Michigan-Notre Dame have shot at grand finale
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) The greatest challenge for Michigan and No. 16 Notre Dame on Saturday might be finding a fitting finale to an on-again, off-again rivalry that repeatedly has produced some finishes.
There have been three last-minute victories in the past five seasons alone, all won by the Wolverines. Freshman Tate Forcier threw a five-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in a 38-24 victory in 2009. A year later, Denard Robinson scored on a 2-yard run with 27 seconds to go. The teams found a way to top those games in 2011 when they traded leads three times in the final 72 seconds, with the Wolverines winning when on a 16-yard TD pass by Robinson with 2 seconds left,
The Irish have their share of thrilling victories in the series, including linebacker Bob Crable stepping on the back of Michigan center Mike Trgovac and leaping to block a 42-yard field goal with 1 second left to preserve a 12-10 win in 1979.
The game Saturday will mark the 42nd meeting in the series that started in 1887. Michigan leads the series 24-16-1, but holds just a 15-14-1 edge since the series resumed in 1978. Half of the past 24 games have been decided by five points or less.
The schools 150 miles apart rank 1-2 in winning percentage, with Notre Dame holding the lead. But the Wolverines would reclaim the title with a win Saturday. The game features two of the nation's most recognizable fight songs, but had a new tune added to the rivalry last year when Michigan played the ''Chicken Dance'' after a 41-30 victory. That came in the wake of Michigan coach Brady Hoke saying the Irish were ''chickening out'' of the series.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he had no problem with the song.
''That's their prerogative. They won the game. They can play whatever they want,'' he said. ''We're going to play the alma mater.''
Kelly concedes there is added incentive Saturday.
''It's wanting to be the group that says, `Hey, we were the last team to beat Michigan,''' he said. ''But we're not consumed with it.''
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner said everyone knows how big the game is.
''I really appreciated it growing up here and seeing all the great games and be able to participate in it was amazing for me,'' he said. ''I get one more shot to do it.''
Some things to know about Saturday:
ROAD TROUBLES: The Wolverines are just 6-8 on the road under coach Brady Hoke, going a combined 0-4 at rivals Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame. Gardner said Michigan coaches have been trying to put the Wolverines under stress in practice to try prepare them for a loud crowd. ''That's usually the thing that stops teams from being as successful as they want to be is being able to communicate,'' he said.
UNPROVEN LINES: The Michigan offensive line struggled last season, averaging just 126 yards a game rushing with two linemen taken in the NFL draft. Mason Cole last week became the first true freshman to start a season opener at left tackle for Michigan and the starters on the right side had combined for one start before this season. They will be going against an Irish starting defensive line that had one player with more than one start before last week.
PRIMARY CONCERN: The Notre Dame secondary struggled with communication last week, leading to several big plays. Jeremy Gallon had career 184 yards receiving and three touchdowns last season against the Irish. He's gone, but the Irish could have trouble matching up against 6-5, 230-pound receiver Devin Funchess, especially with their best cornerback, KeiVarae Russell, out during an academic investigation.
FEARFUL OR FEARLESS: Kelly has said the biggest change for Everett Golson from two years ago is going from fearful to fearless. The Irish need him to play with confidence Michigan, a team he struggled against two years ago before being yanked in the second quarter. He passed for 295 yards and two touchdowns last week against Rice and ran for three more scores.
NIGHT GAMES: Notre Dame is 8-2 at home in night games at home, including 4-0 against Michigan. The two losses are against Miami in 1984 and vs. Southern California in 2011. None of the four wins against Michigan has been by more than seven points.