Unfortunately for Notre Dame fans, it wasn't the Irish. The 11th ranked Michigan Wolverines came into Notre Dame Stadium and looked like the real deal, dominating every facet of the game en route to a 47-21 victory. The loss sends the second ranked Irish to 2-1 on the season and they'll travel to Michigan State next weekend. Notre Dame will look to pick up the pieces from a disheartening loss to a heated rival. It couldn't get much worse than Saturday's performance. Irish head coach Charlie Weis was quick to praise Michigan after the shellacking.
"I think it's only fair, before I start going through the analysis of our game, I want to make sure that I give proper credit to Michigan," Weis said. "We can all sit there and talk about Notre Dame football, say all the things that went wrong in the game, starting with the coach. But I think it's really only right to give just due to your opponent who just kicked your butt."
If the scoreboard didn't tell the story, the final stats filled in the blanks. Time of possession is always a Weis advantage. On Saturday, Michigan flipped the script. The Wolverines held the ball for 34 minutes to Notre Dame's 26. Going into the fourth quarter, it was a 29-16 Michigan edge. The Wolverine rush attack helped this stat, carrying the ball an important 41 times for 120 yards. Michigan's Michael Hart busted his way through the Notre Dame defense for 124 yards and a touchdown on 31 attempts.
The vaunted Irish offense produced just 17 rushing yards. Darius Walker ran for 25 yards on 10 carries. Totally, Notre Dame gained just 245 yards compared to 340 from Michigan. All-American wideout Jeff Samardzija was held in check by catching just four balls for 30 yards. On third downs, another strength under Weis, the Irish were a lowly 2-of-14. Also, penalties and turnovers killed the Irish. Notre Dame had five giveaways in the game and committed 11 penalties for 84 yards.
"It really, really surprised me," Weis said of his team's performance. "I mean, we had on Tuesday and Wednesday our best Tuesday and Wednesday we had. Like our little conference that we had on Thursday, where I said, you know, I wasn't really happy with how things went on Thursday, that was the only signs of the week where things didn't look great. I'm telling you what, on Tuesday and Wednesday, things couldn't have gone much better than they did.
"Really I had no indication that that's the way it was going to turn out."
Michigan stepped on the gas early and never looked back. The Wolverines raced out to a 34-14 halftime advantage. It was the most points allowed in the half at home by Notre Dame since 1979. Brady Quinn was picked off on the second play of the game and was returned 31 yards by Michigan's Prescott Burgess for a touchdown to give the Wolverines a quick 7-0 lead.
There was a glimmer of hope for a bit. Ashley McConnell caught a three-yard touchdown pass from Quinn after Chinedum Ndukwe returned a Chad Henne interception 51 yards to the Michigan four-yard line. That tied the contest at 7-all in the first quarter.
The Wolverines forcefully took the crowd out of the game by proceeding to score the next 27 points of the game. Henne found Mario Manningham three times for scores from distances of 69, 20 and 22 yards. The last one put Michigan up 34-7 as the stunned Irish faithful sat by quietly. The sophomore wide receiver now has four touchdowns in two games against the Irish and his first four career catches vs. Notre Dame all went for scores. Manningham finished the contest with four catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns while Henne was 13-of-22 for 220 yards, three scores and an interception.
"We've got some guys that can run," Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr said. "Mario Manningham, the sky is the limit for this guy. He is a much bigger, stronger, faster guy. He's really bought into a work ethic that it takes to become an outstanding player. Mario Manningham is a guy we feel that will be tough for anybody to defend."
It wasn't a banner day for the Irish's Quinn. The senior signal caller has seen much better days in a Notre Dame uniform, completing 24-of-48 for 234 yards. Quinn did throw three touchdown passes to give him six for the season. But he also tossed three costly interceptions that turned into 10 Michigan points. A fumble by Quinn in the fourth quarter was recovered by the Wolverines' LaMarr Woodley and taken 54 yards to the house to add insult to injury. Michigan got pressure on Quinn, a key to handling Notre Dame's offense. They sacked him three times.
"I know how he'll react," Weis said of Quinn. "I'm not interested because I already know how he'll react. You watch him. He knows how to handle himself. I mean, he's his biggest critic. I tell you what, there's plenty of people to blame. I'll start with me."
"We went in with the idea if we were going to have a chance to win, we had to pressure Brady Quinn," Carr said. "We felt we could do that because we have an excellent front. I mean, we've got some depth and we've got some guys that are very athletic. It's the best front we've had probably since I've been at Michigan."
The positives for Notre Dame are few. The Irish got three receiving touchdowns, one each by McConnell, Samardzija and Rhema McKnight. Samardzija and McKnight both now have two touchdowns on the season. Victor Abaimiri totaled nine tackles, including two and a half for losses. Ndukwe was the team's leading tackler with 11 stops while Trevor Laws chipped in 10. But in the end, the scoreboard read Michigan blowout and Notre Dame now faces a week of hard questioning.
"Hey, let's face it, you go lose 47 21, you deserve to be criticized," Weis said. "You deserve to pick up the paper the next day and say, What the heck happened? You deserve that, okay? On the flipside of that, you got a team who just came in that kicked your butt pretty good, they deserve it.
"The bad comes with the good. You're the one, you and the quarterback, are the ones when things go well, everyone pats you on the back. When things don't go well, guess what, you're the ones they should come after, too. It should work that way. I just hope it doesn't happen too often.