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After a dropped touchdown pass and just 11 seconds to play in the game, one would think freshman quarterback Tate Forcier would have lost his composure.
Instead, Forcier found senior wide receiver Greg Mathews all alone in the end zone. Forcier’s five-yard touchdown pass lifted the Michigan football team to a 38-34 upset over No. 18 Notre Dame at Michigan Stadium.
“He’s kind of a unique individual,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said of Forcier. “Everything around him may be going crazy, and yet he’s still calm in the middle of the storm. Some guys have that quality, and he’s one of them.”
Forcier’s performance was one of many offensive outbursts displayed in Michigan’s first win over the Fighting Irish since 2007.
In his 2009 debut, senior tailback Brandon Minor picked up where he left off last season. At the Notre Dame 25-yard line, Minor plowed through the Irish defense, breaking two tackles en route to a 22-yard run. From the 2-yard line, Minor powered through the line for the game’s first score.
Notre Dame responded quickly on the next drive, reaching the Michigan 41-yard line before Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen connected with halfback Armando Allen on a perfectly executed screen pass. Allen appeared to have made it to the end zone, easily walking in. The Wolverines called for the play review and the touchdown was overturned, as the video replay showed Allen stepped out at the Michigan 22-yard line. The Irish capped off the drive with a 43-yard field goal.
With explosive speed, sophomore wide receiver Darryl Stonum returned the ensuing Irish kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. Stonum broke a block at near the Michigan 20-yard line before breaking free for the touchdown, the kickoff return since 2005 when wide receiver Steve Breaston had a 95-yard return against Minnesota.
After Stonum’s kickoff return, Notre Dame controlled the tempo for the rest of the half. The Irish outnumbered the Wolverines in time of possession 18:41 to 11:19. The Michigan offense sputtered after Stonum’s return, and was held to 3-and-out on its first two drives of the quarter.
On back-to-back drives, Clausen found his wideout tandem of Michael Floyd and Golden Tate in the end zone with ease and gave the Irish a 20-14 lead. Michigan conerbacks Boubacar Cissoko and Donovan Warren gave the receivers a comfortable cushion in their coverage, and allowed Tate and Floyd to dominate the first half.
With some noticeable halftime adjustments, Michigan came out more aggressive after the break. On first and 10 at the Notre Dame 31-yard line, senior nickleback Stevie Brown took hold of sophomore running back Jonas Gray, bringing him down and forcing a fumble. Linebacker Jonas Mouton recovered to put Michigan at the Notre Dame 26-yard line.
The Wolverines responded fluidly after the fumble with a pair of long runs from Minor. Forcier made a 3-yard scoring pass to sophomore tight end Kevin Koger to put the Wolverines up 24-20.
Capping off a 54-yard scoring drive that spanned the final quarters, Forcier took command. With his most impressive run of the game, Forcier ran the ball up the middle on fourth and 3, finishing with a 31-yard touchdown run and extended Michigan’s lead to 31-20.
The Michigan defense experienced a bit of a revival after halftime and held Notre Dame to two 3-and-outs and 27 yards in the third quarter. Behind quarterback pressure from senior defensive end Brandon Graham, the Wolverines kept Clausen off balance for the first time in the game. Cissoko and Warren kept Floyd and Tate in check, looking more comfortable on their coverages. On his most impressive play of the game, Cissoko broke up an end-zone pass to Tate which looked to be glued to Tate’s fingers.
Clausen found Tate near the 5-yard line, Cissoko made an honest attempt at the ball, but Tate sneaked behind and found the end zone, cutting Michigan’s lead to 31-26. One drive later, Allen rolled through the end zone on an eight-yard run and the Irish connected on the two-point conversion to give them a 34-31 lead.
That set the stage for the comeback drive that has Michigan fans hyping Forcier even more than they already were.
Check michigandaily.com tomorrow and Monday for more coverage of today’s game.