The eleventh ranked Wolverines outplayed the second ranked Fighting Irish in South Bend Saturday to earn their first season opening away game victory in seven tries. The Wolverines outplayed the overmatched Irish in nearly all phases of the game, in their stunning and surprising 47 to 21 upset of the Irish.
What a relief it was.
Those anticipating a close game, and the Notre Dame magic and gremlins, were disappointed for the ball bounced Michigan?s way today. Their skill and effort made it so. So much for the luck of the Irish, at least on this occasion.
Players that we had hoped would step up did as ND was held to twenty-four net yards rushing. Prescott Burgess for example appeared to me to have his best game as a Wolverine. The entire defense, and especially the defensive line featuring Branch and Taylor, along with Crable, gave Heisman Trophy hopeful Brady Quinn fits all day. Early, when Michigan?s offense was still sputtering and the game undecided, they were there. Late, when ND was pressing, they were still there. LaMarr Woodley capped the Michigan scoring with his TD gallop down the sidelines. This opportunity was gratuitously provided by Brady Quinn, when he let the ball slip from his grasp as he cocked his arm to pass. Quinn tried to cover, couldn?t, and LaMarr scooped it up and completed every defensive players dream of a fifty-four yard TD run. The Wolverine DBs were tattooing the Irish. Morgan Trent started on one corner and his speed was obvious. He made some mistakes, but contributed to the victory.
Sure Michigan performance wasn?t perfect, but they didn?t have to be to beat the mistake prone Irish. Five ND TO?s. Michigan?s stiff defense caused many of those errors. While the Blue made some mistakes with late hit and interference penalties, and Chad Henne threw an interception while trying to avoid a sack that ND turned into a TD to knot the score at seven up in the first quarter. He more than made up for that with three beautiful TDs to Super Mario to put the game out of reach. They were as nice as any you?ll ever see.
He otherwise played well under pressure and ND stadium is a pressure cooker. Chad passed for two hundred twenty yards, on thirteen of twenty-two, with three TDs and only the lone aerial miscue. I don?t recall a more masterful performance against Notre Dame in Notre Dame Stadium ever by a Wolverines quarterback. He displayed poise, smarts, ability, and performance maturity.
Chad clearly played better than the very disappointed Brady Quinn. Fortunately he didn?t have to face the defensive line Quinn faced. Quinn was twenty-four of forty-eight with three TDs and three interceptions. Respectable numbers, but three interceptions and two fumbles destroyed Irish hopes for victory.
Mario Manningham went a long way toward making Michigan fans quit yearning for Braylon Edwards by running great routs and making outstanding catches all afternoon. He had four catches for one hundred thirty-seven yards with a long TD of sixty-nine yards. A great performance. He and Henne were usually very much in synch. When Mario fell into the band after his last TD in the first half, he hurt his wrist, and came out in the second in a light cast. He endured the sideline for a time, cast aside the cast, and caught a great 1st down pass. Michigan has found a go to guy. Yes, Virginia, there really is a downfield Michigan passing game and it alive and well. I heard Jamie Morris talk last Tuesday and he said it existed, but I was still concerned until the performance today.
The Wolverines even avoided costly special team mistakes, although it was a surprise Steve Breaston didn?t break more. One reason was the Irish punter. He is outstanding in distance and hang, and the ND coverage was outstanding. Steve had some nice first down runs, but seemed to drop some catch able balls. Yet, he is going to tear someone up this year. There will be plenty of opportunity to come.
The scoring went like this:
Prescott Burgess grabbed a pass that bounced off the ND receiver?s hands, and rambled thirty?one yards to six points. Rivas converted. M 7, ND 0. Michigan never relinquished this lead.
On the very next possession, Chad threw an interception setting up a three-yard ND pass for six. EP converted. This was a stunning change of circumstance. M 7, ND 7.
Later in the 1st Quarter Mario gathered in a 69-yard TD, using speed and deception to gain the advantage over the DB. He was wide open. M 13, ND 7 after a failed EP. It seemed to me this could be a problem later.
Not to worry, the Wolverines got great field position from a ND miscue and drove twenty-seven yard for a Hart two-yard leap into the end zone. This kid is a player. M 20, ND 7 and the second quarter hasn?t even started. What a great start, but the great coaching of Charlie Weiss and arm of Brady Quinn still seem a threat.
Chad and Mario soon eased these fears a little, by driving fifty-four yards in six plays, featuring a twenty-nine yard TD pass to Mario. Rivas converted. M 27, ND 7.
This was a nice and unexpected lead, but there was still that sneaking suspicion that ND would battle back.
With about two minutes left in the half, Chad tossed Mario another one for thirty-two yards, culminating a nine-play fifty-two yard drive. Rivas converted. M34- ND 7.
Notre Dame answered by marching seventy-two yards in eight plays and scored on a four- yard pass. This drive was very disappointing as it seemed possible it put a little gas in the Irish tank. M 34, ND 14.
Half over, with a commanding Michigan lead of 34 to 14. This was a great Michigan football performance, offensively and defensively. But that late Notre Dame drive seemed too easy and seemed a bad omen for the second half.
In the third quarter both defenses caught up, and Michigan was held to two Garrett Rivas field goals of twenty and thirty-three yards. M 40, ND 14. At this point I had forgiven Rivas for the missed EP as it now seemed immaterial. I could not tell from the tape whether it was just a low kick or leakage that caused the block.
In the fourth quarter, ND managed a nice eight play, eighty yard drive, ending with a twenty-eight yard TD pass. M 40, ND 21. Will Michigan fade?
LaMarr Woodley erased some of any remaining heat, with his recovery of Quinn?s fumble and long jaunt for a TD. M 47, ND 21.
As a Michigan fan, it just doesn?t get much better than this.
This game against ND, as always, was on a big national stage, was against a team of wide national interest with genuine and impressive traditions of its own. All the rewards of winning football, such as national respect were at stake, including a shot at a BCS bowl. The game was against a much hyped, if over hyped, program and Coach. M was matched against a team that is a prime recruiting competitor of the Wolverines, and it was a game in which Michigan was a huge underdog. Michigan was a team with a recent history of ordinary play away from home, a team that in the recent past had played many close games and lost some they shouldn?t have, had lost major bowls recently. They were deemed by many of their most stalwart fans as perhaps a program on the way down.
The football lesson the Irish received Saturday is proof that the program is not on the way down. This win vindicates as wise the moves that Coach Carr made in this off-season. Such as the appointment of Mike DeBord as Offensive Coordinator, and Ron English as the Defensive Coordinator, Ron Lee as DBs Coach, Steve Szabo as LB?s Coach. Also, last year?s acquisition of Steve Stripling seems sound in light of the way Michigan is playing defensively. It appears the change in conditioning has also been beneficial.
This may mute some of the criticism of the program for a while, at least till the next loss, and will certainly improve the esteem in which Chad Henne is held among the Big Ten?s Quarterbacks. It will provide a launching pad for a run for the Big Ten title.
I don?t know about you but I am happy as hell with this one. Granted it is only one game, but it was a big one. You know that defense is genuine, just as you knew in 1997 that the defense was genuine early in the season, when they pummeled Colorado.
Thank you Wolverines for providing an old fashioned country thumping to the Irish. Michigan has never scored so many points against the Irish.
Admittedly, they can throw all this away with just one loss before Ohio State. The Big Ten season will start next week and those pesky Badgers will clutter up Michigan Stadium next Saturday with those big W?s on their helmets and all that red and white. It is also possible that Notre Dame is more of an average football team than anybody thinks.
It will be interesting to see what the Irish are able to do to stymie that productive Spartan offense next week.
Now for a final word on Notre Dame. They have a great program, a great football tradition with sound academic standards. I actually like their fight song. The Victory March approaches the Victors in quality, their helmets and uniforms look good, but those homer NBC broadcasts are hard to stomach. They extol the greatness of the ND players, even when they are losing etc. with canned adulation. Come on, NBC, you can do better.
I am anticipating the reception the fans will give the Blue next Saturday after this Saturday?s program win. Enthusiasm has been restored. Seven and five is history. It is a great way to start the Big Ten season.
Thank you Wolverines, and?.