Sept. 7, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – As the bright lights of the Notre Dame Stadium scoreboard clock ticked down on what would be a historic shutout against Michigan, University of Notre Dame safety Elijah Shumate locked eyes with fellow safety Max Redfield, and both quickly realigned their positions.
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner took the snap and fired off a pass, and Shumate pounced. Shumate picked off the pass and sprinted 61 yards for what looked like a stunning pick-six–emphatic exclamation points for a runaway victory by the No. 15/16 Fighting Irish on Saturday.
A yellow flag on the green Irish turf took the points off the board, but the penalty that negated Shumate’s grand theft couldn’t take away from the impact Shumate and Redfield had in helping the Irish stop the nation’s longest streak of consecutive games without a shutout. Notre Dame scored its first shutout of Michigan in the fabled 42-game rivalry, and ended the Wolverines’ NCAA record streak of 365 consecutive games without suffering a shutout in its 31-0 victory.
Notre Dame is 2-0 with the victory and heads to Indianapolis next Saturday to play Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium. Michigan is 1-1.
Shumate hit the Wolverines for 10 tackles, one interception, and one pass break-up. Redfield made six tackles and had also intercepted a pass. Both focused on the team accomplishment of hanging a shutout on Michigan for the first time since Iowa shut out Michigan, 26-0, on Oct. 27, 1984.
“It feels so good,” said Shumate, a 6-0, 208-pound junior from East Orange, N.J. “It’s a great accomplishment. Michigan is a historical school. We take our hats off to Michigan. That’s a great, great school, with a great tradition, like Notre Dame. To end a streak like that against a great historical school, that means a lot to us.”
Redfield, a 6-1, 198 sophomore from Mission Viejo, Calif., said the spirits in a jubilant post-game celebration in the locker room soared when the Irish learned about the significance of the shutout.
“We didn’t even know about the streak, but once we got word of it, it’s a pretty incredible stat,” Redfield said. “We tried our best to do what we were practicing all week. We really came out and executed as a team. We played great, and we’re really happy with ourselves.”
Shumate and Redfield grew up in a hurry to help the Irish defense turn in a physical, nasty and smart effort against the Wolverines. They were stung on a second-and-18 play in last week’s Rice game, when an Owl wide receiver broke loose for a touchdown after a miscommunication by an Irish secondary dealing with the sudden loss of injured leader Austin Collinsworth.
“Last week I was called upon to step up, and Max and I weren’t really on the same page,” Shumate said. “Austin and Max were on the same page. Max and I had to develop the bond and the communication, to get that knack where you can just go out there and play. We also worked with Joe Schmidt, who is a great communicator, and who right now is the leader of our defense.”
Redfield said he and Shumate worked to develop the communication that is critical for defensive backs.
“The coaches let us know about it,” Redfield said of the mistake against Rice. “We knew it was miscommunication. It wasn’t a lack of ability. We learned from it. We try to build off of every mistake.”
Shumate and Redfield put in extra time to make sure there wouldn’t be a repeat of the Rice mistake. They watched film and talked over what they saw. They talked as much as they could in practice. They made an extra effort to spend time together when they weren’t in class or on the practice field.
“When we got on the field to play Michigan, everything was second nature,” Shumate said. “We didn’t have to talk to each other. We knew what to do. It’s not easy to do. It takes a lot of film study, putting in extra time, and learning to know each other’s mind.”
Being able to communicate with just a glance is a vital tool for defensive backs.
“It’s really important to develop that bond,” Redfield said. “You have to play on the same page. In a split-second, it can go from us all playing together and everything is going smoothly, to falling apart and us getting exposed. We really have to develop a friendship and connection off the field, so we can communicate fluidly on the field.”
Notre Dame’s coaches called out Shumate to step up in Collinsworth’s absence.
“Our coaches were stressing that the safeties and the defensive backs had to be vocal,” Shumate said. “We lost our captain, our leader, Austin Collinsworth, who makes the calls and is very vocal. The coaches challenged me to step up and make a lot of calls. We all practiced hard, we got in the film room and we got on the same page. We knew if we were on the same page, we’d play well.”
As cheers echoed in the tunnel outside of the Irish locker room, Shumate was moving past Notre Dame’s shutout of Michigan and focused on what the Irish effort in that accomplishment means for the rest of the season.
“We just want everybody to see that. once everybody comes together, we can be a great defense,” Shumate said. “We have a lot to work on. We’re still not at the point we want to be at, but we’re working hard, and we’re getting better. The sky is the limit for our defense.”
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent