Sunday, September 12, 2010

Michigan vs. Notre Dame 9-11-10

The Final Score

I was in South Bend, Indiana today.  It was a gray misty day, unseasonably cool for September 11th.  The temperature never got above seventy degrees.  I went with my brother in-law, Jack, to watch his alma mater play mine in football:  The University of Notre Dame vs. The University of Michigan.  I have never tried my hand at reporting on a sporting but what the heck, this is my blog, let’s give it a try!
There was a lot of hype about this game.  Usually the hype is about these teams being ranked and this game having implications in standings and bowl games.  The past few years, both teams have struggled and found themselves playing this year with both teams unranked but hoping that their fortunes were turning around.
Notre Dame has a new coach, Brian Kelly.  He is the fifth coach of the past ten years.  They have simply had too much churn.  But Brian Kelly, who made a name for himself at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati, is perhaps the most proven coach with college head coaching experience since Lou Holtz to take the helm of this prestigious football program.  They won their first game against Purdue last weekend.
Michigan is coached by Rich Rodriguez.  He is in his third year and it has not been pretty.  His record of 3-9 and 5-7 in his first two years were not something that Michigan fans were used to.  Losing seasons, two losing seasons, and no bowl games were a rude shock to fans that had been spoiled by years of success and an impressive thirty-three bowl games in a row.  Rich Rod, as he is known, has not endeared himself to the Michigan faithful who have not taken well to his style and lack of success.  If he does not have a good season that includes a bowl game, he may well be canned and replaced.  Michigan won their first game last week against The University of Connecticut.  Coming into South Bend, he has only won one game in his two years at Michigan.
So, this was the stage for game today.  We have two teams trying to turn things around and coming into the game at 1-0.  At the end of the day, one team would be 1-1 and the other 2-0.  Notre Dame was favored by 4 points, basically the home field advantage.  I had no clue who would win, not a clue.  No one I talked to at the game ventured to make any kind of prediction save that it would probably be a close game.
Michigan won the toss and deferred until the second half.  We kicked off to Notre Dame and under the skilled leadership of their quarterback Dayne Crist, they drove 71 yards in 13 plays and took a 7-0 lead.  It was scary how quickly they scored and it emphasized the suspicions everyone had about our defense.  In the quarterback sneak in which they scored, Crist sustained an injury and he was unable to see well out of one eye.  He would not play again in the half.
Michigan did not do much on their first offense series.  When they punted to Notre Dame, the Irish quarterback was Tommy Rees, a true freshman from Lake Forest High School.  He threw an interception.  Michigan took over on the Notre Dame 31.  Michigan scored on the next play when Denard Robinson, the Michigan quarterback, passed for a touchdown.  Just like that it was 7-7.  At the end of the first quarter, Robinson engineered a five play 65 yard drive to give Michigan the lead 14-7.
Both teams then exchanged possessions.  With about two minutes left in the half, Notre Dame punted and were able to down the ball on the Michigan 2 pinning the Wolverines against goal line.   Robinson rushed for two yards and then seven.  Michigan was able to get a first down to their own 11 yard line.   Robinson tossed an incomplete pass and then electrified the crowd with an 87 yard run for a touchdown to put the Wolverines up 21-7 over the Irish.  It was an amazing run.  We had end zone seats and they were coming toward us, so we could the hole open and Robinson weave his way into the secondary.  Once there it was over.  I kept saying “bye-bye.”  I reminded myself of my Dad who I could hear saying the exact same thing.  The half ended with that score.
In the second half, Michigan got the ball having deferred and went three and out.  Crist returned to the helm for Notre Dame and scored in two plays taking all of 12 seconds making the score 21-14.  Michigan then went three and out for the second straight possession.  Notre Dame took over on their own 27.  Again, with the return of Crist, Notre Dame was moving the ball.  They drove 66 yards in eight plays and kicked a 24 yard field goal to bring the score to 21-17.
Notre Dame with Crist at quarterback was unstoppable.  I actually murmured “like a hot knife through butter” phrase a few times.  At this point, I thought Notre Dame would take the lead on their next possession and beat Michigan by a few touchdowns.  He scored easily on all three of his possessions.
Michigan’s defense, however, somehow adapted and surprisingly started stopping Notre Dame.  They intercepted on the next series and forced a punt on the one after that.  Michigan had a good drive but missed the field goal.   The quarter ended with score Michigan 21 – Notre Dame 17.
In the opening of the fourth quarter, Michigan had a 38 yard drive and attempted to kick another field goal.  Ugh, this one bounced no-good off of the upright.  In the next four possessions both defenses held and forced punts.  On the fourth punt, Michigan punted to Notre Dame who took over at their own 9 yard line.  The score was still 21-17 and there was only 4:15 left in the game.  At this point in what had been a gray cloudy misty drizzly day, the sky began to clear and the sun came out.  I thought “oh no, the Notre Dame mystique, the Notre Dame magic… this does not bode well.”  While I thought it, the Notre Dame fan next to me said something equivalent out loud.
On first down, Notre Dame got a penalty.  On the next play, which in the sunlight seemed to unfold in slow motion, Crist hit his receiver who managed to get behind the Michigan secondary and was wide open.  It was “bye-bye” the other way… touchdown.  Notre Dame took the lead 24-21.  There was 3:41 left in the game.
On the ensuing kick-off, Michigan got the ball on the 28 yard line.  Robinson engineered a twelve play 72 yard drive mostly on his arm.  He ran the final two yards in for the touchdown and the lead, 28-24.  It was nail biting, tense, and riveting.  They converted a fourth down and a third down on this drive.  There was only 27 seconds left on the clock.
Notre Dame began on their own 27 yard line.  Crist completed two passes of 16 yards.  This would have given them the ball on the Michigan 42, but on the second completion Michigan hit the receiver late after he was already out of bounds and got slapped with a fifteen yard penalty.  Notre Dame had the ball on the Michigan 27 with :06 left on the clock.  They had one, maybe two plays, and had to score a touchdown.  Again, the notion of the Notre Dame mystique and magic was haunting my thoughts as were memories of the Colorado bomb into the end zone.
Crist’s next pass was through the end zone, incomplete.  Time ran out.  Michigan beat Notre Dame 28-24.
Whew… I was physically spent and I did not do anything but fret and worry about what the young men on the field were and weren’t doing.  The game could have gone either way.  We were lucky to win.  In the world of what-ifs, Notre Dame could have easily one if a play or two had gone a different way.  It was that kind of game where the winner was happy but knew better than to gloat and the loser felt as good as anyone could in a loss.  The teams were well matched and played hard.   The game had all the excitement of two ranked teams battling it out. 
I knew Denard Robinson had a great day and was THE MAN on Michigan’s offense.  I did not know the significance of his performance until later.  I was at the game and not being bombarded by statistics as I would have been were I watching the game on TV.  Denard Robinson had an incredible day.  He set a few records. 
First off, he had 502 total offensive yards against Notre Dame.   258 of these yards were rushing and the remainder, 244, were passing.  Those are most impressive numbers.  After two weeks, Denard Robinson is the leading rusher in college football and for the second straight week was named the Walter Camp Offensive player of the week.  The sophomore quarterback is only the fourth player ever to get this award twice in one season.   Amazing.
Quoting from the 9/12/10 New York Times:  “Robinson set the Michigan record for rushing yards by a quarterback last week, and eclipsed it this week, breaking Mike Kafka’s Big Ten record of 217 yards for good measure.”
Michigan was ranked 20th in the AP Poll after the win over Notre Dame.  I am excited but we were 2-0 last year and ranked after a last minute win over Notre Dame.  I am cautiously optimistic…

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