Michigan 21, Notre Dame 14
September 27, 1997 – Michigan Stadium
by Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Three times Michigan played the gracious host and offered Notre Dame the opportunity to win a football game.
On each occasion, the Irish respectfully declined.
Three fourth-quarter Wolverine fumbles provided Notre Dame with a route to escape its ’97 funk, but instead the Irish came away with a 21-14 loss.
While the Notre Dame offense showed marked improvement, the game came down to a fourth-and-two situation on the Michigan 20-yard line that the Irish failed to convert.
Michigan, 3-0, led 21-14 with less than four minutes left in the game. The Irish defense had just recovered its third fumble of the quarter, on the Wolverine 28. Irish tailback Autry Denson had a seven-yard run on the first try, then was stopped for a yard on the second snap and held for no gain on the third.
On fourth down, the Irish came out in an unusual formation with both tackles on the left side of the line. Quarterback Ron Powlus had to call the direction of the play at the line of scrimmage, despite more than 106,000 fans yelling at the top of their lungs.
The play went left and was stuffed for no gain by West Noble High School graduate Glen Steele, the Wolverine defensive end, and linebacker James Hall.
“If you can’t make a yard and a half, that’s not very good,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Jim Colletto said. “There’s nothing good about it, nothing you can say. If you’re at Notre Dame you ought to make a yard and a half and we didn’t make it.”
“(Running up the middle was) their way of saying ‘We’re a better team than you,'” Michigan strong safety Marcus Ray said. “We wanted them to run. They didn’t surprise us at all.”
“It was either us or them, and we didn’t get it done,” said Denson, who rushed for 72 yards on 25 carries. “Everyone knew this was do or die and we didn’t do it.”
What the Irish did was make positive strides, only to end on a negative note that sent them to their third straight defeat under first-year head coach Bob Davie.
“This is just another step in our evolution of being a football team worthy of wearing those gold helmets,” Davie said. “We’ve got no alternative but to try to build on this.”
The Irish can especially build on their first-half performance, in which they built a 14-7 lead. It was as near to perfection as Notre Dame has performed both offensively and defensively since the 54-20 win over Washington last season.
Michigan was limited to just 39 yards rushing and 110 yards worth of total offense. The Irish had a balanced offensive attack that featured 25 rushing plays and 14 passes good for 227 yards, including a dominating 98-yard touchdown march.
Powlus was impressive with 11 completions for 138 first-half yards and likewise, the Irish receivers came up with big plays. Powlus showed he can throw downfield with a 34-yard hookup to Malcolm Johnson. Then he showed he had a soft touch with a pinpoint pass to Bobby Brown from 15 yards out to draw first blood, 7-0.
Clarence Williams tied it early in the second quarter with a four-yard run.
Confidence comes in the form of successful 98-yard drives. With about four minutes left in the first half, the Irish were pinned at their own 2 and seemed content to try to get a couple running first downs and hopefully run out the clock. However, a 22-yard burst by senior fullback Ken Barry, getting his first-ever start, changed the strategy.
Passes of 26 and 16 yards to Johnson gave the Irish the ball on the Michigan 15. A three-yard run by Denson and a 10-yard pass to Raki Nelson set up freshman Tony Driver to score from two yards.
Michigan completely reversed the momentum in the first five minutes of the third quarter. A 28-yard kickoff return by Williams to the Wolverine 44 opened the second half. Michigan quarterback Brian Griese hit Tai Streets for 15 yards, then connected with Streets again for a 42-yard TD strike. The Irish were caught in a blitz situation with cornerback Allen Rossum in man-to-man coverage. Griese was hit as he released the ball and Rossum went for the interception. When he missed, Streets was in the clear.
After a defensive stop on Notre Dame’s first possession, dangerous Wolverine Charles Woodson returned a punt 20 yards to the Irish 43. Seven plays later, Michigan fullback Chris Floyd ran in what proved to be the game-winner from 14 yards.
In the fourth quarter, the Irish defense stripped the ball three times. Notre Dame started drives on Michigan’s 47-, 42- and 28-yard lines but came up empty each time. The first drive ended when Powlus was intercepted by Tommy Hendricks in the end zone. The second progressed just four yards and ended with a punt from the Irish 38 and the third was Denson’s unsuccessful blast into the line.
Notre Dame 7 7 0 0 – 14Michigan 0 7 14 0 – 21
ND: Bobby BROWN 15 pass from Ron POWLUS (Jim SANSON PAT), 3:16 left. Drive: 78 yards, 12 plays, 6:30 elapsed after Michigan punt. Key play: Powlus to Brown for 12 on 3rd and 7 from the UM 19. Score: Notre Dame 7, Michigan 0.
UM: Clarence WILLIAMS 4 run (Kraig BAKER PAT), 13:40 left. Drive: 66 yards, 11 plays, 4:36 elapsed after Notre Dame kickoff. Key play: Brian Griese to Tai Streets for 21 on 3rd and 7 from the ND 45. Score: Notre Dame 7, Michigan 7.
ND: Tony DRIVER 2 run (SANSON PAT), 0:18 left. Drive: 98 yards, 11 plays, 3:55 elapsed after Michigan punt. Key play: Ken Barry 22 run on 3rd and 4 from the ND 21. Score: Notre Dame 14, Michigan 7.
UM: STREETS 41 pass from GRIESE (BAKER PAT), 14:36 left. Drive: 56 yards, 2 plays, 0:24 elapsed after Notre Dame kickoff. Key play: Clarence Williams 28 kickoff return. Score: Notre Dame 14, Michigan 14.UM: Chris FLOYD 14 run (BAKER PAT), 9:21 left. Drive: 42 yards, 7 plays, 1:45 elapsed after Notre Dame punt. Key play: Griese to Williams for 11 on 3rd and 8 from the ND 28. Score: Michigan 21, Notre Dame 14.
Attendance – 106,508 (sellout)
ND UMFirst Downs 16 16Rushing 7 6Passing 9 9Penalty 0 1Rushing Attempts 44 34Yards Rushing 153 176Yards Lost Rushing 4 8Net Yards Rushing 149 168Net Yards Passing 205 177Passes Attempted 27 22Passes Completed 20 16Had Intercepted 1 0Total Offensive Plays 71 56Total Net Yards 354 345Average Gain Per Play 5.0 6.2Fumbles: Number-Lost 0-0 3-3Penalties: Number-Yards 10-92 6-37Number of Punts-Yards 7-321 4-163Average Per Punt 45.9 40.8Punt Returns: Number-Yards 0-0 2-29Kickoff Returns: Number-Yards 1-49 3-65Interceptions: Number-Yards 0-0 1-0Possession Time 35:44 24:16Third Down Conversions 8-17 4-10Fourth Down Conversions 0-1 1-1Sacks by: Number-Yards 0-0 0-0
RUSHING ATT GAIN LOST NET TD LGAutry Denson 25 74 2 72 0 11Ken Barry 4 33 2 31 0 22Tony Driver 10 24 0 24 1 6Ron Powlus 3 14 0 14 0 10Jamie Spencer 2 8 0 8 0 5
PASSING ATT COMP INT YDS TD LGRon Powlus 27 20 1 205 1 34
RECEIVING RECPT YARDS TD LGMalcolm Johnson 7 106 0 34Raki Nelson 5 45 0 16Autry Denson 4 20 0 14Bobby Brown 3 31 1 15Jamie Spencer 1 3 0 3
PUNTING NUM YARDS AVG LGHunter Smith 7 321 45.9 57
RETURNS PR KO INTSTony Driver – 1-49 –
RUSHING ATT GAIN LOST NET TD LGChris Howard 16 98 7 91 0 27Chris Floyd 7 41 0 41 1 14Clarence Williams 6 28 0 28 1 6Anthony Thomas 3 6 0 6 0 3Brian Griese 2 3 1 2 0 3
PASSING ATT COMP INT YDS TD LGBrian Griese 22 16 0 177 1 41
RECEIVING RECPT YARDS TD LGChris Floyd 4 35 0 17Clarence Williams 4 23 0 11Tai Streets 3 77 1 41Russell Shaw 2 19 0 13Aaron Shea 2 10 0 10Jerame Tuman 1 13 0 13
PUNTING NUM YARDS AVG LGJason Vinson 4 163 40.8 53
RETURNS PR KO INTSClarence Williams – 3-65 -Charles Woodson 2-29 – -Tom Hendricks – – 1-0