Growing Season

This is how the series ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Notre Dame dominated its former rival Saturday night, beating the artists formerly known as the Michigan Wolverines, 31-0.

For the Irish and their fans, it was a celebration, one in which they reveled in second half song, dance, and irrepressible grins saved for the house guests they despise most.

For the vanquished Wolverines? A rout. One from which no honor could be salvaged.

"I would be lying to tell you that it doesn't feel great to shut out Michigan 31-0," said Irish head coach Brian Kelly as he offered his fourth reference in as many questions to the game's final margin. "

"It feels great that we're the first team in the history of Notre Dame football to shut out a Michigan team."

It's a remarkable achievement, and a feather in Kelly's coaching cap, Considering the respective trajectory of the programs, the all-time winning percentage edge Notre Dame has reclaimed over Michigan during the Kelly era seems safe as well.

Conversely, the tenure of fourth-year Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, seems anything but. The Wolverines have lost nine straight away from home against teams that finished with a winning record. Make that 10 straight, because Kelly's 2014 Irish are well on their way to that plateau.

Maybe much higher.

"This team's success is really in its youth," said Kelly. "There's young guys out there that are playing for this football team and we have embraced that. It's a group of kids that has bonded really well together on both sides of the ball."

Michigan had no answers for Notre Dame's defense, one that is slated to return all but one current starter next season. The Irish have employed the services of 11 true freshmen through two games, eight of them on the defensive side of scrimmage. A whopping 27 sophomores and freshmen found the field tonight -- eight started. Just three of the team's 22 starters on offense and defense -- three exhaust eligibility this fall.

"I would say (a shutout) really just ceases all the doubts," said sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith. "We're young, we can execute. There are things we have to improve upon -- there were a lot of mental errors out there that the crowd may not see.

"But we're going to get better."

It's an enticing thought. The 2014 Irish haven't turned the ball over, are 10-for-10 in red zone opportunities with seven touchdowns, and have committed just five penalties.

They run more than they pass (second to turnover differential as the chief indicator of Kelly-era success) and they have one of the nation's top players at the controls.

Asked post-game if that player, quarterback Everett Golson was an early Heisman candidate, Kelly deadpanned, "Yeah, let's put him up for it. Sure. Throw him in there."

The coach's facetious response belies his recent appreciation for the much-improved on field commander.

"He really has a better sense and feel for the offense we're running," said Kelly of Golson. "I think it all started when he got an opportunity to learn how to protect himself, and protection, for me, is the catapult for quarterbacks in their development. When you know you're protected, and you know your protections, your eyes, you an get into progression and see routes, and their development."

Golson has accounted for eight touchdowns without a turnover. He's hit on 37 of 56 passes with at least six of his 19 incompletions bouncing off the hands of the intended target. Almost a handful of those would-be completions fell far downfield plenty of yards left on the table. Golson's numbers are good -- they could be staggering.

A potential top tier quarterback. A defense playing fast, focused, and together. A (mandatory) 2-0 start entering the only forgiving segment of the 2014 slate.

Kelly's Irish have ample room to grow, 24 hours to celebrate this win, and an undetermined amount of time until the program will see the bloodied and battered Wolverines again.

Michigan's in the rear view -- greater challenges lie ahead.


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