B- The Michigan running game wasn't dominant by any stretch, but competent enough that the Irish had to respect play action that opened things up in the passing game. The Wolverines tested the edges behind their outstanding tackles early with moderate success getting outside. Fifth-year senior Fitz Toussaint only averaged 3.2 yards per carry, and that was aided by a 22-yard, fourth quarter run in which he made a nice cut to slip through a small crease.
The best running plays came in the read option with redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner, an aspect that makes this offense so dangerous. Gardner found the edge twice, including once on a 35-yar run, and is very good at selling the fakes. U-M is still a bit more finesse than smashmouth, but it's been good enough to get the Wolverines to 2-0.
A- The only thing keeping this from an A+ is Gardner's poor decision to scramble backward into his own end zone and huck a pass up for grabs to avoid a safety, resulting in an interception and Irish touchdown. That made a fourth quarter game of a contest that should have been a much more comfortable Michigan victory, and Gardner's coaches will tell him (again) Sunday it's inexcusable. He's now thrown at least one pick in each of his starts.
That said, where would Michigan be without him and fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon? Gardner looks like one of the elite quarterbacks in the nation at times, the perfect blend of run/pass signal caller that's killed the Wolverines over the years. And 5-8 or not, Gallon (184 yards, three touchdowns) is one of the Big Ten's best. To top it off, the receivers are outstanding blockers who didn't drop a ball Saturday.
C- Given their success on the ground through the heart of the Michigan defense - which played straight up for much of the game, no less, with seven in the box - Notre Dame might have been better off running more and shortening the game. Seems crazy given quarterback Tommy Rees' success, but his two picks were critical. By running successfully (which the Irish were), they could have kept the Wolverines and Devin Gardner off the field. Michigan won with its offense, after all.
Both Amir Carlisle (5.3 yards per carry) and George Atkinson, III (7.3) had success through gaping holes up front, but they carried only 17 times between them.
C+ Part of the game plan was to play soft coverage and keep the Notre Dame receivers in front of them. It worked to an extent. The long Irish passing play was 23 yards, and while Rees completed 29 passes and converted eight of 15 third downs, he also threw two critical picks that changed the complexion of the game (and nearly threw a third). Michigan's defensive backs didn't get much help in the pass rush from the front four, which failed to apply consistent pressure. In their defense, Rees many times released very quickly, a few times when it appeared he'd be under duress. He was also fortunate on one of his touchdowns, a tipped ball that ended up in receiver T.J. Jones' hands in the back of the end zone.
C Fifth-year senior kicker Brendan Gibbons was money again, making field goals from 44 and 38 yards. He's quietly become one of the better kickers in Michigan history. That, though, was one of the special teams' few highlights other than a few solid kick returns from sophomore Dennis Norfleet (including a 32-yarder). Junior Matt Wile shanked a fourth quarter punt and put a kickoff out of bounds during the Wolverines' fourth quarter meltdown that helped get the Irish back in it. U-M's specialists also allowed a 50-yard kickoff return after Michigan had seized control. Not the best day for this group, and only an average grade because of Gibbons' critical contributions.
B Beating Notre Dame is always to be celebrated, no matter how pretty or ugly it is. There's a lot to work on, but Michigan did plenty right to earn the victory over its rival to the south-southwest, led by offensive coordinator Al Borges' gameplan. Borges compensated for the lack of a consistent running game by keeping the Irish off balance with reverses, a well timed, 31-yard pass out of the backfield to Fitz Toussaint and some read option with Gardner that provided some huge plays in the running game. For all the heat he took with Denard Robinson under center at times, Borges has shown he's an outstanding offensive mind, especially when he's playing to his West Coast offense strengths. He's got the perfect quarterback for it, and there will be few defenses equipped to slow the Wolverines this year.
There was a lot to be desired about Michigan's defense, especially third downs. We're not used to seeing coordinator Greg Mattison go conservative, but it worked to an extent. The Irish didn't get the huge play, and the bend but don't break pass defense resulted in two critical interceptions.
They'll take the win with no apologies and the next three weeks to correct mistakes against overmatched opponents - and they'll improve.