Safeties rise to challenge after slow start

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Elijah Shumate was heartbroken that his first career touchdown was called back. The Notre Dame safety's teammates had always dogged him about his days as a prep running back, and when he finally got to show off his speed off during a 61-yard return, it went for naught.

Officials ruled that Max Redfield roughed Devin Gardner, the score was nullified, the Irish took a final knee and then went on to celebrate their shutout victory anyway.

Perhaps no moment better underscores the turnaround Shumate and his fellow safeties experienced from Week 1 to Week 2. Coach Brian Kelly was none too pleased with their communication issues coming off a season-opening win over Rice, and they responded appropriately.

There was Matthias Farley drilling Dennis Norfleet 2 yards behind the scrimmage and jawing throughout the game. There was Redfield notching his first career interception on the second half's first drive. And there was Shumate, picking off Gardner on what was going to be the game's final play, racing down the near sideline for what looked like the final score of the final meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan.

"I wasn't sure if Elijah -- did he think we were losing?" linebacker Joe Schmidt said after the game. "He was moving so fast."

Shumate joked that he was upset at Redfield for the penalty that wiped the six points away, but the two were clearly happy with how things had been unfolding, laughing together on the sideline afterward.

"He just told me that he hit him, he hit him hard," Shumate said. "I didn't know the call at first. I really wasn't too upset. I was just happy that we were able to end the game like that."

Shumate entered his junior campaign with four starts to his name but was behind Redfield and captain Austin Collinsworth on the Week 1 depth chart. A Collinsworth MCL sprain two days before the opener threw him into the fire early, and Kelly said the day after the game that neither starter picked up the slack.

Fast-forward to the minutes after throttling the Wolverines, and the fifth-year Irish coach was singing a different tune.

"They knew that it was their time to step up and lead back there," Kelly said. "They were put in that position by virtue of an injury, and the circumstances, and they were not going to let their teammates down. It's a very close group of guys. That, in itself, motivates this group to do things that is really outside their comfort zone. They're not great communicators as it is. They're very quiet kids, but they did a nice job on Saturday."

Kelly suggested it was the best game Shumate had played for the Irish so far. Shumate gave plenty of credit to Collinsworth, saying that the fifth-year senior has been on him from the get-go.

"You've got to learn everything on the defense," Shumate said. "You've got to learn what the linebackers, what the linemen, what the cornerbacks have to do, and you've got to know where you've got to be at. Basically just getting everybody lined up, being the quarterback of the defense."

Farley, a redshirt junior who transitioned from receiver three years ago, knows that being loud and firm as the director of the unit's back-end goes a long way toward making plays on Saturdays. He saw a more relaxed Shumate on Saturday after ample time to adjust to his role.

"He's incredibly talented, it's unbelievable," Farley said. "The big thing with him is just, he's just gained a whole bunch of confidence. When you put that talent with confidence, it's a very lethal combination, it's hard to stop. When you get him believing in himself and you get everyone believing and trusting it really makes a huge difference."