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Not since Lou

Kate Gales | Monday, September 12, 2005

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The 111,386 spectators packed into Michigan Stadium Saturday were silenced with an efficient opening drive orchestrated by Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and kept quiet by an aggressive Irish defense. No. 20 Notre Dame never trailed on its way to a 17-10 victory over No. 3 Michigan, and the Irish won in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1993.

The Associated Press now has Notre Dame ranked No. 10 in its most recent poll.

“I wanted to take the crowd out of the game,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said of the opening drive. “You’ll notice this was a no-huddle offense, but this was not a hurry-up offense. … It was just so that we could take the noise out of the game.”

The last time Notre Dame beat Michigan in Ann Arbor was on Sept. 11, 1993, when then-head coach Lou Holtz guided the Irish to a 27-23 win.

Quinn noticed a difference in the stadium’s noise level from his last visit in 2003, which resulted in a 38-0 Wolverine drubbing of the Irish.

“Somehow it didn’t seem as loud, and I think that had something to do with the way we came out,” he said.

The 12-play opening drive, which didn’t use a third down and was run without a huddle until the final scoring play, set the tone for the game – although the Irish would score just one field goal in the second half. As the Irish offense slowed its output, the defense stepped up against a potentially explosive Michigan team that never found the end zone until late in the fourth quarter.

“Everyone had this game pegged down as an offensive team versus an offensive team,” Weis said. “I told those guys this morning, you never know how the game is going to be played.”

With a 17-3 score in the fourth quarter, the Irish were far from secure in their lead. Michigan nearly cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter after cornerback Ambrose Wooden forced Jason Avant out of bounds at Notre Dame’s 1-yard line after a 54-yard reception.

As the crowd anticipated the Wolverines’ first touchdown, Irish defensive tackle Brian Beidatsch forced a Henne fumble on second down. Free safety Chinedum Ndukwe recovered it for a touchback and ran out of the pile holding the ball high.

Though the referees initially ruled that Michigan retained possession, instant replay determined Henne had fumbled.

“I knew [Ndukwe] had it,” Weis said. “I knew that he was in the end zone. So I’m saying that’s a touchback. And I’m yelling to [the officials], saying that’s our ball, it’s a touchback.”

The call went in favor of the Irish, and the Wolverines failed to get into the end zone in a game that saw them convert 0-of-3 attempts in the red zone – all three situations coming in the second half.

Henne finally found the end zone with a 25-yard pass to Mario Manningham with 3:47 on the clock. But the Irish defense stifled any Wolverine hopes, forcing a turnover on downs after a Notre Dame punt.

Notre Dame’s defense began the second half with a forced turnover, as well. Strong safety Tommy Zbikowski intercepted Henne at the Notre Dame 1-yard line, ending a 14-play Michigan drive and returning the ball to the Notre Dame 28.

“That interception down close, that was a critical play of the game,” Weis said. “There was a lot of momentum and that interception just changed the whole momentum back and just got the game back under control.”

Michigan nearly regained that momentum after a Darius Walker fumble in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines had the ball on the Notre Dame 5-yard line, but an Irish defensive stand forced Michigan to turn the ball over on downs.

Defense was key to the Notre Dame victory, but Weis was careful to credit to special teams and the offense as well.

“I don’t look at it just one aspect of the team,” Weis said. “I’m proud of the way the defense stepped up today. The special teams were challenged with [Michigan returner Steve] Breaston and they stepped up today.”

Quinn went 19-for-30 with 140 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Irish running back Darius Walker led all rushers with 104 yards on 26 carries and added five receptions for 22 yards.

On the Michigan side of the ball, Henne completed 19-of-44 passes for 233 yards and Kevin Grady rushed for a career-high 79 yards after starting running back Mike Hart left with a hamstring injury in the first half.

Notre Dame wide receiver Rhema McKnight, who left in the first half with a knee injury, caught Quinn’s first touchdown pass during the game’s opening drive. Late in the second quarter, Jeff Samardzija snagged a pass from Quinn via a tip by Michigan linebacker Chris Graham.

Earlier in the second quarter, Wolverines kicker Garrett Rivas nailed a 38-yard field goal to put Michigan on the board.

Despite a second-half barrage from the Michigan offense, the much-maligned Irish defense was able to keep the lead for the rest of the game. After the Wolverines gave up the ball on downs with 1:52 to play, time expired and the battered defense could finally relish the moment, as the noise came from ecstatic pockets of Notre Dame fans in the Big House.

“That’s some big time hitting going on out there – it was an extremely physical game,” Quinn said. “We were fortunate where our defense was doing the majority of the hitting.”

Saturday’s 17-10 decision was only the seventh home loss for Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr over his 11-year career.

“I’m proud of the team, I’m proud of the coaching staff, I’m proud of the players,” Weis said. “This is a tough place to win. We came in here and walked out of here with a ‘W’ – we’ve got to be happy.”