Millions of years ago the first mammals crawled out of the primordial ooze and started their life on land. Today the Irish galloped out of the oozing muck and slick drudge left from a second half downpour and began their much awaited evolution into a competitive football team.

Just as the evolution of a species requires fierce competition, a football team also needs competition to jump from mediocre to decent to competitive and finally to great. It isn't hyperbole to say that today's game marked a great leap forward in the evolution of the Fighting Irish in the Weis era in several areas including toughness, range, and most of all emotion.

Everyone who has written, discussed, or even thought about the Irish in the past week highlighted emotion as the key to this game. It is mind boggling to think that in a rivalry game this important to the program there would be any doubt as to whether the Irish would come out at the emotional level needed to play, but the flat-footed first halves that have become standard for Weis teams have created a host of skeptics. That doubt was laid to rest as the much maligned special teams unit forced a muffed kick-off by Michigan's Michael Shaw which Mike Anello then pounced on like a hungry mountain lion to help secure his place as burgeoning hero to Irish fans. Even the crowd was in rare form today making enough noise to give Michigan QB Steven Threet a hard time calling the plays from the line of scrimmage.

The sudden change in the team's emotional state could have stemmed from a number of sources. Perhaps Weis has been able to force himself to take on a persona that has eluded him over the previous four years. It could have been the fact that this game was the last chance for this team to make the statement they should have made last week. Then again maybe it was the presence of Lou Holtz, one of the greatest motivating coaches in this or any other era, in the locker room before the game.

All of these are possible answers and probably contributed in their own way, but the real change came from the players themselves. Look at Jimmy Clausen rushing out to congratulate the kicking team after each extra point. Look at Golden Tate turning to the crowd and demanding they stand up and cheer. Look at the entire team bouncing and jiving in the pre-game warm-up and you'll see from whence the change has come.

Michigan came to this game depending on their defense to carry the day. Based on the past performance of the Irish offense it wasn't a bad idea, but then the Irish evolved. They took the next step from being a group of young players who were happy they knew the playbook to the next level; they added range. Hughes's feet finally made the running game a viable threat, which in turn made play-action something the defense would be willing to bite on. Golden Tate's personal evolution from a converted half back to a real deal receiver is just about complete. His efforts in the long ball game set up not only his own displays of heroism, but assisted Ducal Kamara and David Grimes with more room to operate on the opposite side of the field.

The defense is moving along as well. They are still susceptible to the run as evidence by Sam McGuffie's 138 yards and his 47 yards receiving in the flat (McGuffie has been designated as the player to carry the entire Michigan team on his back; a role previously held by Mike Hart), but they are getting to the point where they are dictating what the offense will do and not the other way around.

By the end of the game, when the trenches were filled with an ungodly slop and the ball was so slicked with rain that it was like a greased pig, the defense struck hard and forced a miserable fourth quarter for Michigan. The number of batted away passes and quarterback hurries continue to increase and make a difference on the field. Most importantly the defense showed that when the offense helps to keep them fresh they can pour it on late in the game.

Finally, let's talk about toughness. When Weis took over the team he spoke of a nasty football team, not in a Janet Jackson way, but in a Dick Butkus sort of way. Today the team evolved into a cadre of beasts that fulfilled that promise. Clausen displayed a mental toughness in closing out the game in spite of the weather. He is also much more mobile in the pocket where he is making good decisions and shows little fear of oncoming linemen. He still has trouble checking down to other receivers, and failed to find Grimes who was wide open on at least one play. Golden Tate gave an impressive physical display when he caught a pass and then proceeded to bat around the Michigan secondary as of they had personally offended him resulting in a 60-yard play. Hughes served up a couple of stiff-arms that embarrassed the Michigan D-backs.

The defense brought a punishing form of tough forcing a total of seven fumbles and recovering four of them. And here's an interesting little tidbit; David Bruton's interception in the fourth quarter was the third turnover inside the five yard line that he was involved in this year. Also, let's not forget Charlie Weis who suffered a cringe inducing leg injury when Michigan's Brandon Graham pushed John Ryan into the coach during a Notre Dame punt, but still battled through the game on crutches. This team is looking tough.

The Eeyores of the world will shrug off this win as a small victory over a beleaguered Michigan. Yes, this was the same team that lost to Utah and had a less than inspiring win over Miami of Ohio, but it's still Michigan. This is a major feather in that hat of a young team. It was also anything but an ugly win. Each touchdown was earned with gutsy plays and a whole lot of heart. Fans have been begging to see a team this fired up for a game and they finally got it.

Next week is going to be a tough game against a well-coached Michigan State team. For now, let's all enjoy the fact that the team made a huge statement today. They are not a team of stumblebums who have to take advantage of victories scraped from the bottom of the Division I barrel. They are something more. They may not be at the level of competition that wins championships, but they are on their way. They are evolving.

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