Irish MVP: Kyle BrindzaSo much for the kicking competition. Clutch throughout his 15-game collegiate career, Brindza answered the bell again, banging home field goals of 44, 24, and 40 yards, all three with the Irish trailing and each to cut the lead to under a touchdown when the offense stalled inside Michigan territory.
Brindza likewise hit punts of 43 and 37 yards to turn field position while booting four of six kickoffs into the end zone and a fifth to the one-yard line.
Offensive Game Ball: Tommy ReesHe threw one back-breaking interception near the end of the first half, but Tommy Rees otherwise played winning football Saturday night, finishing 29 of 51 (with five, potentially six drops among the misses) two touchdowns, and 314 yards. Rees' second interception ended Notre Dame's final gasp, his pass deflected off Raymond Taylor's foot and into the air for a Blake Countess interception (the redshirt-freshman's second of the day).
It was Countess's first pick of Rees, an ill-advised late throw on a role left, that turned momentum late in the second half, setting up the Wolverines with a first down at the Irish 23-yard line. They scored shortly thereafter and Notre Dame trailed 27-13 at the break.
Additional Game Balls: Junior tight end Troy Niklas caught six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown, the entire allotment coming in the second half. Niklas' 20-yard catch-and-run late in the third quarter culminated a 12-play, 90-yard drive that drew the Irish within seven, 27-20. He added first-down receptions of 21 yards, 13 yards, and 11 yards.
Senior captain T.J. Jones secured a career-high nine receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted for a whopping 19 passes by Rees, nearly twice as many as his closest teammate (DaVaris Daniels was thrown to 10 times).
Junior running back Amir Carlisle ran hard throughout, compiling 64 yards on 12 carries, almost exclusively from the Pistol backfield.
Notre Dame's offensive line yielded just one sack -- that in the fourth quarter when Rees was forced to hold the ball for a shot downfield -- on 51 Rees pass attempts.
Defensive MVP: None
Defensive "Flashes": There's not an Irish defender deserving of a game ball from Saturday night's sham in Ann Arbor, but a few made plays of impact. Stephon Tuitt was shut-out on the edge in his matchup with the Wolverines offensive tackles but his diving interception touchdown in the end zone gave the Irish late life. Junior Ishaq Williams showed better in the second half, recording a key third-down sack while offering another pressure of Devin Gardner.
Inside linebackers Dan Fox (10 tackles including one for loss), Carlo Calabrese (5 stops, 2 for loss) and Jarrett Grace (four stops and a pass break-up) enjoyed statistically strong evenings but the trio was often victimized by Gardner in space. Grace showed better in coverage than either of his 5th-year senior teammates.
Sophomore safety Elijah Shumate influenced several second half plays in the box, sacking Gardner on a crucial third down in the fourth quarter.
Louis Nix was held in check, finishing with four tackles including one for lost yardage.