Most Michigan fans only remember the heroics of quarterback Denard Robinson in last year’s frantic 35-31 victory over Notre Dame with two seconds remaining — the third time in as many years the Wolverines stripped a win from the Fighting Irish in the final minute. Second-year head coach Brady Hoke recalls some unsettling details as his team prepares for a visit to South Bend against No. 11 Notre Dame Saturday.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Notre Dame brings more speed to the table
“Well, No. 1, for three quarters we did nothing on either side of the ball,” Hoke said Tuesday. “That’s what I remember the most.”
It was 24-7 in favor of the Irish entering the fourth quarter last September at the Big House, but Robinson led the team to 28 points, including an 80-yard scoring drive with 30 seconds to play to complete the rally, in the final stanza. He finished with 338 passing yards and 108 rushing yards, but threw three interceptions. Fortunately for the Wolverines, Notre Dame turned the ball over five times.
Robinson torched the Irish for 502 total yards in a 28-24 win in 2010, when Michigan didn’t have a single turnover. One of the obvious characteristics of this year’s Irish squad, Hoke pointed out, was ball security. Notre Dame turned the ball over 10 times through the first two games of the 2011 campaign, but has just two giveaways through three contests this fall. Conversely, the Irish have stolen possession from opposing offenses seven times.
“When you watch them, their front seven is playing very aggressive,” Hoke said. “They held Michigan State to 50 yards rushing. I think they’ve done a tremendous job at the point of attack. They flow to the ball really, really well. They’ve created turnovers and opportunities for their offense. That’s a big, big part of the game of football, when you look at field position, opportunities and possessions for your offense that your defense can create.”
Hoke, still struggling with the pronunciation of senior linebacker Manti Te’o’s name, calling him “Manty” and “Matu” in the same breath, has noticed an increase in Irish speed compared to 2011 as well, which represents a threat for a 19th-ranked Wolverines (2-1) outfit still trying to iron out issues in all facets of the game.
“I think they’re a little quicker at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” he said. “Their linebackers, with [Te’o], and what they do flowing to the football; I think they run well. Offensively, [George] Atkinson is a guy that’s a 100-meter guy; he’s a playmaker for them. Cierre Wood is a playmaker and runs well. [Everett] Golson can hurt you with his feet, can create some plays for them.
“You look at the tight ends — they’ve got three tight ends who I think everybody in the country would like to have, with [Tyler] Eifert being the lead guy there that’s very athletic. He poses a big mismatch.”
With last week’s news of Notre Dame’s eventual inclusion in the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports other than football and hockey, Hoke was asked about the future of the rivalry.
“Obviously this is a special week; it’s a great rivalry for us,” he said. “It’s a fun game to be part of either as a coach or a player. … It’s probably a decision that I’ll have nothing to do with. I think it’s a great rivalry from a national perspective. They’ve got to take care of what they need to take care of by going into the ACC in the other sports. Having the opportunity to play competitive games against people outside the conference, I think, is all part of it. But believe me, we have enough going on here to worry about what we’re doing.”
Even with a large dose of confidence coming off a thrashing of MSU in East Lansing, Notre Dame still has plenty to worry about in Robinson.
“I don’t know,” said Hoke when asked why his dual-threat senior QB has had so much success against the Irish. “I don’t know if anybody knows that. Every year is different; every game is different. The pieces on the field are different. It’s just been lucky for us and Michigan that he has played well late in ball games. … From my vantage point, we’re glad he’s our quarterback at Michigan.”