September 10, 2011
Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31.
So, you were saying something about how you really wanted to see how Michigan's new coaching staff would incorporate warp-speed quarterback Denard Robinson in a less warp-friendly system? Sorry, we can't really help you there. And the part about the new defensive coordinator resurrecting the Wolverine D? There's not a whole lot to say about that. Then you were wondering about Notre Dame's ability to rebound on the road with a new starting quarterback and its BCS hopes in the balance? Reply hazy: Try again later.
If you're up for a wildly entertaining finish completely untethered by any hint of caution, foresight or guiding logic beyond "get the ball into the end zone as quickly as humanly possible," well, now you're in business. The last five minutes in Ann Arbor looked like they were being simulcast from a 16-year-old's X-Box.
Michigan opened the fourth quarter down 24-7, and the first three quarters probably hadn't been that close. Within five minutes it had scored two touchdowns to cut the score to 24-21. Notre Dame responded by driving inside the Wolverine 10-yard line for what looked like an icing touchdown until a freak fumble by quarterback Tommy Rees gave the ball back. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson returned the favor by lobbing up an interception on the other end. The next time he touched the ball, Robinson took the Wolverines 79 yards in five plays for the go-ahead touchdown, a 21-yard screen pass to Vincent Smith with 1:22 to play. Rees responded with a four-play, 46-yard drive for what looked like the winning touchdown, a 29-yard strike to a wide open Theo Riddick that pushed the score to 31-28 with 36 seconds to go.
Here, instead of merely covering poorly, Notre Dame subsequently failed to cover Wolverine receiver Jeremy Gallon at all, incredibly freeing him for a 64-yard sprint to the Irish 16-yard line with eight seconds left for a) A couple shots at the winning touchdown; b) A shot at a field goal to tie; or c) A confused catastrophe that left 110,000 people contemplated mass hara-kiri. With all of every one of those people secretly fearing c), Robinson delivered the dagger:
Somehow, Notre Dame failed to score in the final two seconds, which would have been in keeping with the general theme of the evening. Just like that, the Irish are 0-2 and effectively eliminated from the BCS picture; the Wolverines are 2-0 and eligible for everything.
For the night, Michigan averaged nine yards per snap, 14 yards per pass and more than 33 yards per completion. All five of its touchdown drives covered at least 40 yards in five plays or less. Robinson completed just 11 of 24 passes with three interceptions … and career highs for yards (338) and touchdowns (4). His pass efficiency rating: An astronomical 194.1.
It's the third year in a row the Wolverines have rallied from behind in a back-and-forth shootout to beat Notre Dame on a touchdown in the final minute: In 2009, it was freshman QB Tate Forcier driving the Wolverines 57 yards for the winning points with 11 seconds showing; last year, Robinson answered a 95-yard ND touchdown pass with a 72-yard drive for the winning score with 30 seconds left.
But tonight was undoubtedly the worst. The Irish not only blew a 17-point lead in a matter of minutes, and not only blew it again in a matter of seconds — for the second week in a row, they blew it with three turnovers in the opponent's red zone, following last week's butterfingery debacle against South Florida with two fumbles and an interception inside the Michigan 20-yard line that effectively took points off the board, and another interception that set up a short field for the Wolverines' only touchdown of the first three quarters.
Denard Robinson may be spectacular, and he may have won this game via some combination of his dreadlocks and his soul. But right now, Notre Dame is always its own worst enemy.