ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Giving credit where credit is due, Michigan's defense prevented a Notre Dame victory Saturday.
The less charitable will say it was Michigan's defense and Notre Dame's coach, Gerry Faust.
The Wolverines won, 20-12, because of Notre Dame's failure to turn four scoring opportunities inside the Michigan 15 into touchdowns. All the Irish offense had to show for its day's work were four field goals.
Whether that was the beleaguered Faust's fault was the question most asked by reporters in Notre Dame's locker room after the game.
No Notre Dame players laid the blame on Faust by name, but some of them had their Irish up about the Irish offensive strategy.
In four possessions inside the Michigan 15, Notre Dame called one passing play.
That was on its next-to-last offensive play of the game, a desperation attempt that resulted in the sixth quarterback sack of the game for the Wolverines.
Before then, the Irish had run on all 10 plays inside the Michigan 15.
Notre Dame didn't even vary its offense enough to give the ball to a different runner. Tailback Allen Pinkett carried the ball on all 10 plays, gaining a total of 12 yards.
Even Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler questioned the strategy.
"People think they can run on us, but I don't know why," he said.
Asked to explain, Faust said: "In the first part of the game, the way the score was, the way the field-goal kicking was, we just wanted to put some points on the board."
Realizing that it sounded as if he was admitting to playing for field goals, Faust quickly added: "We were trying to score six or seven points. Don't get me wrong."
Responding defensively to repeated questions about the strategy, he said: "If I had a chance to do it over, I'd call different plays. It's always good to look at it in retrospect."
There is some question about Faust's role in Notre Dame's play-calling.
He has said in the past that it is the responsibility of offensive coordinator Mike Stock, but Faust made a point last week of saying that he, Faust, has the final say on all plays.
Notre Dame's Monday morning quarterbacks no doubt will have a field day in their analysis of this game. Notre Dame's Saturday afternoon quarterback wasn't sure he understood it, either.
Asked specifically about Faust, quarterback Steve Beuerlein said: "It's not him. It's the offense. We should have been able to win with what we did today. We just didn't execute."
But when asked the reason for the conservative plays inside the Michigan 15, Beuerlein said: "I don't know. A lot of guys didn't understand it. But the coaches have been around a lot longer than we have. They have a philosophy. They want to stick with it."
When it was suggested that the Irish didn't pass near the Michigan goal line because they weren't executing the passing game properly, Beuerlein was perplexed. For the day, the junior from Anaheim completed 11 of 23 passes for 160 yards. He had only one interception.
"We executed to get down there," he said.
For example, Beuerlein completed passes of 23 and 19 yards to move the Irish to the Michigan 14 in the second quarter.
Getting the call on the next three plays, including a third-and-12 play from the Michigan 16, Pinkett gained two yards.
That set up a 31-yard field goal by John Carney to give Notre Dame a 6-0 lead. Carney earlier had kicked a 34-yard field goal. Immediately before the first field goal, the Irish called Pinkett's number on third-and-10 from the Michigan 14.
"I can understand their confidence in the running game," Beuerlein said of the Notre Dame coaches. "But there were a few times when I thought, instead of trying to punch it in, we should have thrown the ball. I have no control over it, though."
Notre Dame had the lead, 9-3, after two quarters but lost it after fumbling the second-half kickoff. Michigan had to drive only 14 yards for the game's first touchdown, which came on a 10-yard quarterback draw by Jim Harbaugh. It was 10-9, Michigan.
Of the fumble, Schembechler said: "It was the one time the Lord looked down on somebody other than Notre Dame."
But He must have been looking out for the Irish later in the quarter, when the Wolverines fumbled a punt that Notre Dame recovered at the Michigan 29.
On third-and-nine, Beuerlein completed a 13-yard pass to tight end Tom Rehder that gave the Irish a first down at the Michigan 15.
Again, Notre Dame went into its "prevent" offense. Three running plays later, Carney kicked his fourth field goal to give the Irish their last lead, 12-10, midway through the third quarter.
Next to Faust, Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler looked like a riverboat gambler.
On the Wolverines' next possession, they drove 80 yards for a touchdown and a 17-12 lead. Of the 13 plays, six were passes. Harbaugh completed four for 43 yards, including one for seven yards on first down from the Michigan 13.
That doesn't mean that Schembechler abandoned the running game. His 5-7 tailback, Jamie Morris, gained 121 yards in 23 carries.
Notre Dame's Pinkett had 94 yards in 22 carries.