September 12, 2009
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Michigan 38, Notre Dame 34. This game directly paralleled Monday night's Miami-Florida State instant classic in every way: Two down-on-their-luck powers with emerging stars at quarterback unleash a stunning barrage of yards and points after years of offensive malaise, culminating in a dramatic fourth quarter comeback from two scores down by the road team and a heart-stopping final drive that ends with the home team throwing multiple times into the end zone. Even the final score was the same.
The difference is that the home team in this case had Tate Forcier, who's taken all of two games to put his rising star squarely on the radar of the entire country. OK, wait: I don't want to descend into Millen-esque hyperbole here. But Forcier is readymade, more alert and savvier than any newcomer has any right to be. And by definition, it took a star to win this game, which was full of them: Given the stakes and stage, Jimmy Clausen had by far the best performance of his career, fulfilling the vast majority of good things ever said about him with 331 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and Michigan's cornerbacks were generally helpless against the Irish's big outside receivers. Notre Dame's big-play offense was as-advertised in every way -- 490 yards, six scoring drives, only one turnover, even seven yards per carry from a running game that was clearly the weakest area of the team coming in.
All playing second fiddle in the aftermath to an undersized noob in his second start. Really, two weeks into his career, it's hard to imagine Forcier playing any better without growing half a foot or shaving a half-second off his 40 time: He's completing more than two-thirds of his passes, he's making big runs, he's showing poise and escaping pressure in the pocket. And he just accounted for 300 total yards and three touchdowns, including all 57 yards and the game-winning pass in the final two minutes, to beat a vastly improved Notre Dame outfit whose offensive stars are hitting the primes of their college careers. With Forcier, there is no arc, no learning curve; this is the guy, right now, looking more or less exactly like he's going to look for the next four years. He's not going to pull off the scrambly theatrics every time, but from here on, it looks like it's all prime.
I know y'all don't want to hear this, Wolverine fans, being deeply committed to cynicism and ennui and wary of the fates' hostility to hubris, but here it is: At the moment, Michigan looks like easily the third-best team in the Big Ten. Don't fight it: Two weeks into a season that was shaping up as nightmare, Rich Rodriguez is as safe as he can be, and you can start thinking about New Year's in Florida again.