ANN ARBOR — Ever the taskmaster, Brady Hoke continued to pick apart his team in the moments after its 41-30 win over Notre Dame.
Defeating a longtime rival wasn’t enough. The third-year Wolverines coach recognized a few points in the wake of Saturday night’s game at Michigan Stadium.
“We could be a good football team if we do a better job of playing the run,” said Hoke, whose team hosts Akron at noon Saturday. “This is all from a defensive perspective from some degree, to start with. We have to be tighter on coverage. I think we’ll have a little more confidence to do that.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Michigan versus Notre Dame
Even with Hoke’s quibbles in mind, the win over the Irish legitimized the Wolverines (2-0) who moved up to No. 11 in the Associated Press rankings.
It also galvanized the Wolverines.
The offense responded its first test against a team with a touted defense by accruing 460 yards, and as part of a pass-happy scheme that accounted for nearly two-thirds of the offense, Jeremy Gallon played taller than his stature; the wide receiver had a game-best and career best 184 yards on eight catches, and caught three touchdowns.
“I could never imagine doing something like this,” Gallon said. “I could imagine myself just coming out and playing for my team and playing my role as a teammate and as a leader and as a senior on this team. A game this big, I mean, it’s not me, it’s the rest of the teammates, the rest of the offense. I can’t take all the credit.”
Quarterback Devin Gardner made key decisions with confidence, and recovered after making what could have been a game-changing decision early in the fourth quarter, an off-balance pass from the end zone caught by Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt's chest for a touchdown, and cut the Wolverines’ lead to 34-27.
Gardner called it a “horrible decision” he made in order to avoid being sacked and to avoid a safety, but credited Michigan’s defense with its response.
“I made a bad turnover in my own end, and the defense came out and stopped them,” Gardner said. “The offense stopped them to get the 4-minute drill going, and and we could run the clock out.”
Blake Countess, whose interception of Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees in the last two minutes thwarted the Irish’s final drive, called the matchup “a dogfight” and credited his defense with responding, instead of just reacting.
“We knew we were going to have to keep responding and when our number was called, we answered,” the cornerback said. “That was the difference.”
In preparation for the Zips (1-1), there’s certain to be some nit-picking and fine-tuning. But Gardner made a projection for his team.
“If I limit my mistakes, we can go as far as we want,” Gardner said. “The offensive line is going to block, Fitzgerald Toussaint is going to run, the receivers are going to catch.
“If everybody does their job and if I do my job, in particular, we’ll be fine."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.