After nine months of ecstasy inspired by its evangelical new coach, Notre Dame returned to reality today and found itself up against an angry, wounded Michigan football team.
The Wolverines, stunned by Wisconsin a week ago, came into Michigan Stadium smarting from a brutal week of practice, determined not go through the agony again. The result was a dominating 25-7 Michigan victory over the country's No. 1-ranked team before 105,888, the third largest crowd in Michigan history.
"No one wanted to have to face another week like this past one," said tailback Butch Woolfolk, who rushed for 139 yards on 23 carries. "We had a lot to make up for today. Last year, last week, everything."
Last year Notre Dame beat Michigan, 29-27, on a 51-yard field goal on the last play of the game. Last week, Wisconsin shocked Michigan, then the No. 1 team, 21-14. Today, Woolfolk, Anthony Carter (two touchdowns) and sophomore quarterback Steve Smith, last week's goat, made sure the past would not ruin a perfect fall afternoon.
"Michigan just played great ball the whole day," said Coach Gerry Faust, whose first Notre Dame loss also was his first in 34 games, dating back to a 1977 defeat at Moeller High School in Cincinnati. "You can't let your defense stay on the field as long as we did and not expect them to bend, break, sooner or later."
Notre Dame's defense finally broke because the offense never gave it a breather. Until their touchdown in the fourth quarter, which came with Michigan leading, 25-0, the Irish had crossed the 50 once. They had one first down in the second and third quarters. By game's end, 11th-ranked Michigan had gained 407 yards, Notre Dame 213, and much of that after it had ceased being a contest.
"We came back from the poorest performance I can remember at Michigan," Coach Bo Schembechler said. "I think this re-establishes us as a good football team."
From the beginning, the Wolverines established themselves this afternoon. They took the opening kickoff and moved from their 12 to the Notre Dame 14 before stalling. A 31-yard field goal attempt by Ali Haji-Sheikh was wide and many in the crowd cringed. But there was no panic on the Michigan sideline.
"We felt coming in that we could move the ball on their defense," said quarterback Smith, three for 18 passing with three interceptions in his debut a week ago. "When we moved the ball right away, we knew we were going to get it going sooner or later."
First though, Notre Dame had its brief moment. On their second series, the Irish, behind quarterback Tim Koegel, pushed the ball downfield to a first down at the six. But two running plays and Koegel's slip produced fourth down at the eight and place kicker Harry Oliver came in.
Faust, however, was not thinking field goal. When holder Dave Condeni, a Moeller graduate, took the snap, he stood up, took two steps and threw to Tony Hunter, another Moeller alumnus.
If Condeni had put the ball in Hunter's arms, he could have trotted into the end zone. Instead, Condeni seemed to aim for the hovering blimp and Hunter had to make a spectacular catch. But he landed on his back at the four and Michigan took over.
"The play was wide open," Faust said. "If we execute, it's a great play. But we didn't so I'll probably get 50 letters this week. I guess that's just part of being Notre Dame coach."
What happened the rest of the game is rarely a part of being Notre Dame coach.
Early in the second quarter, Schembechler stepped out of character to try a flanker reverse option pass. But Carter, whose talent lies in his thoroughbred legs and his soft hands, not in his arm, was tackled for an 11-yard loss. The Wolverines faced third and 20 at their 29. So Carter went back to doing what he does best.
"We'd been running the ball a whole lot and lots of times when we run, I just jog off the line of scrimmage," he said. "After a while, the halfback starts leaning back, relaxing a little."
Recovering from his bout with an attempted pass, Carter jogged off the line a few steps, then took off. Cornerback Stacy Toran stayed close but safety Rod Bone, who was supposed to help Toran deep, did not.
Carter got past Toran and Bone was not there to help. Smith finally was on target and Carter was gone, 71 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Michigan lead with 12:08 left in the half.
"That was so important for me after last week," said Smith. "I mean, I finally threw a good pass. I was embarrassed after Wisconsin, we all were. Getting that one just helped my confidence a lot."
It also let the Michigan defense know it was going to get some support and it began to shut down the Irish, three plays and out. It was still 7-0 at halftime, but Michigan looked ready to take over.
In the third quarter, it did. The debacle began for Notre Dame when Faust tried a halfback option pass, Hunter throwing to Dean Masztak. Hunter fared no better than the other non-quarterback passers of this game, underthrowing the ball into the arms of safety Keith Bostic at the Michigan 48.
From there, Michigan went 52 yards in 12 plays, the last a 16-yard Smith-to-Carter pass. Defender John Krimm, diving for Carter, missed everything as Carter stopped suddenly, then jogged in for his 24th touchdown in 26 college games. Even with a missed extra point, it was 13-0, Michigan.
"That was the turning point there," Smith said. "After that we weren't just holding on, we were looking to roll."
They did. Another Notre Dame punt preceded a 58-yard, eight-play drive, this one capped by a one-yard waltz by backup tailback Lawrence Ricks. Finally, after another three-and-out series for the Irish, the Wolverines drove 53 yards. Smith scored on a six-yard run and the rout was complete with 12:42 left.
Only Koegel's eight-yard pass to Hunter made the final score semirespectable.
"They just did everything right and we did everything wrong," said Krimm, who covered Carter most of the day, although not on the 71-yard play. "Last year, the momentum went back and forth. This year, they got it and we never got it back."
Faust maintained his smile and his optimism through it all, even though his daughter Julie Marie burst into tears when she walked into the locker room.
"I'm not used to losing like this," Faust said. "But these things occur. Days like this happen and, if you survive them, you're very lucky. If not, you end up like we did today."