ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan coach
"Aw!" Rodriguez remembered Forcier saying. "I forgot to brush my teeth."
Rodriguez thought of the men in gold helmets and the 110,000 souls waiting for the Wolverines to arrive at Michigan Stadium and gulped. "
Rodriguez, the gruff son of a West Virginia coal miner, had staked his future on a laid-back Californian who was home-schooled so he could spend more time practicing football. Going into the most important game of his Michigan tenure, the fershman holding the keys to Rodriguez's offense didn't seem to appreciate the seriousness of his predicament.
The gravity of the moment didn't bother Forcier then, and it didn't bother him Saturday afternoon when the Wolverines faced second-and-goal from the four, trailing by three with no timeouts and 16 seconds remaining. Forcier had just thrown the game-winning touchdown. Unfortunately, receiver
He came to the line and looked to his left. Receiver
Don't believe what you read. In spite of a
The 31-7 opening-day win against Western Michigan provided some optimism. But it didn't provide answers. Saturday's win did. Notre Dame, ranked No. 18 entering Saturday, was neither overrated nor underrated. The Fighting Irish are an above-average team with a schedule that should allow them to win enough games to play in a BCS bowl thanks to a sweet deal made when the system was created. Some of their players -- quarterback
Yet there was Forcier, all 188 pounds of him, squirting through the defense for a 31-yard touchdown run to open the fourth quarter. There was Forcier, forgetting the crippling interception that wasn't his fault but still allowed the Fighting Irish to take the lead. There was Forcier, scrambling to free himself for a 17-yard pass to Savoy to set up the winning score.
Forcier (240 passing yards, 70 rushing yards, three total touchdowns) always possessed a confidence bordering on cockiness. It's part of the reason
Though his numbers weren't as gaudy, Forcier outdueled Clausen (25-of-42, 336 yards, three touchdowns), who became less dangerous after Floyd (seven catches, 131 yards, one touchdown) left the game midway through the fourth quarter to get stitches in his knee.
Clausen, who got drilled by the Wolverines, 38-0, as a freshman in 2007, nearly led the Irish to victory. When he executed a backyard-perfect Statue of Liberty handoff to
"I said you could have won the game," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "That doesn't mean you should have won the game." Rodriguez disagreed. "Both teams," he said, "deserved to win today."
Notre Dame has all its pieces in place in year five of the Weis era. In his second year, Rodriguez has cobbled together a lineup of youngsters and players who got thumped last year. And Rodriguez won. What does that say about the future in Ann Arbor?
"All those summer workouts paid off," Minor said without the slightest trace of irony in his voice. "We really benefitted in the end."
And while some of Michigan's fans waited until after the game to fork over $7 for their maize "All in for Michigan" rally towels, the players on the roster trusted in Rod all along. While those outside the program saw his tearful press conference to address the allegations as a sign of weakness, they saw a coach who cared.
Saturday, Rodriguez's father,
Fortunately, Rodriguez trusted his players as much as they trusted him. Facing fourth-and-14 from the 50 with a little more than three minutes remaining, the offensive mastermind considered sending Forcier out one more time. He started to send out the punt team. Then he called it back. Then, just as quickly, he sent it out again. He would trust coordinator
With 2:13 on the clock, Forcier trotted back on the field. He was 57 yards from the end zone, but if the Wolverines could only get close enough to force overtime with a field goal, whatever. He wasn't worried. He never is.
"Everyone kept saying a freshman can't do it," he said. "I did it."