September 16, 2006

No. 11 Michigan shocks No. 2 Notre Dame

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn began his day by throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown. He finished it with a fumble that resulted in another score.

The rest of the afternoon didn't go much better for this former Heisman Trophy favorite.

Quinn's Heisman candidacy and probably his team's national title hopes were buried in an avalanche of turnovers Saturday as the second-ranked Fighting Irish fell 47-21 to No. 13 Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium.

A Notre Dame team that hadn't turned the ball over since its 2005 regular-season finale committed five giveaways that produced 24 Michigan points. Quinn didn't help the cause by throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble.

"Anytime you have that many turnovers, your chances of winning are marginal at best," said Quinn, who completed just half his 48 passes for 234 yards.

Quinn wasn't solely to blame on a day when the Irish could do nothing right. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said the team collectively laid an egg.

The Irish had almost three times as many penalties (11) as rushing yards (4). Mario Manningham caught three touchdown passes against a Notre Dame secondary that reverted to its Fiesta Bowl form. Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight didn't catch a pass until the Irish's final series of the first half.

All those Irish miscues helped Michigan score more points than any visiting team at Notre Dame Stadium since Purdue left here with a 51-19 victory in 1960.

"The bottom line is the team wasn't ready to go," Weis said. "Whose responsibility is that? It's just mine."

It didn't take long to see this might not be Notre Dame's day.

On the second play from scrimmage, Quinn threw a pass that bounced off tight end John Carlson and into the waiting arms of linebacker Prescott Burgess, who raced 31 yards into the end zone.

The turnover ended Quinn's string of 143 consecutive passes without an interception.

Michigan quarterback Chad Henne returned the favor by throwing an ill-advised pass directly to Notre Dame safety Chinedum Ndukwe, whose 51-yard interception return set up Quinn's 3-yard tying touchdown pass to fullback Ashley McConnell.

Henne wouldn't make another big mistake the rest of the day, while Quinn's turnover started a litany of Irish errors.

Notre Dame didn't muster a first down until it trailed 27-7. Quinn completed only three of his first 16 passes for 11 yards. The Irish went 2-of-14 on third-down conversions.

The only team that resembled a national-title contender Saturday was wearing maize and blue.

"We knew they were coming here No. 2 in the country with Heisman candidates and expecting to go to the national championship," said Michigan tailback Mike Hart, who rushed for a game-high 124 yards. "We were just under the radar this year. It was in our heads. We had to come here and prove ourselves and play a harder.

"Last year they were hunting us. We were hunting them this time."

And they considered Quinn their prize catch.

LaMarr Woodley, Shawn Crable and Burgess led a Michigan defense that sacked Quinn three times and kept him on the run all afternoon. Eventually the senior quarterback ran into trouble.

"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.

Did they ever.

Quinn went a perfect 7-of-7 for 71 yards on a touchdown drive that cut the lead to 34-14 late in the first half, but he was just 17-of-41 for 163 yards the rest of the day. He tried to force Notre Dame back into the game and ended up forcing the ball into coverage.

Second-half interceptions by Burgess and cornerback Leon Hall put the game out of reach. Then came the all-too-appropriate conclusion to Quinn's day the last pass that wasn't.

As Quinn tried throwing downfield in a futile attempt to make the final score respectable, the ball slipped out of his hands. Woodley happily scooped it up and lumbered 54 yards for the game's final touchdown.

"You can obviously see you're having a bad day when a thing like that happens," Quinn said.

This bad day may have erased any hopes for a good year, at least by this senior-laden team's lofty standards.

This loss was so one-sided that it's tough to imagine the Irish surging back into the national title picture even if they win the rest of their games. Quinn also must move to the back of the line of Heisman contenders.

Quinn didn't address those matters Saturday and instead focused on more immediate goals, such as next weekend's game at resurgent Michigan State.

"Rankings and that stuff do not matter (until) the end of the season," Quinn said. "You guys can talk about that all you want, but right now we're looking at it on a week-to-week basis."

Thinking in those terms could prove particularly tough for Quinn, who takes defeats as hard as anyone on the team. How will the senior quarterback stop thinking about a loss he considered the toughest of the last two seasons?

"I already know how he'll react," Weis said. "You watch him. He knows how to handle himself. I mean, he's his biggest critic. I'll tell you what, there's plenty of people to blame. I'll start with me."

For more coverage of the Michigan Wolverines visit TheWolverine.com; for more coverage on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, visit IrishIllustrated.com.




 

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