Sept. 11, 2004
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame found a familiar way to make its problems go away – beat Michigan.
“Anytime you knock off a top-10 team it is a big win. Our guys did something significant, but it was still one win,” coach Tyrone Willingham said. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. Tomorrow we have to start all over.”
Using the ingredients that vaulted the Fighting Irish to wins in Willingham’s first eight games two years ago, Notre Dame used a stingy defense, an opportunistic offense and a key special teams play to beat Michigan 28-20 on Saturday.
Willingham and the Irish have been the target for much criticism while losing 10 of 15 since that 8-0 start in 2002. Now, there’s renewed hope in South Bend for a turnaround after a third straight win over Michigan in South Bend.
The difference this time was an unexpected offensive star for the Irish.
Freshman Darius Walker, who didn’t even play a week ago in a deflating loss to Brigham Young, ran for 115 yards on 31 carries and two fourth-quarter touchdowns. He is the first Notre Dame freshman to rush for more than 100 yards since Julius Jones had 146 yards against Navy in 1999.
“I didn’t even know who that was running the ball,” cornerback Marlin Jackson said. “He’s a good player and he had a good game.”
Basically, I was just worried about doing my job to the best of my ability and the best that I could. I just tried to block everything else out. It was an experience.Darius Walker
Notre Dame (1-1) earned its first win over a top-10 team since beating fifth-ranked Michigan 25-23 two years ago. Since that game, the Irish were 0-4 against top-10 teams, losing by a combined 164-27 – including the 38-0 loss to Michigan last season.
The Wolverines (1-1) lost their opening road game for a fifth straight year – again doing serious early damage to their national championship aspirations.
“I think if you check the teams we played, we played pretty good teams,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
The Wolverines have lost twice to Notre Dame and at Oregon, Washington and UCLA during that span.
The biggest surprise, though, was Walker and the Notre Dame running game, which produced just 11 yards in its opener.
The Georgian ran for 61 yards on 14 carries in the fourth quarter as Notre Dame took control.
“Basically, I was just worried about doing my job to the best of my ability and the best that I could,” Walker said. “I just tried to block everything else out.
“It was an experience,” he said.
The Irish were trailing 12-7 late in the third quarter when Wolverines freshman Chad Henne threw high to Braylon Edwards. The ball bounced high off Edwards’ hands and cornerback Dwight Ellick intercepted it at the Michigan 29. Brady Quinn completed a pair of passes to Maurice Stovall for 19 yards, the second pass to the 6-yard line. Walker ran around right end untouched for the TD to give the Irish a 14-12 lead.
On Michigan’s next possession, the Wolverines went three-and-out. On the punt, Jerome Collins broke up the middle and Chase Anastasio came in around the right end and they combined to block the punt. Corey Mays recovered the ball on the Michigan 5. Walker scored on the next play, this time going untouched around left end.
“That really changed the momentum of the game and got the fans back into the game,” Carr said. “I thought it gave Notre Dame a lot of confidence.”
The Irish pulled away in the fourth quarter when Rashon Powers-Neal caught a play-action pass from Quinn for an 8-yard touchdown to make it 28-12.
The Wolverines closed to 28-20 with 2:27 left on a 25-yard TD pass from Henne to Steve Breaston. Henne and Breaston then connected for a two-point play. But Notre Dame clinched the win when Stovall recovered the onside kick.
“We have no excuses here,” Carr said. “Give Notre Dame all the credit. We just didn’t do the things necessary to win.”
The game came as a relief to Irish fans, who had seen their team lose twice to USC by 31 points over the past two seasons and once to Florida State by 37. Then there was the 38-point loss to Michigan last year, the most lopsided game of the series which the Irish used as motivation in the offseason.
Notre Dame students ran out on the field to celebrate the win, turning the field into a sea of green T-shirts. Athletic director Kevin White ran up to Tyrone Willingham on the field, put his arm around the coach’s shoulder and walked him up to the locker room. White then stood outside and high-fived players as they went into the locker room.
Notre Dame ended a scoreless streak of six quarters against the Wolverines when Quinn threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Matt Shelton. Shelton leaped up over Michigan cornerback Markus Curry, caught the underthrown ball and fell backward into the end zone.
Garrett Rivas kicked four field goals for the Wolverines. His 47-yard field goal in the third quarter matched his career long set against Iowa last year and put Michigan up 12-7.
The win allowed Notre Dame to reclaim the title as the winningest program in college football at 74.567 percent, compared to Michigan’s 74.540 percent. The Wolverines had moved past Notre Dame a week earlier when they won and the Irish lost.
For at least a week, Notre Dame is back on top.