Heading into the contest against one of their most heated rivals, the Irish wanted to set the tempo on defense and stress turnovers. In the days leading up to the game, head coach Charlie Weis reminded his squad that through takeaways, the odds of winning would increase drastically.
"… I had all over the locker room and all over our meeting last night and this morning that turnovers was going to determine the outcome of the game," Weis said. "And you're not going to turn over four times like we did last week and walk out of here a winner, and fortunately we won that significantly."
It's certainly providential that his players bought into his pre-game stigma, as the Irish took the ball away from the Wolverines a total of seven times Saturday, which led to 28 Irish points. After David Bruton's game-saving stop at the goal line last week against San Diego State, the safety picked up another pair of turnovers within feet of the end zone. As Michigan was driving towards a score with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter, Bruton pried the ball loose in the pouring rain off of the hands of Kevin Grady. This is something the Irish have worked on extensively in the practices leading up to game week.
"I have no idea where it comes from," he said. "It's just practicing what we're preaching. Especially in wet conditions, just stripping at the ball. Coach [Corwin] Brown and everybody was just saying, ‘just rip at it, just do what we do in practice,' and with the wet conditions I got a chance to get an arm on the ball and tug at it until eventually it hit the ground."
Later in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines continued to apply pressure to Notre Dame's defense. As Michigan was faced with a third and two from the 12 yard line, a Nick Sheridan pass wound up in the hands of Bruton, who picked off the pass at the five. After some nifty footwork, Bruton seemed to have daylight and was well on his way to returning the interception for a score. David Molk, a Wolverine lineman, eventually caught up to and brought Bruton down via a horse collar. Although he was able to pick up 39 yards on the return, not counting the 15 of the personal foul, Bruton wanted to see the end zone. Fatigue, however, wouldn't let it happen.
"Yeah, I can't lie to you," Bruton said. "I was winded. I was tired and it was a slight tug on the horse collar and it was a wrap. I was like, ‘there's no more in me.' I was tired, but you have to fight through it. I've just seen it on the TV and I was like damn, I should have scored. There's no doubt in my mind, I should have scored, but things happen."
It is obvious to point out, but Bruton simply has an uncanny sense of where the play is going to develop and attacks until the play is dead. That is why his teammate, Brian Smith only had one word to describe him.
"Man, just playmaker," Smith said of Bruton. "He had the big play he made last week. When he gets the pads on, he's just a playmaker, that's all you can say."
At the end of the day, Bruton finished with the game-high in tackles, notching 15 takedowns, 10 of which were solo efforts. The senior also added a quarterback hurry to go with 1.5 tackles for loss for a total of five yards. During the contest, Bruton not only displayed the ability to excel at open field tackling from the safety spot, but also showed that he can bring some pressure too.
"Yeah, I do," Bruton said whether he enjoyed the instances in which he blitzed the line of scrimmage. "I'm not going to lie. It's a good change of scenery, not always playing deep."
Another facet if Bruton's game that was on exhibit Saturday was his determination to make the tackle, and not allow ball carrier out of his grasp. The reason the Miamisburg High School product is able to bring opponents down, in his opinion, is because of arduous efforts in practice.
"Long arms go a long way," Bruton said. "It's just something that we've always preached. We always work on open-field tackles. Everything that happens in the game, we've worked on in individual drills, and we're putting those individual drills to fruition on the field."
Perhaps the main reason Bruton is able to contribute consistently, however, goes back to his faith in God and his natural gifts.
"The good Lord," he said as to where his talent comes from. "He's blessed me with ability and I'm grateful for what He's done for me. And when the ball is in the air, or the ball is around, it's something we're always practicing and always preaching."
Although Bruton was the standout in the Irish victory, he knows well that the success the unit had on defense is an overall team effort that allows players to feed off of each other.
"Yeah, it feels great," Bruton said. "But, you know, it's a team effort. The team blitzing forces the ball out quickly, or somebody hits the ball carrier and I come in and rip at it, or the second guy in. It's just things we've worked on."
The defense played a physical game along with the tenacity to beat the ball out of the offense's hands thanks largely in part to an overall philosophical frame of mind that is based on persistence.
"We make things happen," Bruton said. "We're not waiting for it to happen our way. We've got to put forth that effort. If we want it done, we've got to do it ourselves … We always come out intense. We never come out in a comfort zone. You've just got to go out there and do your job and do it at a high intensity, at a high level."
Now that Notre Dame has finally made its statement game coming off the heels of an extremely disappointing season, there is still some work to be done.
"We've still got things to earn," Bruton said. "We've still got respect to earn, to show the country that we're here and we're not the same Notre Dame we were last year."
So what do they have to do to earn this respect?
"Just going out there and handling our business every week until we get ours," he said.