Sept. 9, 2004
by Alan Wasielewski
One of college football’s great rivalries is renewed this afternoon when the Michigan Wolverines (1-0) make their 12th visit to Notre Dame Stadium to face the Fighting Irish (0-1).
Two of the most storied programs in the history of college football, Notre Dame and Michigan, both sit atop the Division I all-time wins list and all-time winning-percentage lists.
While Michigan leads the all-time series 18-12-1, Notre Dame has won the last two meetings in South Bend and is looking for an unprecedented third-straight home-win versus the Wolverines in today’s contest.
The Irish and Wolverines have been linked since Michigan first visited South Bend to compete in Notre Dame’s first-ever varsity football game. The Wolverines walked away with an 8-0 victory on Nov. 23, 1887, and would post victories in the next seven meetings between 1887 and 1909. Notre Dame earned its first win in the series in 1909 – the last meeting between the two teams for 33 years.
The series resumed in 1942-43, with each team winning on the other’s home field by similar scores (sixth-ranked Michigan 32, fourth-ranked Notre Dame 20 in ’42, top-ranked Notre Dame 35, second-ranked Michigan 12 in ’43). The teams would not meet again until 1978 when the series resumed permanently (save for two-year breaks in 1983-84 and 1995-96).
Since 1978, Notre Dame has held an advantage with 10 wins, nine losses and one tie. Also, Notre Dame has won six of the 10 meetings played at Notre Dame Stadium (against three losses and one tie).
Breaking it down further, of those three losses to Michigan at home since ’78, to Michigan, only the `78 game (28-14) was decided by more than two points. The legendary meeting in 1986 ended in a 24-23 Michigan victory, but earned its’ legendary status by vaulting Notre Dame into the top 25 after a loss the first week of the season.
The memories of the Notre Dame – Michigan series in Notre Dame Stadium have been forged by some of the greatest college football players of the last two decades. The 1990 contest featured future Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard making two touchdown catches (and 113 yards receiving) to push the Irish to the brink. Rick Mirer and Adrian Jarrell connected on a touchdown pass with 1:40 remaining to give Notre Dame a 28-24 victory.
Another Heisman Trophy winner – Tim Brown – rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown in the memorable 1986 contest and he kick-started his push for the Heisman in ’87 with a spectacular back-of-the-end zone catch against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
Placekicking has played a crucial role in the series as well. Notre Dame’s little big man, Reggie Ho, drilled four field goals in 1988 – including the game winner with 1:13 remaining. Mike Gillette missed a 49-yard field goal for Michigan as time expired. Standout Irish and NFL kicker John Carney missed a field goal with 18 seconds left in 1986 – a kick that would have put Notre Dame in the lead.
A Michigan kicker allowed Wolverine fans to forget the name Gillette in 1994 when Remy Hamilton drilled a 42-yarder with two seconds remaining, erasing a Derrick Mayes – Ron Powlus late touchdown hook up for the Irish.
Michigan will enter today’s game with a decision at quarterback. Projected starter junior Matt Guiterrez was sidelined with an injury in the team’s opener against Miami (Ohio) last weekend. True freshman Chad Henne stepped into the void and played well, connecting on 14 of 24 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. The Michigan quarterback situation might not be resolved until game time today.
Regardless of who takes the snaps for the Wolverines this weekend, Michigan is relatively inexperienced at quarterback and running back slots. Both Guiterrez and Henne are in their first year of appearing in the starting lineup and senior running back David Underwood is in his first season of full-time action (replacing graduated Doak Walker Award winner Chris Perry).
Notre Dame will hope to utilize its’ experience at quarterback and running back in today’s game. Brady Quinn has 10 starts under his belt and is coming off a solid performance at BYU last Saturday (26-47, 265 yards, 1 TD). Senior Ryan Grant should be back in the lineup today after missing the BYU game due to a hamstring injury. Grant rushed for 132 yards in Notre Dame’s last meeting against Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium.
While the Notre Dame offense will look to establish a running game that was non-existent against BYU (11 yards rushing), Quinn has shown the ability to spread the ball around to several different receivers. Last Saturday six different Irish wide outs, tight ends and running backs combined for 26 catches.
The rushing game will be a point of emphasis for both teams. Even though Michigan came away from its’ contest last weekend with a victory, the Wolverines rushed for just 132 yards in 40 carries, amounting to a 3.3 average. The Notre Dame defense, which shut down BYU’s running game (22 yards on 35 carries for a 0.6 average), will hope to carry over that performance this afternoon. During the Tyrone Willingham era, the Irish have held their opponents to 100 or less rushing yards in 15 of 26 contests.
In the end, position breakdown and statistical analysis of the present-day teams might not tell the whole story of today’s game. The Notre Dame – Michigan series is about emotion, tradition and passion. As former Irish running back Autry Denson pointed out following Notre Dame’s victory in 1998, a player needs to give everything he has to be successful versus the Wolverines.
“It’s called playing out of your chest,” Denson said after his 163-yard rushing performance against Michigan.
“You need to play with a lot of heart and soul.”