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Michigan Does Jig on Irish

The No. 5 Wolverines look like national-title material in a 38-0 pounding of outclassed Notre Dame.

September 14, 2003|J.A. Adande | Times Staff Writer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Once again, it appears some other city could be in line for a great Rose Bowl matchup.

The experienced, hard-hitting No. 5 Michigan Wolverines (3-0) asserted themselves as strong candidates to play in the bowl championship series title game at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans -- against USC, perhaps? -- with a convincing 38-0 victory over No. 15 Notre Dame on Saturday.

"They came at us in almost every imaginable way you could," Notre Dame Coach Tyrone Willingham said.

Michigan's scoring drives ran the gamut from an easy two-yard dive set up by a 55-yard punt return to a marathon 19-play drive that consumed 10 minutes 25 seconds in the second half.

The offensive line created enough holes in Notre Dame's front line (a supposed strength of the Irish team) to let running back Chris Perry rush for 133 yards and three touchdowns in 31 carries. Steve Breaston returned four punts for 105 yards.

The Michigan defense blasted through the gaps in Notre Dame's line. The secondary didn't let any receiver get loose behind it. The Irish managed only one pass completion for one yard in the first half. For the game, their 140 net yards looked puny next to Michigan's 439.

Afterward, Michigan defensive end Larry Stevens looked at the numbers posted on the scoreboard and said, "Man, that's stats."

But in college football the numbers never are enough. Not when there are poll voters to impress and bowl representatives to woo.

So the Wolverines kept hearing variations of the question: What statement did they make?

"We take it as another step toward our goal, and that's winning a national championship," quarterback John Navarre said.

Those used to be banned words in these parts in September. For decades the official word at Michigan was always Rose Bowl first, national championship second. In 1992, then-coach Gary Moeller even bypassed a shot at victory and a chance to stay in the national championship picture and kicked a field goal against Illinois because a tie would guarantee the Wolverines a Rose Bowl berth.

But now the Rose Bowl is a consolation prize when it doesn't host the championship game, so it wasn't mentioned Saturday.

Notre Dame isn't in position to think about any of the four big bowls. The Irish need to win nine games and finish among the top 12 teams in the BCS standings to assure themselves a BCS bid.

That doesn't seem likely with a schedule that includes visits by No. 4 USC and No. 10 Florida State and a game at No. 11 Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame's recent history of getting outscored, 110-19, in its last three games against ranked opponents.

Even though the Wolverines were 10-point favorites in a rivalry game that's usually close, they had reason to be wary. Three times since 1993 Michigan had a top-10 ranking but lost to a lower-ranked Irish team.

The Irish must have used up all of their lucky charms while erasing a 19-0 deficit to pull out a 29-26 victory over Washington State in their opener. The only time they posed a threat Saturday was after they recovered a fumble at the Michigan 38-yard line on the third play of the game. But they moved the ball only one yard, a sign of things to come on a day when they never entered the red zone, never even got close enough to try a field goal.

"I don't think there's anything we can take positively from this game," Willingham said. "We were outplayed, outcoached, out-everythinged."

The result was the most lopsided final score in the 31 meetings between the schools, and Michigan's first shutout of Notre Dame since 1902. And you'd have to go back to that dark period in Notre Dame history known as "The Gerry Faust Years" to find a larger margin of defeat: a 58-7 loss to Miami on Nov. 30, 1985.

For the Wolverines, the numbers were much cheerier, such as the NCAA-record crowd of 111,726 at Michigan Stadium.

If Perry's rushing stats were a drop-off from the 208 yards he averaged in Michigan's first two games, his four touchdowns (he also caught a five-yard scoring pass from Navarre) and his starring role in this impressive victory ought to keep him at the top of the Heisman Watch.

"There's no room to think about things like that," he said. "We have 10 more games to go."

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