Now that was a fast start.
Just a week after waiting three quarters to take advantage of its opportunities, the Notre Dame offense wasted no time on Saturday, jumping all over Michigan right away and making the plays in the end to secure a 35-17 victory and 2-0 start.
Notre Dame's defense forced turnovers on the Wolverines' first three possessions and the offense capitalized by jumping out to a three-touchdown lead while having the ball for less than two of the game's first 13 minutes.
The Wolverines fought back to make it interesting, but they never got closer than 11 after the first quarter and Brian Smith's 35-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth sealed the victory for the Irish.
After seeing the determination of his team last week, Charlie Weis learned more about his squad on Saturday.
"I learned that they could pick up where they left off," Weis said. "Obviously when you get on top of them boom, boom, boom early, the whole complexion of the game changes for both teams, it isn't just us. Neither one of us is really built at this time to play from behind in a significant margin."
Notre Dame did not come out with a ‘pound-it' mentality, with just two designed runs in the first quarter and nine in the first half. The Irish only rushed for 113 yards as a team, but were able to successfully shorten the game in the final quarter by gaining 42 yards on seven carries.
Michigan outperformed the Irish in nearly every statistical category except two critical ones, turnovers and the most important stat, points. The Wolverines had 388 total yards while the Irish had just 260. Michigan had more passing and rushing yards, more first downs, better third-down and fourth-down conversion rates and won the time of possession battle by almost five minutes.
But Notre Dame recovered four of Michigan's seven fumbles while the Irish jumped on all three of theirs. The teams each threw two interceptions, but the Wolverines' were far more costly and Jimmy Clausen's second came with the game already out of reach.
Notre Dame's defense recovered fumbles in Michigan territory on the Wolverines' first two drives and stopped Michigan on fourth down on their third possession. The Irish offense responded with touchdowns after each of the stops.
Robert Hughes led the Irish with 79 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries while Clausen was 10 of 21 for 147 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. Golden Tate had another brilliant performance, catching four balls for 127 yards and a score. David Bruton led the Irish defense with 15 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
Sam McGuffie led Michigan with 131 rushing yards on 25 carries and added 47 receiving yards, including a 40-yard touchdown reception.
On the game's opening drive, Brandon Minor could not handle Steven Threet's backward pass and Brian Smith recovered to give Notre Dame the ball on the Wolverines' 11-yard line. It was not an obvious fumble, but Smith said he wanted to make sure.
"Whenever it's in question I always want to make the ref blow it dead," he said. "So when I saw the ball on the ground my instinct was just to go get it."
On 3rd and 6 from the Michigan 7, Clausen tried to hit Michael Floyd in the end zone and while the pass was incomplete, Floyd drew a pass interference penalty on Morgan Trent. Hughes scored from two yards out on the next play to give the Irish a 7-0 lead less than three minutes in.
Michigan's Michael Shaw fumbled the ensuing kickoff and it was recovered by Mike Anello at the Michigan 14-yard line. Three plays later, Clausen hit Kamara on a fade for Notre Dame's second score with 11:00 remaining in the opening quarter.
Michigan was backed up on their third possession as well, but Threet hit Greg Mathews with a 14-yard pass and Sam McGuffie had an 11-yard run to push the ball out near midfield, and a fake punt on 4th-and-2 put the Wolverines into Irish territory.
The Wolverines thought they scored on a deep ball to Mathews, but the officials ruled it incomplete and the Irish took over on downs when Threet's fourth-down pass to Martavious Odoms was incomplete.
Notre Dame did not wait long to strike on its third drive, Floyd forced another pass interference penalty on a deep pass and Clausen hooked up with Golden Tate for a 48-yard scoring bomb the very next play. The Irish led 21-0 ten minutes in.
Weis said that gave Notre Dame a sense of control.
"We wanted to play conservative, keep everything in front of us," he said. "Not put us at risk. I said to them, ‘If we have to punt a bunch of times, that's just the way we're going to have to play the game today.'"
On their next possession, the Wolverines moved the ball and got on the board when Threet hit McGuffie with a swing pass and the speedy running back took it 40 yards for the score to make it 21-7 with two minutes left in the quarter.
Trent picked off a Clausen pass intended for Floyd on Notre Dame's next possession to give the Wolverines the ball back. McGuffie had a 29-yard run followed by a personal foul on the Irish and Threet scrambled for 21 yards to set the Wolverines up inside Notre Dame's 10. But big plays by Ian Williams and Raeshon McNeil forced Michigan to settle for a 23-yard field goal by K.C. Lopata to cut the score to 21-10 three minutes into the second quarter.
Notre Dame increased its lead to 28-10 on the next drive. Tate caught a slant from Clausen and took it 60 yards to put the Irish in plus territory. Clausen hit Floyd for a nine-yard gain and two James Aldridge runs set Notre Dame up inside the five. Robert Hughes pounded it in from one yard out two plays later.
Michigan marched the ball right back down the field with Threet going 3-for-3 for 37 yards on the drive before Kevin Grady dove in from seven yards out to make it 28-17.
The teams traded scoreless possessions on the final four drives of the half and the Irish took an 11-point lead into intermission.
The squads exchanged punts on the first three drives to start the second half.
The Wolverines drove the ball inside the Notre Dame 10-yard line on their second drive of the third. A pass interference penalty on Sergio Brown set Michigan up at the Notre Dame 5-yard line, but Brown made up for it when he recovered a fumble by Grady that was forced by Bruton. Notre Dame gained a first down, but was forced to punt to Michigan just before the start of the fourth quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Smith picked up Threet's fumble at the 35-yard line and ran it in untouched to provide the final score of the game.
"I was thinking jump on it and recover it, but in my peripheral there was no one around," Smith said. "People said it was a good scoop because it was wet outside and the ball was wet. We work the drill once at least once a week so that's props to Coach Tenuta right there."
Any chance the Wolverines had of coming back was foiled when Bruton picked off a pass inside the Notre Dame red zone to end Michigan's last serious threat with seven minutes left. Gary Gray had an interception on Michigan's next drive and returned it inside the Michigan 20 with less than five minutes to play.
Clausen's second interception of the game came with 2:08 remaining when Trent again intercepted him as he was trying to find Floyd in the end zone. But the game had been decided by that point and when the Irish forced Michigan to punt on its final possession Clausen was able to take a knee.
"I was very, very happy until the ice got dropped on my head," Weis said. "I said, 'I'm already having a bad day, fellas.' That was the nicest ice bath I've ever had, though. I have to tell you, it felt pretty sweet."