Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Michigan - Notre Dame 2011

Once again the fabled heavyweights of college football played football. Once again, the third time in three years, Michigan won the game in the last 30 seconds – the final 8 seconds this time.

114,804 fans in the first night game at the Big House, all but 5,000 of whom were waving maize pompoms, watched Notre Dame snatch defeat from the jaws of victory for the third straight year.

The Fighting Irish controlled the line of scrimmage for the first three quarters, leading by 17 points entering into the final quarter. Then its defense collapsed, yielding 4 touchdowns, including 2 in 82 seconds at the end of the game. Notre Dame led the entire game until the final 73 seconds, when Michigan scored the first of two touchdowns while Notre Dame scored one. The Fighting Irish’s offense had faded in the fourth quarter, committing five turnovers overall.

Michigan has won more games than any other college. All the while the fabled Fighting Irish were exciting America under their fabled coaches Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, and Lou Holtz, Michigan just kept racking up wins.

These two schools, barely 140 miles apart, one private and one public, share much in common: academic excellence, dedicated alumni, 2 of the 3 greatest college fight songs, 2 of the 3 top winning programs, 11 national championships each. Notre Dame has had 96 All Americans compared to 77 for Michigan and 7 Heismans to Michigan’s 3.

Just as the old ad said “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,” neither the current Michigan nor Notre Dame football teams are those of past eons. They are but shadows of their former selves. Both are rebuilding, an unheard of experience for two teams who simply reloaded year after year.

Notre Dame has been rebuilding since 1996, the year Lou Holtz either resigned, or was pushed to resign. Every coach since Lou has been terminated: Bob Davie, Ty Willingham, Charlie Weiss, and George O’Leary after a record 5 days. A few more losses like last Saturday’s and Kelly will be unemployed, unless he has a heart attack first. The Fighting Irish are rapidly joining The Ohio State Buckeyes as the graveyard of coaches.

Michigan just suffered through the worst three years in its history – so much for Rich Rod and the spread. The Wolverines have lost three straight times to Little brother Michigan State. It has been, according to the daily clock on the Columbus Dispatch web site, 2,853 days since Ohio State has lost to Michigan in football.

The Wolverines’ slide had been apparent for several years, but was blatantly obvious to the world on September 1, 2007 when the Appalachian State Mountaineers defeated Michigan 34-32 in the Big House, with 2 Michigan field goal attempts being blocked in the final two minutes.

Special teams have become a weakness for Michigan. Watching field goals has become an adventure.

Michigan, which has produced a score of All American defensive backs, including Charles Woodson and Ty Law, hasn’t had a good pass defense in 4 seasons. The secondary has joined special teams in losing games.

Notre Dame’s pass defense was equally porous on Saturday.

Touchdown Jesus can’t help Notre Dame anymore.

A relaxation in admissions standards might, as Notre Dame’s great Paul Hornung said a few years back. Notre Dame doesn’t give slack in admissions of football players.
However, Stanford has the same high admissions standards as Notre Dame, and Jim Harbaugh proved you can build a winning program at Stanford.

Saturday was a great game. Michigan and Notre Dame weren’t playing for No. 1, or even a BCS Bowl, but for pride. They fought like two aging pugilists refusing to go down for the final count.

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