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Abused in Ann Arbor

Matt Lozar | Monday, September 15, 2003

ANN ARBOR Mich. – Even the spin doctor couldn’t take something good from this one.

Soundly beating the Irish in every phase of the game, No. 5 Michigan blanked No. 15 Notre Dame 38-0 Saturday at the Big House in front of an NCAA record 111,785 fans.

“There is nothing positive we can take away from this game,” Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said.

The loss was Notre Dame’s worst since a 58-7 pounding by Miami on Nov. 30, 1985, Gerry Faust’s last game as Notre Dame’s coach. It was the biggest margin of defeat in the Notre Dame-Michigan series since 1902, with the previous mark being a 23-0 win by Michigan.

What the Wolverines did wasn’t a surprise to the Irish. Running back Chris Perry ran for 133 yards on 31 carries and scored four touchdowns – three on the ground and one on a pass from quarterback John Navarre. Perry’s consistent running – the Irish never stopped him for a loss – set up Navarre’s passing game. Navarre was 14-of-21 for 199 yards and a touchdown.

Michigan did what everyone expected by using the running game to open up the passing game. The Irish simply couldn’t stop it.

“You know what they are going to do,” linebacker Courtney Watson said. “It’s the same thing as last year. We just weren’t ready to play this year.”

In their last three games against ranked opponents, the Irish have been outscored 110-19 with their last offensive touchdown coming in the fourth quarter against Florida State – a span of 190 minutes, 14 seconds.

Nobody can explain it.

“There’s no rhyme or reason. It’s college football,” Notre Dame defensive tackle Darrell Campbell said. “Things happen in this game, and you’ve got to be prepared for them.

“We just didn’t show up today and adjust to it.”

The defense, just like last season, gave the offense a perfect opportunity to silence the crowd early. Watson flew through the Michigan offensive line on the third play of the game and crushed Navarre, forcing a fumble. Linebacker Brandon Hoyte jumped on the ball and the Irish were in business at the Wolverine 38.

But offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick stuck with his pre-game script of plays – Ryan Grant stuffed on first down, a 1-yard completion from Carlyle Holiday to Rashon Powers-Neal on second down and an incomplete pass to Jared Clark on third down. Willingham elected to punt instead of trying the 55-yard field goal.

“Because it was our first opportunity, we wanted to go back to our script, stay with our script,” Diedrick said. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out because that was a great opportunity, we had good field position and we didn’t capitalize on it.”

That one completion for three feet turned out to be Notre Dame’s entire passing offense for the first half. Watching his offense regress after its inspiring fourth quarter comeback against Washington State just seven days earlier, Diedrick knew the Irish need a lot of work.

“Anytime that you don’t score any points and you aren’t very effective in anything, then I think it is always a step backwards because you aren’t moving forward,” he said.

After the Irish forced a Wolverine punt, the offense once again went three-and-out. Nicholas Setta came out to punt and boomed one 50 yards. Steve Breaston utilized perfect blocking from his teammates and returned it 55 yards to the Notre Dame 2. Perry scored his first touchdown on the next play.

Michigan took advantage of a Holiday interception early in the second quarter and went 81 yards in nine plays. Perry caught a third down 5-yard touchdown pass from Navarre to give the Wolverines a 17-0 advantage going into the locker room.

On the second-half kickoff, Vontez Duff caught the ball three yards deep in the Michigan end zone. He started to run out, hesitated at the goal line and then had to continue forward. The Wolverines tacked him at the 10.

The Irish went three and out again and Michigan took over at the Notre Dame 36. Two runs by Perry later, the score was 24-0.

Michigan used a 19-play drive spanning 10:35 to get Perry his fourth touchdown and send Irish fans to the exits.

The coaching staff sent Brady Quinn into the game looking for any sort of spark going into next week. Quinn finished 3-of-10 for 36 yards and an interception.

After games against Michigan State and Purdue during the next two weeks, the Irish play three straight against teams currently ranked in the top 10. In order to salvage this season, the Irish know they have to turn it around – now.

“We’ve just got to do a lot of soul-searching. Obviously, the players just didn’t come to play today,” Watson said. “You can look at the scoreboard and see that. To get shut out, not score any points, to give up 38 points is embarrassing.

“Hopefully we’ll pick it up, if not, it’s going to be a long season.”