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DeFranks: Notre Dame overcomes Michigan – finally (Sept. 24)

Matthew DeFranks | Monday, September 24, 2012

The ghosts are gone. The demons have been exorcised. The curse has been lifted. Finally.

Michigan’s winged helmets could not help Denard Robinson fly. His shoelaces and his wobbly throws tripped him up. And this time, it was Notre Dame that closed the game. Finally.

Notre Dame did something Saturday it had not done since 2008 – beat the Wolverines. Theo Riddick said the 0-3 record against Michigan was “tatted” on the seniors. Now, that blemish is gone along with nightmares of fourth-quarter comebacks and nail-biting, back-breaking losses.

First, it was Tate Forcier’s zinger to Greg Matthews that buried Jimmy Clausen, Charlie Weis and Notre Dame in 2009. Then, it was Robinson running around, over and through the Irish in 2010. And then last season, well, we all know what happened.

But those memories should disappear as easily as Notre Dame’s fourth quarter lead did in 2011. All those memories are as distant as Robinson’s passes to his own team.

The way Notre Dame won was not like the Irish of the last three years. It was not even like the Wolverines of the past three seasons. This game wasn’t a typical Notre Dame-Michigan game. There was no scoring in the 30s (heck, the teams combined 19 points). There was no late heroics, no late daggers, no real drama. But for this Irish squad, that’s fine with them.

This win had the 2012 team’s fingerprints all over it. Notre Dame used its dominating defense instead of an electrifying offense and the Irish manhandled and frustrated Robinson much in the same way he had them in the last two years.

He was sacked three times, threw four interceptions and fumbled once in a game that could have been quite the 22nd birthday celebration. Instead, it was the Irish who put the icing on their victory cake by limiting the Michigan offense to less than 300 yards.

Notre Dame will be winning ugly – the 20-3 win over Michigan State and the 13-6 victory over Michigan are not going to be many highlight reels – but that is just who this team is. The win marked Notre Dame’s lowest output in a victory since they beat USC 10-6 in 1990.

Its identity will become increasingly defensive, especially if Brian Kelly’s offense continues to sputter and Manti Te’o keeps making a case for the Heisman Trophy.

Not that it’s a bad thing.

Notre Dame turned a corner in the win over the Wolverines. It showed it can handle the pressure of back-to-back top-20 opponents, that it can manage the atmosphere surrounding a night game in Notre Dame Stadium, that it can beat rivals who tormented it.

This team is different than ones in the past. And because it is, they are 4-0 for the first time in 10 years. The Irish took consecutive games over top-25 opponents for the first time in seven years. Notre Dame is in the top 10 for the first time in six years. They are a BCS contender.


Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.