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Irish Insider: Beaten and blue

Tim Dougherty | Monday, September 18, 2006

Another week, another Big Ten blowout – this time with opposite results. Led by wide receiver Mario Manningham’s three touchdown receptions, No. 11 Michigan capitalized on five Notre Dame turnovers to rout the No. 2 Irish 47-21 Saturday.

Heisman hopeful Brady Quinn threw three interceptions – two to senior linebacker Prescott Burgess – as the Irish offense never found its rhythm, totaling 245 yards – including just four rushing – for the day.

With the score tied 7-7 in the first quarter, Henne found Manningham for the go-ahead touchdown on a 69-yard fly down the sideline, from which the Irish never recovered. Though after the game Irish coach Charlie Weis said they had a deep alert on the play, the receiver soundly beat senior corner Ambrose Wooden before the catch, as the Irish secondary could not defend the big play, giving up its first of three 20 yard-plus touchdown receptions to Manningham before halftime. Manningham is the first player to haul in three scores against Notre Dame since Pat Fitzgerald of Texas in 1995.

“I was able to run a good route and get by the defender,” said Manningham about his 69-yard score. “I put a good move on him to get his hips turned and then I was able to get by him.”

On the heels of a blocked extra point by senior defensive tackle Derek Landri after Manningham’s first score, sophomore David Grimes fumbled the ensuing kickoff and with it the game. Four plays and two Irish penalties after Michigan cornerback Morgan Trent recovered to set the Wolverines up at the Irish 27, running back Michael Hart dove over top of the line to make the score 20-7. Hart also added 124 yards on 31 carries to balance a Wolverine attack that outgained Notre Dame 340 yards to 245.

“I have a lot of respect for Coach Carr and his staff,” Weis said. “I think it’s really important to understand that that team just came and just whooped us pretty good. They deserve their just due.”

With the score at 34-7 with under two minutes left in the first half, Notre Dame finally put together a scoring drive, completing four consecutive completions for first downs, highlighted by sophomore David Grimes’ leaping catch at the sideline inside the five. On the next play, senior receiver Jeff Samardzija reached back into traffic to haul in a touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 34-14 at halftime. But the rally never came.

Quinn exploited the Wolverines’ prevent defense on the touchdown drive-the first of the half in which he didn’t face constant pressure from the Michigan front four led by Branch.

“We went in with the idea if we were going to have a chance to win, we had to pressure Brady Quinn,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “We felt we could do that because we have an excellent front. I mean, we’ve got some depth and we’ve got some guys that are very athletic. It’s the best front we’ve had probably since I’ve been at Michigan.”

That defensive pressure made things difficult for Quinn from the begninning. On the game’s second play from scrimmage, under heavy pressure from junior defensive tackle Alan Branch, Quinn threw a high pass that slipped through the hands of senior tight end John Carlson and into those of Burgess, who ran 31 yards untouched for Michigan’s first score. Quinn would throw two more interceptions before the end of the day along with three touchdowns in a 24-for-48, 234-yard effort.

After a three and out Irish punt, senior safety Chinedum Ndukwe returned the favor when he intercepted a third and long pass from junior quarterback Chad Henne and returned it 51 yards before Henne could knock him out of bounds at the Michigan four. Quinn capitalized and threw a play action strike to senior fullback Ashley McConnell, marking his first career start with his first touchdown before Michigan followed with four straight scores to take a 20 point halftime lead that knocked Notre Dame out of the game and – likely – National Championship contention.

The Irish were forced to abandon a balanced offensive attack in the second half due to the deficit and an ineffective rushing game that only gained 24 yards on 12 carries not including sack yardage. Dropped balls by Irish receivers as well as running back Darius Walker prevented the passing attack from finding its typical success.

“I was surprised that we collectively, from me on down, laid an egg,” Weis said. “I expected us to have a better performance than we did, and we didn’t. That surprises me. I expected us to do better in all facets.”

Needing a quick spark coming out of halftime, the Irish went three and out their first three drives and failed to record a first down in the entire third quarter, as they converted just two of 14 on third down for the day. After a Michigan field goal, Notre Dame mounted another touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, capped by a bizarre catch by Rhema McKnight, who fought off pass interference to snatch the ball off the defender’s leg in the end zone to bring the game to 40-21.

With three minutes remaining in the game, the Irish drove the final nail in their own coffic. On a drive in which the Irish committed three penalties, Quinn was sacked on third and six and fumbled, allowing defensive end LaMarr Woodley to pick up the ball and run 54 yards for the final score.