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For the Irish, another nasty Wolverine encounter

Freshman quarterback Tate Forcier hits Greg Matthews with the winning touchdown as Michigan upsets No. 18 Notre Dame. For the Irish, the loss is even tougher than 2007's 38-point blowout in Ann Arbor.

September 13, 2009|Brian Hamilton

ANN ARBOR, MICH. — Maize-and-blue winged helmets flew into air space occupied, to that point, by the tinny revelry of 110,278 fans. As unhinged Michigan players sprinted onto the turf, delirious from a heart-stopping 38-34 evisceration of a rival, Notre Dame lingered on its sideline.

The Irish glumly waited for postgame handshakes. And waited. And waited. And the Wolverines turned away, bolting to the student section for full-throated fight song choruses.

When last the Irish left this place, after a 38-point massacre in 2007, they figured it couldn't get worse. It did.

"I'm honestly sick to my stomach right now," Irish receiver Golden Tate said.

These were the fateful particulars: Clinging to a 34-31 lead with less than three minutes left, Irish Coach Charlie Weis called passes on second- and third-and-10 instead of running the ball to milk the clock or force Michigan to burn timeouts.

Both attempts fell incomplete. So Michigan (2-0) took possession with 2 minutes 13 seconds to go after a Notre Dame punt, and nine plays later irrepressible freshman quarterback Tate Forcier hit Greg Matthews for the winning four-yard touchdown. Thus began a run on torch-lighting material in South Bend.

"They weren't just going to sit back there and let us run the ball right there," Weis said, saying Michigan loaded up to stuff the ground game. "So you have two choices. Are you running the ball, just to make them use their timeouts, or are you trying to win the game?"

Those were the fateful strategic particulars, but so much more contributed to a slapdash loss that clouds the Irish's sky-high hopes for Bowl Championship Series bids.

First came practices Tuesday and Wednesday that center Eric Olsen labeled "sloppy."

Then came nine penalties, one that nullified a 72-yard pass. A fumble led to a Michigan touchdown. Notre Dame (1-1) allowed a 94-yard kickoff return for a score. The Irish defense allowed 430 yards to an offense run by a freshman.

Said Michigan Coach Rich Rodriguez: "We just thought if we could get some possessions and make them play a little bit, maybe conditioning would be a factor."

More signature offensive numbers -- Jimmy Clausen's 336 yards and three touchdowns passing, Armando Allen's career-high 139 yards rushing -- became irrelevant footnotes. The focus was instead on another round of locker-room soul-searching.

Weis retreated to the theme he used after a debacle at USC last November, asking his team where it was going from here. Then the players chimed in, searching for an emotional road map for the second time in four games.

"I just told the team, this feeling is not going to happen again," Clausen said.

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bchamilton@tribune.com

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