Sorry, domers,but it's time to run the numbers. While giving up its most points at home since1960 in a 47-21 beatdown administered by Michigan last Saturday, Notre Damenetted all of four yards rushing and was penalized 11 times for 84 yards.Quarterback Brady Quinn's four turnovers--three interceptions and afumble--resulted in 17 Wolverines points as the Irish plunged from No. 2 in theAP poll to No. 12. ¬∂ But on a day practically groaning under the weight of allits great games (box, page 49), the most telling figures may have been these:5'7", 115 pounds. That is the height and weight of Heather Vogt, a seniorclarinetist in the Michigan marching band. Vogt, a movement science major fromMason City, Mich., took the brunt of the collision with Mario Manningham afterthe Wolverines wideout sailed through the end zone, having snagged his thirdtouchdown pass of the first half. "He pretty much knocked the wind out ofme," reported the resilient Vogt, who made a speedy recovery and missed nota single rendition of The Victors.
Manninghamreturned to the sideline holding his left wrist, bruised, apparently, when hebanged it against a band member's instrument. While the sensational sophomoremissed only a series or two--he finished the game with four receptions for 137yards and those three scores--the conclusion is inescapable: Vogt and herbandmates had more success slowing him down than did Notre Dame'ssecondary.
After seeing histeam get torched for 342 passing yards by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl lastJanuary, Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis knew he had to get his defense toplay faster. Schemes were simplified so that besieged defensive backs couldreact rather than think. Blue-chippers were imported: Darrin Walls and RaeshonMcNeil, touted as two of the nation's top cover corners, played their way ontothe two-deep.
Neither was onthe field for the heroics of Manningham, whose middle name, befitting areceiver with such soft hands, is Cashmere. Manningham's big day had beenforecast by the eerily confident Mike Hart, the junior running back who rushedfor 124 yards on 31 carries. "Those safeties can be real nosy," he saidof Notre Dame's Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe. Seeing them "nose theirway up into the box" during film study, Hart said, "I knew we'd betaking some shots."
September 24, 2006
It was Hart who'dspent the week asking his teammates in Ann Arbor, "Do you feel it? Do youfeel what I'm feeling?" Standing outside the visitors' dressing room in theHouse that Rockne Built, where the Wolverines had not won since 1994 and wherehis coach, Lloyd Carr, had never won, Hart elaborated on that feeling: "Weknew we were gonna come down here and win this game. We knew." How did theyknow? "Last year they were hunting us," he explained. "This year wewere hunting them."
A year ago theIrish could sneak up on people. No màs. On Saturday it was the Wolverines' turnto be the underdog--their reward for underachieving so epically last season.With all-world wideout Braylon Edwards gone to the NFL and with Hart as well asevery member of the offensive line missing significant time due to injuries,quarterback Chad Henne struggled to recapture the magic of his freshman season,when the Wolverines had shared the Big Ten title. While his statistics weresimilar, the results--a 7--5 season--were not.
Henne took majorheat from Michigan fans, a tribe not known for its patience. The only Wolverinewho took more abuse was Carr, long a target for posters named sickofcarr andfirelloydyesterday on such websites as sackcarr.com and firelloydcarr.us. EvenVictor Abiamiri, Notre Dame's senior defensive end, got into the act atFriday's pep rally. After claiming the Wolverines had spent the week talkingabout how Carr was "going to outscheme our coach," Abiamiri concluded,"the last time I checked, you can't spell Lloyd without two l's."(Michigan's players had made no such claims, but then, stretching the truth atpep rallies, the better to inflame the home crowd, is expected andencouraged.)
Carr-bashers willgrant you that Lloyd, now in his 12th season at Michigan, has won 105games--including a share of the 1997 national championship--against just 34losses. But they can't get past his sins: He is overly predictable, plays notto lose and has but a single victory in his last five games against OhioState.
Even as Michiganopened this season with two victories, the critics kept up their chorus. Theteam's aerial attack in those wins, over toothless Vanderbilt and CentralMichigan, bordered on popgun. Henne threw for 135 yards against the Commodoresand a career-low 113 against the Chippewas.
As it turned out,the absence of a vertical passing attack was by design. Why show the Irishanything if they didn't need to? Said Hart, in defense of his quarterback,"He can't put the ball down the field if we're not calling plays down thefield."
Henne'sdetractors were in full throat after his first pass of the game, a strike toNdukwe. The Notre Dame safety returned the ball 51 yards to the Michigan four.Two plays later Quinn threw the first of his three touchdown passes, to backupfullback Ashley McConnell. Henne responded to that disaster by leadingtouchdown drives on four of his next six possessions.
Far moresurprising than the travails of Notre Dame's defense was the egg laid by Quinn,who moves, for the time being, to the fringe of Heisman consideration. Askedwhat the Wolverines had done to confuse him, he replied, "Nothing. We flatout didn't execute."
Quinn canshoulder all the blame he wants, but Michigan has a seriously ornery defense.Under glowering, intense first-year coordinator Ron English--whose motto is"Swarm"--the Wolverines are much more aggressive than they were underhis predecessor, Jim Herrmann. They are also blessed with one of the finestlinebacking corps in the country. Shawn Crable made the quarterback's lifemiserable, sacking him once and pasting him after a pass on another occasion.Prescott Burgess, a former strong safety whom Carr benched recently to get thesenior's attention, responded by intercepting Quinn twice, returning the firstof those picks 31 yards for a touchdown on Notre Dame's second play fromscrimmage. And LaMarr Woodley delivered the coup de grace by returning Quinn'sfumble 54 yards for a touchdown with 3 1/2 minutes left.
The onlyWolverine who had a more spectacular game than Burgess was his former Warren G.Harding High teammate, Manningham, who was a sophomore at the Ohio school whenBurgess was a senior. "That was the year [Manningham] scored fourtouchdowns against Massillon-Washington," recalls Thom McDaniels, coach ofthe Raiders. "One on a punt return, one on a kickoff return, and twotouchdown receptions. We won 31-28. You can't tackle that guy in a phone booth.He's the best receiver I've seen in 33 years of coaching."
He may also bethe most reticent. Asked what routes he had run for his touchdown receptions,the sophomore replied wearily, "I can't remember." He then invoked amild medical emergency. "I just drank a bottle of lemonade too fast,"he reported, "and now I've got a really bad stomachache. I need to get onthe bus."
How are you goingto argue with that?
And how are yougoing to argue that the Wolverines, who dominated every phase (except punting)against the No. 2 team in the nation, didn't deserve to jump from No. 11 in thepolls to No. 6? Wouldn't it be something if, when Michigan visits Ohio State onNov. 18, the ancient rivals are undefeated? If return artist Steve Breaston candevelop into a bona fide receiving threat opposite Manningham--Breaston's handsare a trifle suspect--there's no telling how far the Wolverines can go. Becausethey've got everything else.
Including Weis'srespect. As a sort of prologue to his postgame analysis, before addressing histeam's shortcomings, Weis gave it up for the Wolverines. It's only proper, hepointed out, to give props "to an opponent who just kicked yourbutt."
Hail, in otherwords, to the victors.
CLEARING THINGS UP
Who's the Heisman front-runner? Who helped and hurtthemselves the most after last weekend's showdowns? Read Stewart Mandel'smailbag at SI.com/collegefootball.
It was Hart who'd spent the week in Ann Arbor askinghis teammates, "DO YOU FEEL IT? Do you feel what I'm feeling?"
The absence of a vertical passing attack in the firsttwo games was by design. "He can't put the ball DOWN THE FIELD if we're notcalling plays down the field," Hart said of Henne.
While Manningham was busy hauling in three first-half touchdown passes, theHeisman hopes of Quinn (left) took a hard fall.