Sept. 14, 2006
For college football fans, it just doesn’t get much better than this – Notre Dame versus Michigan. Not much more has to be said when these two perennial college football powers get together. Whether it’s at Notre Dame Stadium or Michigan Stadium, the atmosphere is always electric. Nothing is different today. Both teams come into the game with 2-0 records and are nationally ranked – Notre Dame is ranked second in the Associated Press poll and third by USA Today. Michigan comes into the game ranked 11th in the AP poll and 13th in the USA Today rankings. Winning records and national rankings are the norm for these two programs. A look at the history of the series tells the story. In the last 25 meetings between the two schools, dating back to 1942, one of the two teams has been ranked; in 20 of those games, both teams came in ranked. Four times in series history, Notre Dame has been ranked number one in the nation (1943, 1981, 1989 and 1990) and twice, the series has produced No. 1 versus No. 2 (’43 and ’89). When Michigan and Notre Dame get together, it is always No. 1 versus No. 2, as in all-time wins and winning percentage. The 2006 season marks the 127th season for the Wolverines while the Irish are in their 118th year banging heads on the gridiron. Between them, the two schools own 1,664 wins. All-time Michigan has a record of 851-280-36 and the Irish are 813-266-42. The Wolverines rank first all-time in wins (851 – 813) and first in winning percentage (.7446 to .7439).
Now that we’ve crunched the numbers, let’s look at today’s game as the Irish play the second of four straight games versus Big Ten teams. Charlie Weis will face Michigan for the second time in his career today after guiding the Irish to a 28-20 win at Michigan Stadium last year. Weis is now 11-3 (.786) in his second season directing Notre Dame’s football fortunes with one BCS Bowl game on the ledger. An offensive Wizard, Weis has the Irish heading in the right direction in his second year after earning four Super Bowl rings in 15 seasons as an NFL assistant coach with the New York Giants, Jets and New England Patriots.
Over on the Michigan sideline, Lloyd Carr is in his 12th year as the bench boss for the Wolverines. During that time his Maize and Blue have a 104-34 record for a .754 winning percentage. In all, Carr has been at Michigan for 26 years, beginning in 1980 as he served as an assistant to both Bo Schembechler and Gary Moeller. In each of his first 11 seasons at Michigan, the Wolverines have advanced to a postseason bowl games. He is 3-4 in seven meetings against the Irish.
A Look At The Irish
What a difference a week makes. After opening the season with a 14-10 win over Georgia Tech on Sept. 2, the Irish put it all together a week ago in a 41-17 win over 19th-ranked Penn State. While the offense struggled at times versus the Yellow Jackets, it was firing on all cylinders versus the Nittany Lions. Heisman Trophy candidate Brady Quinn connected on 25-of-36 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. The three-touchdown game was the ninth of his career. Quinn distributed the ball to five different receivers with Darius Walker grabbing seven, John Carlson and Jeff Samardzija six and Rhema McKnight five. Walker, Samardzija and McKnight had touchdown catches while Carlson’s six catches for 98 yards were career highs.
Senior defensive back Tom Zbikowski worked some of his return magic versus Penn State. His 25-yard fumble return for a touchdown was the sixth return of his career. He has returned two fumbles, two interceptions and two punts for touchdowns in his career. (Photo by Brian Spurlock)
For the second game in a row, the Notre Dame defense turned in a standout performance. The Irish surrendered 383 total yards to the Nittany Lions, but 172 of those came after Notre Dame had built a 41-3 lead, before giving up two long drives for touchdowns. Maurice Crum led the team with 14 tackles and forced a big fumble that led to a 25-yard touchdown return by Tom Zbikowski. In all, the defense forced three fumbles, recovering two while intercepting one pass (Chinedum Ndukwe) and sacking Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli twice.
Michigan brings a 2-0 record into today’s game after recording wins over Vanderbilt (27-7) and Central Michigan (41-17) last weekend. The Wolverines have featured a strong running attack and a stingy defense in their first two wins this season. Michigan has averaged 249 yards-per-game on the ground in its two victories. Overall, the Maize and Blue have averaged 383.5 yards per game to the opposition’s 187.5. Leading the Michigan running attack is junior Mike Hart. The Syracuse, N.Y., native has already gained 262 yards this season and scored three times in the win over Central Michigan. For his career, Hart has rushed for 2,739 yards on 482 carries for a 4.9-yard average and 16 touchdowns. In two games versus Notre Dame, Hart has 21 yards on eight carries. Following Hart, sophomore Kevin Grady is second with 76 yards on 17 carries. Junior quarterback Chad Henne has started every game of his collegiate career – 26 consecutive games. Through the first two games of this season, Henne has completed 21-of-41 passes for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns. For his career, he’s completed 484-of-822 passes for 5,517 yards and 50 touchdowns. In two games against Notre Dame, Henne is 44-for-84 for 463 yards with two interceptions and two touchdowns. Henne has spread his completions around this season, hitting eight different receivers. Steve Breaston (six catches) and Mario Manningham (five catches) are the early pass reception leaders. Defensively, the Wolverines have given up just 12 points-a-game and are holding opponents to 29 yards-per-game rushing. In two games to date, Michigan has recorded 19 tackles for 104 yards in losses, including 10 quarterback sacks. LaMarr Woodley (four sacks) and Rondell Biggs (three sacks) lead the front seven. The Wolverine defense has forced four fumbles and one interception to start the year.
Defensive back Tom Zbikowski turned in one of the key plays in the Irish win over Penn State. Just 1:02 into the third quarter, with Notre Dame protecting a 13-0 lead, linebacker Maurice Crum separated Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli from the ball. Zbikowski was scooped up the loose ball and rambled 25 yards for the touchdown that broke the game open. For the senior, it marked the sixth return for a touchdown in his career. He has returned two fumbles, two punts and two interceptions for touchdowns over the last three seasons.
Senior tight end John Carlson had a career day for the Irish against Penn State. The 6-6, 250-pound pass catcher had career highs in catches (6), yards (98) and the longest catch of his career (32 yards in the second quarter). After playing behind Anthony Fasano for the last two years, Carlson is making up for lost time. In two games, he has 10 catches for 134 yards after having 13 catches for 87 yards in his first two seasons.
Three’s A Charm
With three touchdown passes versus Penn State, Irish quarterback Brady Quinn has now thrown three touchdown passes in a game nine times in his career – (2 in ’04, 6 in ’05 and 1 in ’06).