Bo Schembechler stood alone on the playing field surveying the distant rim of an empty Michigan Stadium. The next day his Wolverines would play favored Notre Dame in their first game of the season. As he luxuriated in the Ann Arbor sun, the surgical scar on Schembechler's leg, the result of his 1976 coronary bypass surgery, shone below his coach's shorts. More noticeable was what one Michigan official called "this damn smile Bo's been wearing all week."
When a visitor recalled Michigan's steady decline from football prominence in the last five years, Schembechler remained calm. How does it feel, Coach, being unranked by the major polls? "It's understandable," he said. How about being an underdog to Notre Dame even though you've never lost a home opener? "I don't mind that." Are you better than last year? "I think we are. But maybe we don't have as much talent." Schembechler sounded more like directory assistance than the guy who ripped lockers out of walls during his coaching days at Miami of Ohio.
Then again the cagey Schembechler may have known it would be the last day of such questions. On Saturday, Michigan beat the Irish 20-12 before 105,523 fans, all of whom had to leave the stadium thinking that the Oust Faust faction at South Bend would be getting its wish at the end of the season. For nine months Notre Dame coach Gerry Faust had been saying, "After four bad years in a row, we have to show people how good we are." Instead, Michigan showed people how bad Notre Dame is.
The Irish defense was run over, and the alleged offense failed to produce a touchdown with a game plan that seemed to have been borrowed from the Moeller High Jayvees. Notre Dame ran off 13 plays from inside the Michigan 15-yard line, and on seven of them quarterback Steve Beuerlein handed off to Allen Pinkett. Twice Pinkett, a 5'9" senior tailback, was dropped for a loss. Once he was stopped for no gain. Average yardage for those seven carries: 0.86.
"I want the ball in those situations," said Pinkett about the thwarted scoring drives. "That's what they brought me to this school for. There were a few blocking mistakes, a few missed assignments, which is typical of an opening game. I can even think of three or four mistakes I made. Nobody's perfect."
"I can understand the confidence the coaches have in our running game," Beuerlein said. "But there were a lot of times when I thought, when a lot of people thought, that we should have thrown the ball. It's not something I have any control over. All I can say is, maybe they had their reasons. I don't want to point any fingers."
Faust did order a pass on one of those plays inside the 15, but Michigan sacked Beuerlein for an 11-yard loss. In all, the Wolverines brought down Beuerlein six times for losses totaling 42 yards. The Irish passer seemed to spend most of the afternoon retreating from the rush.
Notre Dame did lead at the half, 9-3, thanks to three field goals by John Carney, the last from 47 yards with eight seconds left. But by then Michigan had learned that it could handle the Irish up front and that 5'7", 175-pound tailback Jamie Morris couldn't be stopped by supposed tacklers who outweighed him by 100 pounds. "We felt like we had momentum at halftime," said Michigan's poised and confident quarterback, Jim Harbaugh.
When Notre Dame's freshman Alonzo Jefferson fumbled away the second-half kickoff at his 14, the Mo was all for Bo. A minute and a half later Harbaugh scored on a quarterback draw. Another Carney field goal put Notre Dame up 12-10, but Harbaugh wasted little time taking the Wolverines 80 yards for another touchdown and a 17-12 lead.
When Mike Gillette's 23-yard field goal in the fourth quarter increased Michigan's lead to 20-12, Notre Dame needed three field goals to win, touchdowns—it should be remembered—not being in the game plan.
So, Bo, will it be the Rose Bowl this year? Or another trip to the Holiday Bowl? "All this means is that we're decent," Schembechler said. Then, he reminded everyone that Michigan had beaten No. 1-ranked Miami in its 1984 opener only to finish the year with a 6-6 record and a loss to BYU in that Holiday Bowl. "We are not the dog you think we are," he said.
Those close to the Michigan program say Schembechler was deeply hurt by last season, the worst by far in his 16 years at Michigan. True, Schembechler didn't have a bona fide quarterback after Harbaugh went down for the season in the fifth game with a broken left arm. But more disturbing to the old-school coach was the idea that his 1984 team suffered from selfishness.
"Last year we had a lot of people who were playing for themselves," says Clay Miller, a 6'4", 268-pound senior offensive tackle. "That's not Bo. Now we're a much tighter team. It just seems that there are no All-Americas on this team. We're playing much more for each other, not for pro contracts or to go to All-Star games or whatever the hell they go to. It's not offense and defense, it's Michigan."
No one minded that Morris got a taste of stardom last Saturday, particularly after a Detroit Free Press article said Pinkett had never heard of him. "My teammates said, 'C'mon, Jamie, you're better than him,' " said Morris, the younger brother of New York Giant running back Joe Morris. "I said, 'O.K., if this is going to get the team up, I might as well go along with it.' "
During one stretch in the first half, Morris went along by ripping off 27 yards in three carries. "I expected a little more from Notre Dame," said Morris. "I thought the hits would be harder, more like Michigan State."
"We would use different defenses and they would call perfect offenses," said Eric Dorsey, Notre Dame's 6'5", 270-pound tackle, who repeatedly found himself screened out on running plays. Indeed, the Irish line was so porous that free safety Steve Lawrence ended up leading the team in tackles with 10.
Faust, though, offered no alibis. "Michigan controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That's really all I have to say." He stayed to answer a few more questions and struggled to contain his frustration. "Doggone it," he said at one point, his naturally hoarse voice rising, "we gotta come off the football, and by golly we're gonna come off the football.... We better come back right away. That's what I told them. I'm tired of this horsecrap." When the inevitable question about his job security surfaced, Faust was ready. "I'm just worried about Michigan State right now. Next question."
Faust knows the questions will only get tougher. Although Notre Dame athletic director Gene Corrigan explained that the Michigan loss would have no bearing on whether or not Faust's contract will be renewed, an Irish rooter said bluntly, "It's like he went back to zero."