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Takeaways key to Irish victory

Chris Hine | Monday, September 15, 2008

There’s a new fad sweeping the Notre Dame football team.

Mike Anello’s doing it. David Bruton’s doing it. Brian Smith’s doing it.

No, it’s not “Crank me up.” It’s called forcing turnovers.

And that fad reached a fever pitch Saturday, when Michigan turned the ball over six times in its rain-drenched 35-17 loss to Notre Dame.

“It’s what we preach,” Bruton said. “We always talk about stripping the ball, especially in the wet conditions. It’s an opportunity to get the ball out.”

But Notre Dame didn’t need help from the rain to get its first few turnovers. Smith grabbed his first fumble of the game early in the first quarter when Michigan running back Brandon Minor dropped a swing pass. Smith dove on the ball, which was thrown behind the quarterback, on the Michigan 11-yard line to give the Irish great field position.

“I didn’t know if it was a fumble or not,” Smith said. “If it’s a swing pass, there’s a chance that it’s still alive.”

That fumble led to a 2-yard touchdown run by Robert Hughes. Michigan fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Anello picked it up for Notre Dame, leading to a touchdown reception for wide receiver Duval Kamara.

“I’m obviously disappointed in our execution, we certainly didn’t help ourselves early,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Turnovers will hurt you at anytime but the ones that are really discouraging are the unforced errors.”

But in forcing their third turnover, the Irish continued a trend from last week’s game against San Diego – causing a turnover inside the defensive red zone.

Down 28-17 in the third quarter, Michigan was driving down the field in the pouring rain and seemed poised to cut Notre Dame’s lead to four before Bruton forced a fumble on the Notre Dame 4-yard line. The slippery ball slid around the field for a few seconds before defensive back Sergio Brown scooped it up.

In Notre Dame’s first win against San Diego State, Bruton combined with safety Kyle McCarthy to force Aztecs running back Brandon Sullivan to fumble on Notre Dame’s 1-yardline. The Irish were down six at the time, and the touchdown saving play gave the Irish a much-needed boost on their way to a 21-13 victory.

“The red zone, we claimed that as our red zone,” Bruton said. “We just have to step up and make plays.”

But Bruton wasn’t done making plays in the red zone on Saturday.

In the fourth quarter, he intercepted Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan at the Notre Dame 5-yard line and returned it 39 yards before being horse-collared to the ground by Wolverines offensive lineman David Molk.

“Yeah, I got horse-collared by an offensive lineman,” Bruton said to laughter after the game. “But don’t forget, I played the whole game. I was tired.”

But before Bruton’s pick, Brian Smith grabbed his second fumble off a mishandled snap from Wolverines quarterback Steven Threet and took it 35-yards for a touchdown.

For good measure, cornerback Gary Gray added a late interception to get in on the party.

“Coach Weis put an emphasis before the game that this game was going to be a game of turnovers and field position….” Smith said. “And as a defense we want to set the bar that we want to get at least three or more and score.”