BY TIM ROHAN
Daily Sports Editor
Published September 12, 2010
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With six seconds left and the ball placed on the 27-yard line, Notre Dame still had a chance to win the game. A stadium full of anxious gold-, blue- and green-clad fans waited as Dayne Crist dropped back and stood in the pocket for what seemed like an eternity.
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The Michigan defense had already allowed 535 yards of total offense to the Fighting Irish, including multiple long touchdown passes. Even after Michigan sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson scored the go-ahead touchdown with 27 seconds left in the game, the Fighting Irish still had a pulse. Crist marched Notre Dame 47 yards down the field to that point. None of the previous plays mattered now. With a four-point deficit to overcome, Crist needed to connect on just one more touchdown pass to win.
As time slipped away, thousands of eyes locked in on Crist as he lofted a ball high and towards the end zone.
But it was too high. And the Fighting Irish’s last chance landed just to the right of the Michigan marching band.
“I was a little concerned, but we practice that play over and over,” redshirt sophomore safety Jordan Kovacs said after the game. “It was kind of scary that they made it that far, but they threw it out of the end zone.”
The Wolverines’ defense responded when it most desperately needed a stop in Saturday’s 28-24 win over Notre Dame. Michigan did allow the fourth most yards in school history — the second highest total in a win — but it didn’t allow the yards when it mattered most.
It had also answered the call when the first half was coming to an end. Nate Montana, who was playing while Crist sat out with an injury, led a drive down to the three-yard line with only three seconds remaining. Instead of kicking the easy field goal, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly called for Montana to throw the ball. His pass also ended up closer to the fans than a receiver.
Michigan had a 21-7 lead at haftime after the stop. And the Wolverines built that lead because of the defense’s ability to slow down Notre Dame’s offense after its opening touchdown drive. After that series, Crist left the game with an eye injury, and freshman quarterback Tommy Rees replaced the junior signal caller.
On the second snap of his collegiate career, Rees handed the ball off to senior running back Armando Allen, who flipped it back to Rees. The flea flicker didn’t work. Rees threw the ball, and senior linebacker Jonas Mouton stepped in front of the intended receiver for the interception.
Later in the half, the Wolverines once again showed they were opportunistic. Redshirt sophomore cornerback J.T. Floyd picked off Montana on a pass intended for Michael Floyd — whom, last week, redshirt junior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen called the best receiver Michigan faced in 2009.
Montana, a junior and former walk-on, and Rees were limited to just five first downs on the first seven drives after Crist left the game.
“There’s so many guys on this team who are going all-out,” sophomore linebacker Craig Roh said. “Mistakes are made up through hustle and effort. Whereas, last year, I don’t think we were as vicious going to the ball. We weren’t as bound together. This year, these guys are just so hungry: hungry for tackles, hungry for sacks, hungry for interceptions — hungry to be great.”
Although Michael Floyd was held relatively in check, finishing with five catches for 66 yards, Michigan struggled to contain the Fighting Irish’s other great receiving threat, junior tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Crist connected with Rudolph on a 95-yard touchdown pass that gave Notre Dame the lead with less than four minutes to play. When Crist first returned in the second half, he started with a bang and hit freshman wide receiver T.J. Jones for a 53-yard touchdown pass.
“They seemed to rally around Dayne Crist,” Kovacs said. “He played very well. When he was in there they seemed to get a lot of momentum. He’s a good quarterback.”
With Michigan clinging to a four-point lead in the third quarter, and the momentum squarely on Crist’s right arm, Mouton tipped one of his passes which was then intercepted by Kovacs. But the Wolverine offense didn’t capitalize on the turnovers that the defense forced. The Michigan defense still held Crist and the Fighting Irish offense to 51 yards over the next three drives — all ending in punts.
“I think we made some freshman mistakes, but at the same time, we held them for most of the game,” Kovacs said.