SOUTH BEND – Warren G. Harding High 24, Notre Dame 21.
In a game where Notre Dame Stadium officially became a part of Super Mario’s world, it was a long-time teammate of Mario Manningham’s who jumpstarted the Wolverines’ upset bid.
Senior linebacker Prescott Burgess, Manningham’s teammate at Warren G. Harding High School in Ohio silenced a hostile crowd in the game’s opening minute.
On the game’s second play, Notre Dame tight end John Carlson couldn’t corral a pass from quarterback Brady Quinn. His misfortune quickly became Burgess’s joy: The ball was tipped directly toward the starting outside linebacker. It soon became evident that the gift-wrapped interception was going to turn into a gift-wrapped touchdown, as Burgess trotted 31 yards into the endzone, shocking the Irish crowd and giving Michigan an early 7-0 lead.
“It’s nice to have the defense score,” senior defensive end LaMarr Woodley said. “Definitely at the beginning of the game, with Prescott getting in there, it changed the momentum of the game. It takes the crowd out of it.”
Burgess agreed and said he was just glad his play could help get his teammates involved as well.
“Anytime a defender scores on an interception or turnover, it gets everyone going,” Burgess said. “I was just happy that it was me that had everybody all wanting to get out there and make plays.”
The excitement resonated on the sideline, and Manningham was the beneficiary of it. His three receiving touchdowns over a 17-minute span gave the duo from Warren four touchdowns in the first half – more than Notre Dame’s entire team could muster for the entire game.
But Burgess had plans on making a repeat trip to the endzone.
With the score at 34-14 midway through the third quarter, Burgess had another ball come his way. Quinn couldn’t cleanly get a pass off after Michigan’s front four pressured him. The always-opportune Burgess stepped across the passing lane and caught the ball, and for the second time in the game, it was off to the races. This time, a slew of golden domes stood in between Burgess and his destination, and he ended up just yards short from navigating his way to his second touchdown.
“The second one, there were a couple people I had to show my little skills I had to, but they got me on the five-yard line,” Burgess said. “We still got three points out of it. I wish we could have gotten seven out of it, but we still scored (on the next possession).”
Burgess wasn’t the lone Wolverine defender to find the end zone. In the game’s waning minutes, Woodley jumped on a fumble created after the ball slipped out of Quinn’s hand on a passing delivery. When Quinn unsuccessfully tried falling on the ball, Woodley picked it up and took it 54 yards for the game’s final score after pushing away Carlson on his way to endzone.
“I was just running, and I saw one of the Notre Dame guys jump on the ball and it came out, so I scooped it up like we work on at practice and I just said, ‘Let me get to this endzone.’ ” Woodley said. “I saw the guy from the corner of my eye, so I just did what I’ve seen Mike (Hart) do before with the stiff arm, and I got in.”
Even though Burgess and Woodley made the big plays and received the praise on the surface, the buzz around the locker room following the win was Michigan’s ability to put pressure on Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn without constantly blitzing.
“I’ve said all along our front is very good,” defensive coordinator Ron English said. “We five-man pressured early, then we dropped to four man, and we were still fine because our front is good. They’re good.”
Defensive tackle Alan Branch, whose hit on Quinn caused the errant pass that led to Burgess’s second interception, agreed that the key to quieting the Fighting Irish’s offense was the ability to pressure Quinn without using too many men.
“If you blitz every time, the offense is going to be able to make checks, and eventually, they’ll hit a big one on you,” Branch said. “Really, it just shows the confidence Coach E. has in his D-line. … Today, our front four got the job done.”
Front four, middle three, back four – you name it, they all got the job done.
For the game, Michigan caused five turnovers (one from the front four, two from the linebacking corps and two from the secondary) against a team that hadn’t committed one in 273 consecutive plays entering the game.
The Wolverine defense had one more turnover than the Fighting Irish rushing attack had total yards.
And Quinn, arguably the Heisman frontrunner before the game, went from feeling the pressure as a Heisman favorite to feeling the pressure sent by the Michigan defense.
“I know he felt us today,” said Burgess after the game, grinning.