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Football: Inept

Jay Fitzpatrick | Monday, September 17, 2007

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – For the third straight week, Notre Dame’s offense stumbled and fumbled its way to a blowout loss.

Michigan (1-2) followed the lead of running back Mike Hart and beat the Irish 38-0 in front of a relieved crowd of 111,178 at Michigan Stadium Saturday..

Hart ran 35 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns as Michigan redeemed itself after a blowout loss to Oregon and a defeat at the hands of Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) Appalachian State to start the season.

For Notre Dame, there was no change of fortunes. It lost 33-3 to Georgia Tech on Sept. 1 and 31-10 to Penn State a week ago.

Notre Dame once again failed to establish either a rushing or passing attack against Michigan, totaling only 79 yards on 55 offensive plays. Freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen was 11-of-17 for 74 yards with one interception, but sacks of the freshman cost the Irish 65 yards.

The interception was indicative of the way Notre Dame’s offense operated. On the play, the offensive line failed to sustain a block, and all four Wolverine defensive linemen rushed into the backfield. Clausen dropped back, but linebacker John Thompson intercepted the pass intended for David Grimes.

The Irish also failed for the third game to break even on the ground – finishing with -6 yards. Sophomore James Aldridge was the only bright spot, with 51 yards on 10 carries – though much of his yardage came against Michigan’s second string.

The Michigan defense plowed through the Irish line on passes and rushes, recording 14 tackles for loss, including eight sacks.

“We gotta do a better job [on pass protection]. We’ve gotta start seeing improvement from game to game,” said sophomore Sam Young, who switched to left tackle from right tackle for most of the game.

Clausen looked confused against the Michigan defense, which used disguised coverage and blitzes.

“We’d come up on different plays and mix up his mind,” Wolverines linebacker Chris Graham said. “Once we did that, he didn’t know what to do. We tried to keep things moving the whole game.”

But the Irish added a new wrinkle to their offensive faults – fumbles. Notre Dame fumbled five times in the opening quarter, including John Sullivan’s snap on the game’s first play, which went over the head of running back Armando Allen, who was lined up in the shotgun.

The Wolverines weren’t perfect, but they didn’t need to be.

Michigan freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett finished 7-of-15 for 90 yards in his first start but had three touchdowns.

“Our objective in the red zone is to make him throw it and not run it,” Irish safety David Bruton said. “So if we get them to throw it in the red zone, that means we’re achieving one goal but they’re still getting points.”

Michigan took an early 3-0 lead after forcing Notre Dame to punt on its opening possession. The Wolverines went up 10-0 minutes later when Hart ran two yards to cap a six-play, 21-yard drive that began after a Clausen fumble.

On Michigan’s second score, Hart ran left into a crowded Notre Dame 3-yard line, but bounced back outside, found space and ran in for the score, putting Michigan up 17-0 with only 21 seconds expired in the second quarter.

“Obviously we were going to try to run the ball, regardless. I don’t think it was anything about taking advantage of them,” Hart said. “With a freshman quarterback we had no choice but to try and run the ball.”

Hart was nearly unstoppable in the second half. The senior pounded the ball up field for 50 of the Wolverine’s 79 yards on the team’s final scoring drive.

“We kept going getting five and six yards a carry,” Hart said. “If you keep getting that you’re going to keep running the ball.”