By Andy Andersen
At first it looked like AD David Brandon had set up the Wolverines to fail on the biggest possible stage, in prime time, under the newly installed lights. Before over 114,840 energized spectators, at home, and with ESPN’s game day on the premises. It looked like the Coach Hoke “honeymoon” was about to end, and worse yet, the team was going to do something it had not done the two prior years. Get dominated and lose to the Irish.
In the end, as you know, the first night football game at Michigan Stadium ended in such spectacular fashion that even the pre-game honoree, Desmond Howard could appreciate being honored before the game. Desmond became the first player in Michigan history named a “Michigan Football Legend”. His spectacular game winning, 4th down, 4th quarter lay out TD reception of an Elvis Grbac desperation pass against ND, happened twenty years ago.
It was an absolute stunner and is rightly remembered among Michigan’s greatest plays. Another nice touch was the honoring of each Michigan alumnus killed in the September 11, 2001 WTC terrorist attack. Their names appeared on the scoreboards while “God Bless America” played. The chute troops made a parachute drop at the half to complete the non-game program.
For nearly three quarters of the game the Irish were mostly dominant. Michigan had 3 first downs in the first half. Defensively, Notre Dames’ big offensive line provided more than adequate pass protection and holes up the middle.
The Wolverine’s weapon of mass production, Denard Robinson, was bottled up on the ground, and couldn’t quite thread the ball into his receivers satisfactorily. Robinson ended the day 11 of 24 for 338-yards with a long completion of 77-yards, 4 TDs and 3 interceptions. Fortunately the 3 interceptions were countered by the Irish charitable donations of 5 miscues. He rushed 16 times for 108-yards, with a long of 58 and 1 TD. He picked up a near goal line Hopkins fumble, and instantly ran it in.
The defense, particularly in the first quarter, allowed long Irish scoring drives. Via land and air, and it seemed if there had been any water around, they would have scored that way, too. The Wolverines simply could not stop the Irish early. Notre Dame out gained the Wolverines for the game, and had more first downs. The prolific Irish scored in each quarter of the game. 14,3,7,7. The Wolverines countered with 0,7,0,28.
After allowing that first quarter binge, Michigan finally got on the scoreboard in the second quarter. The defense stopped the hemorrhage somewhat, allowing only a Field Goal. It is becoming clearer and clearer that when Coach Mattison studies the situation for a while effective adjustments materialize. As the game went on Brandon Hawthorne contributed defensively. Coach Hoke mentioned him post game.
Brief Scoring Summary:
ND struck in the 1st with a 7-play drive resulting in 6. Neither team missed an EP.
M 0, ND 7.
And they struck again, finishing a 10-play drive with a 10-yard run.
M 0, ND 14.
M answered with a 2-play drive, with Hemingway getting 6 on a 43-yard gallop.
M 7, ND 14.
It appeared M’s defense was overwhelmed. The Irish made it look easy, and hit a 38-yard FG.
M 7, ND 17.
ND received to start the 2nd half. Picking up where they left off the Irish got six on a 15-yard pass, and it looked like the Wolverines were finished to most observers.
M 7, ND 24.
But the magic 4th quarter was on its way.
Robinson picked up that Hopkins fumble and it was.
M 14, ND 24
A 14-yard pass to Gallon got 6, and hope is rekindling faster than a Texas wildfire on a windy day
M 21-ND 24.
Unbelievable. A tie? A win?
Vincent Smith grabbed a 21-pass, a throwback screen as Denard started right and threw to Smith going left. A nifty Smith move and he has 6.
M 28-ND 24
Notre Dame answered. Via 4-plays and a twenty-nine yard TD pass.
M 28-ND 31
With 30 seconds in the bank Robinson went to work and produced the game winner tossing a 16-yarder to Roundtree in the end zone for the final TD.
M35, ND 31.
Coach Hoke: On the decision to go for the win with eight seconds left … “Well, we had eight seconds. We had two timeouts left. Depending on what would have happened within that eight seconds, you know we had a timeout that we could have taken advantage of and may have gone for the tie, but most of the time we’re going for the win.”
Hemingway had an outstanding day with 3 grabs for 165 yards and a long of 77. Gallon caught 2 for 78-yards and a TD.Smith caught 2 for 26 with a long of 21 and 1 TD. Grady caught on for 37-yards, and Roundtree caught the 16-yard winner. McColgan snagged one.
Defensively, JT Floyd had some nice stats. 1 interception, 6 tackles, and 1 pass breakup. Kovacs got another interception. Will Campbell and Ryan Van Bergen recovered fumbles.
The officiating on the day seemed OK. They called an interference penalty on Avery that seemed a figment of imagination, but several reviews went Michigan’s way, confirming the calls on the field. Rountree’s game winner was wrestled by the DB, but replay confirmed possess and foot down, and the winning TD. Once when passing Denard was grabbed by the shirttail, but stood strong, and got the pass off. Michigan was fortunate the play was not called dead there. Maybe the full moon favored the Wolverines, the three leaf clovers on the helmets of the Irish didn’t seem to help. I kind of liked the throw back jerseys, but missed the names on the back.
Michigan almost scored again with 2 seconds on the clock as the Irish couldn’t collar the kickoff, but the ball got pushed out of the end zone and/or time expired, completing a game that will be long remembered in the annals of the competition of the two storied programs. Well, maybe Notre Dame will want to forget it but it will not be forgotten in Ann Arbor.
This was one of the most exciting finishes ever seen in Michigan Stadium, a great entertainment, a tribute to the ability of the coaches to make game time adjustments. It was a beautiful scene, in person and on television. It was without question a great inauguration of night football in Michigan Stadium, and among the most exciting games ever played by Wolverines.
Coach Hoke’s demeanor was admirable. He appeared calm during and gracious after, did not yell at his players and evidently inspired his charges to take charge. This team plays the full sixty minutes. He is in distinct contrast to ND Coach Brian Kelly who ranges from hot to hotter on the sidelines.
It is surprising how similar Michigan and Notre Dame are talent wise, but the nod there has to go to Notre Dame generally, except for Denard. They both have DBs possessing somewhat similar coverage problems and level of talent. Michigan has a shortage of talent and numbers on defense because defensive players were not recruited in sufficient numbers for several years.
Even so the past three years have all resulted in Wolverine wins over the Irish under different coaches. The margin has been razor thin. In 2009, the winning TD came with 11 seconds left. In 2010, the winner came with 27 seconds left. This year there were two seconds left.
This win is worth celebration if one ever was, but it displayed some serious offensive and defensive vulnerabilities. The coaches harp that this team is still a work in progress. We should listen to them. There are some tough games ahead.
This tough team of Wolverines will win most of them but lose some. When they do lose, we can rest assured that it won’t be from lack of effort. What more can we ask?