Michigan Pounds Irish, Makes Statement
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) _ Mike Hart invited some teammates over to hang out after Michigan returned home from its 47-21 win over Notre Dame.
``We were watching the highlights on ESPN from our game and it felt good to be on the right side of what they were calling ‘Separation Saturday’ on TV,″ said fullback Obi Oluigbo, whose blocking helped Hart run for 124 yards against the Irish. ``Everybody on TV was saying, ‘Michigan’s back.’ But we feel like we never left.″
In a lot of ways, the sixth-ranked Wolverines had their season and program on the line Saturday, even though it was just the third game of the year.
The nation’s winningest team was coming off a 7-5 season _ its worst in two decades _ six straight road-opening losses and hadn’t won at Notre Dame since 1994. The Wolverines played up to their vast potential against the Irish, a dominating performance on offense, defense and special teams.
``Coach (Lloyd) Carr talked about it being the biggest game ever in that stadium for Michigan,″ offensive tackle Rueben Riley said Monday.
The Wolverines (3-0) _ who moved up five spots in the poll _ host Wisconsin (3-0) in the Big Ten opener for both teams Saturday. The Wolverines don’t fear an emotional letdown after beating Notre Dame because Wisconsin knocked them off last year and they expect to get a boost from about 110,000 fans.
After scoring more points than any team had at Notre Dame since 1960, the Wolverines filled up buses and enjoyed themselves.
``It was a great trip home. It went fast,″ Riley said. ``I guarantee you had it went the other way, it would’ve felt like a 10-hour trip.″
The Wolverines would also be dealing with a different type of publicity.
``We’ve been under the radar,″ Carr said. ``Now that changes, and you have to see how you handle it when you’re in the glare of the spotlight.″
Entering his 12th season as head coach, the pressure was on Carr to lead Michigan back to prominence after its worst season since going .500 in 1984. The Wolverines also lost to Ohio State and bowl opponents the two previous years.
The win against Notre Dame is regarded as his biggest since a victory over Ohio State in 2003, leading to the first of two straight Rose Bowl trips. After the game, Carr deflected praise to his players and staff. Two days later, Riley gave it back at him.
``He deserves a lot of credit. He’s been through the fire,″ Riley said. ``The thing I like so much about him is, even if he deserves credit, he doesn’t want it because he’s so humble.″
When one of his motivational ploys was revealed Monday, Carr was sheepish when asked about it.
``There are a lot of things outside of football that have great relativity to a team,″ Carr said.
Safety Ryan Mundy said Carr showed the Wolverines clips from the movie ``Cinderella Man″ before the season, and a particular scene has inspired them.
``This one guy’s trainer is like, ‘What happened? You beat this guy easy last time.’ And the boxer is like, ’He’s not the same guy,‴ Mundy recalled. ``Going into (the Notre Dame) game, we were like, ’They better not treat us like the same team we were last year because we’re not the same team.‴
Michigan seems to be playing differently with many of the same players in part because of new coordinators _ Ron English on defense and Mike DeBord on offense.
Instead of a bend-but-don’t-break style, English has the Wolverines attacking without relying on a lot of blitzing. DeBord implemented a zone-blocking scheme similar to what has made the Denver Broncos successful at running the ball, doing away with a style that tries to create holes in specific areas.
The new-look schemes helped receiver Mario Manningham catch a career-high three passes from Chad Henne, and linebacker Prescott Burgess to make two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
Manningham and Burgess were chosen as Big Ten players of the week, honoring a Michigan offensive and defensive player in the same week for the first time since 1997. That added another link to Michigan’s last national championship team.
Like 1997, the Wolverines were ranked No. 14 this preseason, are led by two Michiganian captains and two coordinators in their first season.
``When I leave, I want people to talk about the ’06 team and how we dominated. As a competitor, you get tired of hearing about that ‘97 team,″ Mundy said. ``I want them to be talking about the ’06 team, and the only way it’s going to stop is if you change it.″