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Football: Big House heartbreak

Bill Brink | Monday, September 14, 2009

  ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Golden Tate, usually effusive, stood with his hands in his pockets, his chin glued to his chest, and summarized the team’s collective psyche.

“I’m honestly sick in my stomach right now,” he said.

Understandable, considering Notre Dame’s 38-34 loss to Michigan in Michigan Stadium Saturday. Michigan’s freshman quarterback Tate Forcier led a touchdown drive in the final minute that ended in a five-yard touchdown pass to Greg Mathews.

“There were plenty of opportunities on offense, defense and special teams to win that game,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “We can’t pout and say we should have won the game.”

The loss dropped Notre Dame to 1-1 and put a dent in the high expectations for the season.

Running back Armando Allen had his best career rushing day, running for 139 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. He also converted a Statue of Liberty play for a two-point conversion after his touchdown that gave Notre Dame a 34-31 lead with 5:13 remaining.

The Irish forced a punt and got the ball back with 3:07 left, but couldn’t run the clock out. Eric Maust’s punt traveled only 28 yards, and Michigan put together a nine-play, 57-yard drive to win.

Quarterback Jimmy Clausen completed 25-of-42 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns, but he threw two more would-be touchdowns to Tate that Tate dropped.

“That was just a lack of focus on my part,” Tate said. “I don’t know why.”

Forcier completed 23-of-33 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also rushed 13 times for 70 yards and had a 30-yard touchdown run on fourth down.

“[Minor and Forcier] sustained some stuff,” Weis said.

The Irish had a 20-17 lead at halftime and held the Wolverines to 49 rushing yards in the first half. But Michigan running back Brandon Minor rushed for 80 of his 116 yards in the second half and the Wolverines finished with 190 yards on the ground.

Notre Dame gained 18 yards in the third quarter; Michigan gained 153. The Irish had negative-six rushing yards in the third quarter. The Wolverines, meanwhile, gained 99 yards on the ground.

“They really didn’t change their whole mentality from what they were doing in the third quarter from what they were doing [earlier],” Weis said.

Tate had nine catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Floyd had seven catches for 131 yards and a touchdown but left in the fourth quarter after cutting his knee diving for a ball in the corner of the end zone.

Freshman linebacker Manti Te’o started in place of senior Toryan Smith. Weis said Smith rolled his ankle earlier in the week and couldn’t cut at full speed, and he wanted Te’o to play early when the game speed was the fastest.

Ahead 24-20 in the fourth quarter, Forcier juked linebacker Darius Fleming and rushed right up the hash marks untouched 31 yard for a touchdown to make the score 31-20.

Getting the ball back after Forcier’s touchdown, Notre Dame drove down the field in 4:30, eventually scoring on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Clausen to Tate. The two-point conversion failed, so the score remained 31-26 Michigan.

Safety Kyle McCarthy intercepted Forcier on Michigan’s next drive, leading to Allen’s eight-yard touchdown.

Michigan had first-and-goal on its first drive of the second half, but a fumbled snap and two failed runs forced a field goal, which Olesnavage missed. But they got another chance after running back Jonas Gray fumbled and the Wolverines recovered in Irish territory. This time Forcier found tight end Kevin Koger for a three-yard touchdown pass to give Michigan a 24-20 lead.

The Wolverines scored first on a nine-play, 79-yard drive. Facing third-and-12, Forcier completed a 40-yard pass down the right sideline to Mathews, who had five catches for 68 yards and a score. Minor’s 22-yard run put Michigan on Notre Dame’s two, and Minor scored on the next play.

Clausen threw a gorgeous screen pass to Allen that went for a 41-yard touchdown, but an official review ruled that Allen stepped out of bounds at the 22-yard line. The Irish couldn’t get back in the end zone, but freshman Nick Tausch made a 43-yard field goal to make the score 7-3.

Then Darryl Stonum found a hole on the kickoff return and shot through it for a 94-yard touchdown, the first time the Wolverines have returned a kickoff for a score since Steve Breaston was in school. Michigan led 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.

The next time the Irish had the ball, Clausen heaved a deep pass to Floyd down the sideline, who hauled it in for 37 yards. Once inside the red zone, Clausen found Floyd again for a four-yard touchdown pass to make the score 14-10 with 12:34 left in the first half.

Facing first-and-25 from his own 16-yard line, Clausen again found Floyd deep, this time for 33 yards. Clausen eventually found Floyd for an 11-yard touchdown and the Irish took a 17-14 lead.

Tausch and Jason Olesnavage each made field goals, and the half ended with the Irish ahead 20-17.

The message to the team, Weis said, was: Where do we go from here?

“We just got to move on and get ready for the game against Michigan State,” Smith said.

Clausen talked after Weis in the locker room and echoed Weis’ message.

“This feeling right here,” he said, “is not going to happen again.”