Michigan didn’t start the season like a prototypical college football gladiator.
And the program is too steeped in winning tradition to ever play the part of the Cinderella man.
But when an 0-2 start had people questioning whether Wolverine master and commander Lloyd Carr had anything resembling a beautiful mind, the Michigan coach invited a close friend to come talk to the team before Saturday’s game.
“I had a little chat with the boys, scowled, and the responses were really good,” movie star Russell Crowe said. “I could hear a click.”
The scowl and click were worth a 38-0 thumping of Notre Dame Saturday, matching the worst beating the Wolverines have ever handed the Fighting Irish (2003).
The defense pitched a shutout for the first time since a 55-0 drubbing of Eastern Michigan two years ago. And after giving up 147 points in its last four games, the goose egg was well received.
“That’s Michigan defense,” defensive tackle Terrence Taylor said. “There’s nothing more. What you saw last week and the week before that was just a bunch of guys not playing to their ability. What you saw today, that’s Michigan defense. I can guarantee you you’ll see it from here on out.”
Defensive end Brandon Graham recorded three sacks in his first extended playing time of the season. He missed large portions of the first two games with injury problems, but made his presence felt Saturday. Senior linebacker Shawn Crable – who played defensive end for much of the game – tallied two-and-a-half sacks, and four of his five tackles were behind the line of scrimmage.
The defense held Notre Dame to negative six rushing yards and 79 total yards. Until late in the game, the Irish had managed negative 52 yards rushing, due in large part to 48 yards lost on eight sacks.
Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen rarely had time to find an open receiver because of the tenacity of Michigan’s defensive line, and the Wolverines disguised their coverages to confuse the freshman.
“It was our first time disguising (Saturday) – walking up and showing them different things,” linebacker Chris Graham said. “It was a young quarterback, so he can’t read defenses that well. We tried to get him out of his mindset, make him think that it was one-on-one all the time. We’d come up on different plays and mix up his mind. Once we did that he didn’t know what to do.”
Michigan freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett played well in his first career start, tossing three of his seven completions for touchdowns.
The Wolverines didn’t allow him to do too much, though, calling for him to throw on just 15 of 77 total plays. Running back Mike Hart backed up his victory guarantee of a week ago with 187 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries, and backup Brandon Minor added 82 yards on 17 carries. Michigan totaled 289 rushing yards and scored touchdowns on six of its first nine drives.
It was the defense that most impressed. Notre Dame’s first three drives each totaled negative yardage, and Michigan forced turnovers on three of the Fighting Irish’s first five drives.
Contrary to their nickname, Notre Dame didn’t put up much of a fight.
“I feel I got punched in the mouth with a pretty good right cross,” Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said.
Makes sense. Both gladiators and boxers hit pretty hard.