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Michigan defeats Notre Dame, 41-30, at the Big House

Mike Monaco | Saturday, September 7, 2013

ANN ARBOR, MICH. – It was only fitting.

With Notre Dame and Michigan playing for the final time for the foreseeable future at Michigan Stadium, the game came down to the wire in thrilling fashion before a record crowd of 115,109 on Saturday night. The Wolverines defeated the Irish, 41-30.

The first 40 matchups in the series had been decided by an average of 4.1 points. So with Michigan leading 34-20 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, it was only appropriate the Irish worked it back to a four-point game.

But the Wolverines drove down the field and scored with 4:18 remaining when junior quarterback Devin Gardner fired a touchdown pass – his fourth of the night – to senior receiver Drew Dileo. The score made it 41-30 Michigan.

Prior to Dileo’s touchdown, it looked as if Notre Dame might hold the Wolverines to a field goal. But two defensive pass-interference penalties against the Irish gave Michigan first-and-goal from the two-yard line, from where Gardner found Dileo.

The Irish had regained the momentum after a pivotal play at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Facing third-and-11 from the Michigan 16-yard line, Wolverines junior quarterback Devin Gardner scrambled backward trying to avoid a sack. He worked roughly nine yards deep into his own end zone and, as he was being brought down for what would have been a safety, Gardner threw the ball away into the waiting arms of Irish junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the end zone for a miraculous Notre Dame touchdown to make it 34-27 Michigan.

Notre Dame then added a field goal to cut it to 34-30. But the Wolverines then embarked on the 10-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by Dileo’s touchdown. On the ensuing drive, Notre Dame drove down the field, but Irish senior quarterback Tommy Rees was picked off in the end zone to seal the Michigan victory.

Gardner threw for four touchdowns and ran for another in the victory.

Trailing 27-13 heading into the second half, the Irish opened strongly on both sides of the ball. Michigan drove into long field-goal range, but Irish junior Ishaq Williams sacked Gardner and forced a punt. Notre Dame’s offense then drove 90 yards in 12 plays. On the twelfth play, Rees fired a play-action pass to junior tight end Troy Niklas, who made the catch at the five-yard line and barreled over a Michigan defender into the end zone to make it 27-20 Michigan with 4:55 remaining in the third quarter.

But the Wolverines came right back. Gardner completed a 41-yard pass downfield to Jeremy Gallon, and the two connected again three plays later, as Gardner dumped it off to Gallon for his third touchdown. Michigan again made it a two-score game, 34-20.

Notre Dame then drove down into Wolverine territory. The Irish went for it on fourth-and-four from the 17-yard line but Rees’ pass intended for senior receiver TJ Jones fell incomplete.

Michigan stormed out to a 10-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game. Senior kicker Brendan Gibbons drilled a 44-yard field goal – his 15th consecutive made field goal set a school record – to get the Wolverines on the board. After a three-and-out by the Irish, Michigan struck quickly when senior receiver Jeremy Gallon caught the ball in the middle of the field, shook off a few would-be Notre Dame tacklers and scampered in for a 61-yard touchdown to put the Wolverines up 10-0 with 5:35 remaining in the first quarter.

But the Irish countered with 10 points of their own. Notre Dame put together a nine-play drive that included four first downs and culminated when senior quarterback Tommy Rees fired for the end zone, where the pass tipped off the hands of junior running back George Atkinson and skipped into the waiting arms of senior receiver TJ Jones for the touchdown with just over two minutes remaining in the first quarter.

After the Irish defense slowed Michigan, Notre Dame took over near midfield after an 18-yard punt return by Jones. But the Irish stalled after gaining one first down, and junior kicker Kyle Brindza stepped up and drained a 44-yard field goal to knot the game at 10 less than a minute into the second quarter.

But Michigan stormed right back with a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped off by a two-yard option keeper by junior quarterback Devin Gardner for the touchdown. The Wolverines got down to the two after Gardner threw to the end zone on third down and Irish sophomore Elijah Shumate was flagged for defensive pass interference.

On the ensuing drive, Notre Dame picked up first downs on three of its first four plays but stalled again, this time in the red zone. Brindza hit a 24-yard field goal to cut the Michigan advantage to 17-13 with under six minutes left in the first half.

The Wolverines started their next drive quickly, as Gardner ran it twice for 42 yards down to the Irish 21-yard line. But Michigan then committed back-to-back holding penalties and Gibbons hit a 38-yard field goal as Michigan restored its lead to seven with 1:56 left in the half.

The Irish began with great field position after a late-hit penalty against Michigan on the kickoff. On the second play from scrimmage, Rees rolled to his left and threw an interception – the first Notre Dame turnover of the season – to Michigan junior cornerback Blake Countess, who returned it to the Irish 23-yard line. Three plays later, Gardner found Gallon again in the end zone as the Wolverines extended their lead to 27-13 with 1:09 left in the half.

Michigan totaled 268 yards of total offense in the first half, and Gardner threw for 180 yards and two scores, while rushing for another 50 yards and a touchdown. Gallon made five receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu