We continue to take a look back at some of the grand moments from the 2011 college football season. When I asked for some opinions on the best games of the season there were a handful of games that seemed to be the most popular.
Yesterday we took a look at the season opener between Baylor and TCU. Today we move ahead to week two in the regular season and look at the Michigan Wolverines hosting Notre Dame in the first game to be played in prime time in Michigan Stadium.
This game had a little bit of everything, including throwback jerseys.
Michigan vs. Notre Dame
Week Two, September
The Quick Slant: Denard Robinson pulls out a 16-yard pass to Roy Roundtree to cap a wild fourth-quarter rally to stun Notre Dame.
Game In Brief: Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31
After losing at home to South Florida, Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish headed to Ann arbor looking to set the tone early and often in hopes of picking up the first win of the season. For three quarters that looked to be exactly what would happen as Notre Dame put together a 24-7 lead heading in to the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, Michigan pulled out all of the tricks in the bag in the fourth quarter to send the Irish back to South Bend with an 0-2 record in unbelievable fashion.
Things started well for Notre Dame, who had a touchdown pass from Tommy Rees and a short touchdow run by Clerre Wood to jump out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. The Irish took a 17-7 lead in to the half and Rees connected for a 15-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Jones to expand that lead to 24-7 late in the third quarter. Things were going well for Notre Dame, with the offense and defense both playing well and putting the team in great position to score a solid victory on the road.
So what happened?
Denard Robinson, who had thrown a 43-yard touchdown pass to Junior Hemingway earlier in the game, got the comeback started early in the fourth quarter with a one-yard run six seconds in to the fourth quarter (capping an 83-yard drive). Four minutes later, following a Notre Dame three-and-out, Robinson tossed his second touchdown of the game to Jeremy Gallon, cutting the Irish lead to 24-21. Notre Dame was in position to extend the breathing room, setting up a first and goal from the Michigan seven-yard line but Rees fumbled the football, giving Michigan life. It was short lived as Robinson was intercepted in the end zone on the next possession, but Notre Dame’s wheels were clearly starting to fall off as frustration led to a roughing the passer penalty.
Michigan took a 28-24 lead following a possession that started at their own 42-yard line. Robinson threw his third touchdown pass, to Vincent Smith from 21 yards, giving the Wolverines a lead with 1:04 to play. As long as the defense could hold, this one was over. Right?
Michigan’s crutch in 2010 and the rest of the Rodriguez era was defense, and although the entire defensive side of the football was improved in 2011, this was not their brightest moment. Notre Dame started at their own 39-yard line, and benefited form a Michigan pass interference call on the Wolverines, and Rees completed two straight passes to move to the Michigan 34-yard line. A 29-yard touchdown pass with 42 seconds left on the clock happened quickly, and perhaps too quickly. Robinson and Michigan got the ball, down 31-28 and started at their own 20-yard line with 30 seconds left. A 64-yard pass from Robinson to Gallon got Michigan Stadium in a frenzy, as Notre Dame’s defense was now collapsing and catching their breath, and a 16-yard pass to Roundtree on the right side of the end zone gave Michigan a wild victory with two seconds left for a kickoff.
What We said Then (Full Story)
What you have to like about Notre Dame going forward, though, is the play of Michael Floyd at receiver and the way the Irish’s big offensive line is being physical and giving Cierre Wood room to run.
If the Irish lose to Michigan State, watch out for Pittsburgh a week later. The Panthers have been pretty average so far, but Pitt seems to play Notre Dame tough every year.
If Notre Dame gets by those two and is sitting at 2-2 going into the Purdue game on Oct. 1, watch out for the Irish. The confidence will finally come back and the schedule is soft enough that Brian Kelly’s team could be 9-2 when it travels to Stanford in the regular-season finale.
The final two years of the Rich Rodriguez tenure started off well, only to see the Wolverines struggle through the Big Ten part of the schedule. Just last year Michigan opened 5-0 before dropping three straight to Michigan State, Iowa and Penn State.
Can first-year coach Brady Hoke avoid the conference meltdown?
The easy answer is yes.
Hindsight is 20/20
The Wolverines did in fact finish their season on a high note, unlike previous years under Rich Rodriguez. The biggest difference, of course, had been the defensive improvements with a new defensive coordinator and philosophy taking advantage of the talent that was already there. The Wolverines followed up this fantastic ending by smashing over-matched opponents in Eastern Michigan and San Diego State before opening Big Ten play with dominating wins over Minnesota and Northwestern. Michigan State handed the Wolverines their first loss, but Michigan was already bowl-eligible and would only lose one more game the rest of the way (Iowa), finally knocking that Ohio State chip off their shoulder in the season finale.
Denard Robinson finished with 20 touchdown passes and 16 touchdown runs and once again led the team in rushing with 1,176 yards to compliment his 2,173 yards through the air. Still, Robinson has shown a weakness to better defenses, as was evident in the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech.
For the Irish, an 0-2 start was not what they had in mind heading in to the fall, but after blowing a home game against South Florida and collapsing in Ann Arbor, Notre Dame picked up a big win against Michigan State (avenging a 2010 loss), snuck by Pittsburgh on the road and put away Purdue and Air Force before getting another dose of reality against USC. Notre Dame continued to take steps forward overall, including on defense, but they still struggle to win what many consider a premiere game, losing to the Trojans, Stanford and Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl to end the season.
Brady Hoke picked up a BCS victory in one season at Michigan while Brian Kelly continues to search for Notre Dame’s first big-bowl game victory since the 1993 season’s Cotton Bowl (if you consider the Cotton Bowl a big bowl game), or the 1992 Sugar Bowl.
One thing will be for sure, both teams will be worth keeping a close eye on in 2012. Michigan could take the next step and emerge as a Big Ten team to beat in 2012, while Notre Dame will play one of the toughest schedules in the country. Will either be ready to prove they are worthy of high accolades?
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