By Andy Andersen
In what was one of the most exciting games in the modern Wolverine/Irish football series, Forcier, Stonum, Mathews and Minor played major roles in a 38-34 victory. Michigan finally prevailed at least partly and maybe mostly due to the outstanding performances of the quartet mentioned in the title above. Other games in the series have been close and featured outstanding performances, but this one was exciting alpha to omega, featuring two outstandingly productive offenses, and defenses with just enough stops at critical junctures to keep it close, to keep it interesting, to keep it winnable.
It is hard to say the Wolverine defense was outstanding, although at the end of the game they stopped ND enough to enable victory before and after the Tate/Mathews pass/catch that put the Wolverines up for good. An outstanding Stevie Brown hit put the ball on the turf, and when recovered, gave M?s offense good field position to begin one scoring drive. The defense played hard and never quit, but yielding a total of 590 yards meant it had some problems.
Even so, the eighteenth ranked Irish are a talented, and experienced team. Their improving QB Jimmy Clausen and outstanding receivers had M’s CBs for lunch, racking up 336-yards passing, and 3 TDs, but M?s CBs had enough break ups to win. With an effort and production like ND?s, one wouldn?t expect to lose. ND receivers Floyd and Tate are extraordinary. Their lines are huge. Notre Dame rushed for 154-yards missing Aldridge, their best back. But all that turned out to be a losing combination, as the Wolverines were capable of putting on an offensive show of their own.
Tate Forcier and the offense countered with outstanding poise and ability in only his second game wearing the winged helmet. He was 23 of 33 for 240 yards and 2 TDs, and rushed 13 times for 70-yards, and a 31-yard dash up the middle for a TD to kept the Wolverines in the game on fourth and three. He made some mistakes, but always recovered (even after an untimely drive killing fumble and an interception), and played with more poise than can be realistically expected of a skinny freshman. He simply produced all that was needed to defeat a talented Notre Dame contingent when it was needed. The kid is a winner. He is going to get nothing but better with experience.
Tate took the majority of the snaps at OQ, but Denard Robinson contributed with a few runs. He has to throw the ball now and then so they do not crowd him all the time on his runs. Once they had Denard in the gun and Tate split left but the play failed. Tate also had a very decent quick kick that did not fail and was very effective. His quick kick traveled 50-yards and gave Michigan critically needed field position.
Darryl Stonum ran a kick off back 94-yards for a TD in the first quarter, and he collared Tate?s pooch punt at about the ND 3-yard line. I had no idea he was that fast. The run back gave the Blue a 14-7 lead in the first quarter, and ratcheted up the crowd enthusiasm to deafening peaks. He also had several key catches, left the game dinged, but not before he had caught 4 for 54-yards.
Greg Matthews did not gain much yardage corralling many punts, but dropped none, and had an outstanding leaping pass reception. He collared 5 passes for 68-yards and caught one TD, with a long reception of 40-yards. He managed the winning TD with seconds left on a 5-yard Forcier pass. I remember about 11 seconds on the clock when the play ended, later that was reduced to 9 seconds as ND took the subsequent snap.
At a critical juncture, a wide open Greg did not look for a Tate pass when he was in route, but appeared to be looking to block. The interception happened at a critical junction, ending a drive late in the game. Fortunately for both Greg and us, he snagged the game winner later. Vindicated!
That Brandon Minor is Michigan’s most effective running back when healthy was demonstrated Saturday. He had 16 carries for 106-yards, a TD with a run of 32-yards.
They would not have won without his runs.
While the above players made the most visible contributions to whacking ND, this is still a team sport, and the rest of the team presented great effort, too, did not fall apart under pressure, and also showed great team unity.
Brandon Minor opened the scoring on a two yard run, after a 79-yard drive featuring a 40-yard Mathews reception. Olesnavage hit all the afternoon?s EPs and it was M 7, ND 0.
ND began to move the ball at will, dominated the statistics, and soon registered 2 TDs to take a 17 to 14 lead. It seemed they would prevail. There were dominating offensively and would not be stopped. They then hit a FG to make it ND 20 M 14, and it was looking like last year was coming back.
M finished the scoring for the half, on as Olesnavage hit a FG for 39-yards. The half ended M 17, ND 20.
Many felt we would see just how good Rodriguez was in answering the question as to whether they could adjust at the half and hang in there? Or, overwhelmed, would they quit.
Tate Forcier expanded M’s lead to 11 again on a 31-yard run up the middle to cap a 6-play, 64-yard drive. A beautiful run, and the crowd went nuts. M 31, ND 20.
The euphoria didn?t last long as ND produced a pair of scoring dives, with ND hitting a pass, (the 2-point conversion failed) and then scored a TD on a run (two point conversion good). Now it is getting more desperate all the time. No more lead. And it was getting late in the game with M 31, ND 34.
But no nerves Forcier went to work as this team produced a stunning victory against a ranked opponent, marching on a nine play 58-yard TD drive that was outstanding in its effectiveness. Tate?s 5-yard completion to Greg Mathews for what proved to be the winning score brought a joyous pandemonium to the crowd the likes of which has seldom been seen. M 38, ND 34.
ND used up the 9 seconds remaining and M had prevailed. The pass to Mathews was preceeded by an 18-yard strike to LaTerryal Savoy that put them on the 5. Another vindication as Savoy earlier in the drive has one bounce of his chest in the end zone.
It is beginning to seem that Michigan is developing well and may end up being a force in the Big Ten by the end of the season, if things fall their way. But before that we have Eastern Michigan. Can you appreciate how badly Coach English wants to down the Wolverines? They played well against Northwestern. Toledo and Appalachian State taught there is no such thing as a gimmee. One more win will match last year?s total wins.
The one Notre Dame fan I talked to after the game said he was from Pittsburg, and blasted Rich Rodriguez, saying he wouldn?t work out at Michigan. I reminded him that it seemed today that he was working out very well indeed. End of conversation.
Do you think Michigan State fans woke up today with a Chip on their shoulder? And how many Bucks got a headache that won?t quit this morning? Ah, the pleasures of schadenfreude.
This was a great weekend of Michigan Football!