- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame’s national title hopes vanished beneath a hail of maize and blue heroics.

Completely exposing the Fighting Irish’s excruciating lack of speed on both sides of the ball, No. 11 Michigan humbled the second-ranked Irish 47-21 yesterday before a stunned crowd of 80,795 golden domers.

“This was a game for us to come out and quiet a few people who were talking about our team and Coach [Lloyd] Carr,” said Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley, one of the key cogs on a defensive unit that flustered Irish quarterback Brady Quinn into four devastating turnovers. “A lot of people had us down and dying, saying we couldn’t win a big game and we couldn’t win down here. They were judging us on last year, but this year’s a whole new ballgame.”

Carr and the Wolverines (3-0) arrived in South Bend dogged by questions and critics. Michigan had suffered six straight losses in the games that define the program (vs. Notre Dame, vs. Ohio State and in bowls) and lost five games overall last season for the first time since 1984.

There were few doubters by the time Michigan rolled out of Notre Dame Stadium, leaving both Quinn’s Heisman Trophy hopes and Charlie Weis’ genius halo shattered in its wake.

Maligned quarterback Chad Henne and the Michigan offense played exceptionally. The junior slinger completely outshined Quinn, completing 13 of 22 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns. Tailback Mike Hart finished with a workmanlike 124 yards rushing. And the Wolverines finally identified the gamebreaker missing last season in wideout Mario Manningham, who caught four balls for 137 yards and three scores, including a momentum-defining 69-yard, first-quarter strike from Henne that gave the Wolverines a 14-7 lead they never relinquished.

But it was the Michigan defense that defined the day, completely quashing Quinn and the ultra-hyped Notre Dame attack directed by Weis, the second-year Irish coach and celebrated offensive guru. Not even the crooked final score does justice to how thoroughly Michigan dominated defensively.

Consider these statistics: Notre Dame finished with 4 rushing yards on 17 carries. When Michigan put its 34th point on the board with 2:30 left in the first half on a perfectly thrown pass from Henne to Manningham in the corner of the end zone, Weis’ vaunted offense had just 35 total yards. Notre Dame’s second first down of the game didn’t come until moments later, when the Irish took advantage of Michigan’s prevent defense to post a consolation score.

At the end of the third quarter with the Wolverines leading 40-14, Notre Dame had just one first down on 10 drives against the base Michigan defense, which scored almost as many points (14) as the Irish offense (20). It was maize and blue carnage, plain and simple, on a broad scale.

“I tried just about everything in this game … and we weren’t moving the ball at all,” Weis said. “That team just came in and whupped us pretty good.”

Michigan defensive stars were everywhere.

Linebacker Prescott Burgess had two interceptions, returning the first for a 31-yard touchdown.

Woodley put an exclamation point on the rout with 54-yard fumble recovery and touchdown rumble after Quinn lost the ball on his arm cock with just less than 4:00 left.

All-American cornerback Leon Hall was every bit as dominant as advertised, dogging the Irish wide receiver combo of Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight all afternoon. The Michigan secondary simply looked too quick and athletic for their rivals.

The game’s defining play came courtesy of Michigan defensive tackle Alan Branch, a 6-foot-6, 331-pound mountain of nastiness who spent all day absolutely tormenting Notre Dame center John Sullivan.

Early in the third quarter, with some optimistic leprechauns still clinging to comeback hopes, Branch bulldozed two Irish lineman toward Quinn with his left hand and still managed to get his right paw on Quinn’s throwing arm. The result of this awe-inspiring display of strength and athleticism was Quinn’s second interception and a Michigan field goal that left only the delusional in doubt as to the outcome.

“I felt like we could pressure [Quinn], because we have a very good front,” said Carr, who no longer has moving vans camped out in his driveway. “We have excellent size and athleticism along the line. It’s the best group we’ve had, well, certainly since I’ve been at Michigan.”

Carr has seen his share of talent in 21 years in Ann Arbor as a head coach and an assistant. This season’s Wolverines could be as special as the 1997 version that marched to the national title. One thing is certain: All of college football will be watching Nov.18 when Michigan plays currently top-ranked Ohio State in Columbus.

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