SOUTH BEND – Michigan captain Bennie Joppru somberly walked out of the lockerroom, right past reporters.

Paul Wong
Michigan linebacker Victor Hobson loses his helmet on this hit on Notre Dame quarterback Carlyle Holiday.

After letting his gritty performance on the field do the talking, the senior tight end didn’t feel like he had anything else left to say.

It didn’t matter he had a career-day in one of the biggest games of his life, grabbing seven catches for 80 yards and one touchdown against rival Notre Dame in South Bend.

It didn’t matter that six of Joppru’s seven catches resulted in either first downs or six points for Michigan, as he single-handedly helped a struggling offense move the chains. He became the go-to-guy for quarterback John Navarre, who found Joppru on critical third down plays. Navarre also hooked up with Joppru in the end zone with just under three minutes left in regulation to bring Michigan within a two-point conversion of tying the game.

And it definitely didn’t matter he was declared the game’s most valuable player by NBC, which broadcast the event.

It just mattered that the Wolverines lost, and teammates say that their captain took the loss particularly hard.

“He doesn’t care about the catches,” said receiver Ron Bellamy. “He’s hurting right now.”

Joppru’s receptions were especially important since other Michigan receivers were admittedly not carrying their own weight – and not holding onto the ball. Tyrece Butler dropped a few passes and fumbled another. Usually reliable B.J. Askew fumbled on Michigan’s first possession after trying to run after a catch. But Joppru found his way underneath Notre Dame’s zone coverage and separated himself from linebackers to keep Michigan in the game.

The longest time: Bellamy said Michigan’s sputtering offense in the first half left its defense hanging out to dry. The Fighting Irish controlled possession, holding the ball for nearly 21 of the 30 minutes in the first two quarters – most of which due to turnovers, penalties and inefficiencies by Michigan’s offense.

“We screwed our defense,” Bellamy said. “There’s no way they should be on the field that long. We definitely didn’t help their cause.”

Notre Dame running back Ryan Grant, who had his first career 100-yard rushing game with 132 yards on 28 carries, said he definitely could tell Michigan’s defense was wearing down in the second half.

“They had no time to rest,” Grant said. “And our defense got all the time in the world.”

O-line shuffle: After a first half marred by penalties and an unproductive running game, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr decided to make some changes up front at the half. He inserted freshmen Adam Stenavich and Matt Lentz to replace left tackle Courtney Morgan and right guard Dave Petruziello, respectively; Stenavich and Lentz played for most of the second half. And Michigan’s running game subsequently had more success, as the Wolverines rushed for 96 yards on 18 carries compared to its first-half total of eight yards on eight rushes.

Morgan committed a critical holding penalty in the end zone with 3:35 to go in the second quarter, giving the Fighting Irish a safety and a two-point lead – the difference in the game. Michigan was flagged 10 times for 88 yards, something Carr said was one of Michigan’s downfalls.

Big plays galore: While sophomore corner Marlin Jackson made a huge splash in his first game against Notre Dame – returning an interception 19 yards for a touchdown and forcing a Carlyle Holiday fumble minutes later – most of the talk after the game was the amount of big plays the Michigan defense surrendered.

The Wolverines gave up five plays of 20 yards or more, with most of them costing Michigan dearly.

On the second play of the game, Holiday connected with Maurice Stovall for a 41-yard gain that led to Notre Dame’s first offensive touchdown of the season. On the Fighting Irish’s opening drive in the fourth quarter, Holiday hit Omar Jenkins for passes of 29 yards and 47 yards to set up the eventual game-winning score.

Players said the plays were a result of either missed assignments, or guys biting on cleverly disguised play-fakes .

“We kind of put ourselves in a hole today with big plays,” safety Julius Curry said.

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