … Our goal, and I have stated it a thousand times, is to win the Big Ten championship. That is out there. Now, do we have to get better? Yeah, we do.”