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Crank UM up

Laura Myers | Monday, September 22, 2008

When it rains it, it pours.

On a wet and sloppy field, Notre Dame capitalized on six Michigan turnovers to beat the Wolverines 35-17 on Saturday. Michigan led in every offensive category, but four fumbles and two interceptions put the Wolverines behind on the scoreboard.

The Irish scored two touchdowns in the first four minutes of the game to take a commanding lead they didn’t relinquish.

The first came after Wolverine running back Brandon Minor dropped a swing pass behind the line of scrimmage on the fifth play of the game. Sophomore linebacker Brian Smith came up with the ball at the Michigan 11-yard line, and the Irish scored less than a minute later on a 2-yard run by sophomore Robert Hughes.

“When a team allows you to put points on the board, you most definitely have to put points on the board,” Hughes said. “That’s how you win games.”

The ensuing kickoff was dropped by Michigan’s Michael Shaw. Senior Mike Anello recovered the fumble on the Wolverine 15-yard line. Once again, the Irish turned a Michigan turnover into a touchdown when sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Duval Kamara.

“All over the locker room and all over our meeting last night, this morning, and before we came out, was turnovers were going to determine the outcome of the game,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “You’re not going to turn it over four times like we did last week and walk out the winner. Fortunately, we won the turnover ratio rather significantly.”

With 5:06 remaining in the first quarter, Michigan turned the ball over on downs. After a pass interference call put Notre Dame in Michigan territory, Clausen pump faked and threw the ball 48 yards downfield, where sophomore wide receiver Golden Tate was waiting. Tate ran it in for his second touchdown on the season. After kicker Brandon Walker’s PAT, the Irish were up 21-0.

The play was the longest completion of Clausen’s career until the second quarter, when he found Tate on an underneath route and the young receiver broke two tackles and ran for a 60-yard gain. That play was part of an 87-yard drive for the Irish that ended with Hughes in the end zone for the second time in the game. Hughes carried a total of 19 times for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

Clausen finished the game 10-for-21 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Weis noticed a difference in his quarterback’s ability to deal with defensive pressure. Coming into Saturday’s game, the Michigan defense led the NCAA with nine sacks in its first two games. However, it was unable to record one against the Irish.

“[Clausen] is running, growing up, throwing the ball away instead of doing something stupid,” Weis said.

Avoiding turnovers was the key to a win for the Irish on Saturday. They were able to limit their own while cashing in on the Wolverines’ mistakes.

Several of Michigan’s turnovers came when the Wolverines were close to scoring. Senior safety David Bruton intercepted a pass by Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan on the Irish 5-yard line in the fourth quarter. Bruton also forced a fumble on the Notre Dame 2-yard line in the third quarter.

“Instead of going seven for us, it’s seven for them,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said.

Bruton is making a habit of grabbing turnovers on the goal line. He also helped force a fumble on the 1-yard line against San Diego State in Notre Dame’s opener.

“You do whatever you can to keep them from scoring,” Bruton said.

He also had 10 solo tackles and five assists in the game.

Weis said that he knew going in that his team would need to play a “complementary game” to get the win.

“We made big plays on special teams, we made big plays on offense, and we made big plays on defense,” he said. “All three units have to step in and do their jobs and make some plays.”

Michigan’s offense relied almost exclusively on freshmen Sam McGuffie and Martavious Odoms. McGuffie ran around and through the Irish front seven, finishing the day with 25 carries for 131 yards. He also made four receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown. Odoms had six receptions for 56 yards.

Notre Dame’s win moves the series record to 20-15-1 in favor of Michigan and it ends a two-year spell of Wolverine blowouts.

“For our team, and for our students, and for our alums, and for our fans, today was a big win,” Weis said.