ANN ARBOR - Is University of Michigan football back? Well, it's back in the top 25 - and that should be a good start.
The Wolverines have been rewarded for Saturday's 38-34 win over Notre Dame with the No. 25 spot in this week's Associated Press poll, UM's first appearance in the rankings since the end of the 2007 season. The previously 18th ranked Irish fall out of the rankings, perhaps an unjust punishment for a team that performed admirably at the Big House before succumbing late to a determined Wolverine offense led by freshman quarterback Tate Forcier.
So many big plays and big mistakes can be underscored, from UM's Darryl Stonum's touchdown on a 94-yard kickoff return to Michael Floyd's and Golden Tate's abuse of the Wolverine secondary, to Forcier's 50-yard punt, to a Statue of Liberty play, to a receiver atoning for an earlier mistake.
Surely this wasn't the most meaningful installment of this rivalry, as only one of the teams was ranked - lowly at that. But in terms of sheer enjoyment and unpredictability, this one is situated high on the leader board.
"Wow, I've been in a few games like this, but this thing you could almost sense was going to go down to the last play, and it did," UM coach Rich Rodriguez said after the game. "It was a game that we could never get comfortable, because they were moving the ball."
With presumably its toughest non-conference test out of the way, UM will host Eastern Michigan Saturday in a game in which the Wolverines are expected to be heavily favored. Then the Big Ten season opens with a visit from Indiana. With its next victory, UM will match last season's win total.
But perhaps the most overlooked subplot of the Saturday was Notre Dame's receivers against UM's secondary. Earlier in the week UM corner Donovan Warren wasn't willing to say Golden Tate and Michael Floyd were the best receivers the Wolverines would face this season. But the Irish duo certainly have to be in the discussion after Saturday as Tate caught nine balls for 115 yards and two TDs, and Floyd worked his way to 131 yards and a score on seven catches. Give the nod to ND in this sub battle, but there were certainly times when Warren and Boubacar Cissoko excelled in coverage, particularly on deep balls that Jimmy Clausen persisted on throwing, even when the Irish needed to eat clock with the lead late in the game.
Clausen completed 25 of 42 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns. His effort on a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter was something to marvel at. Upon taking the snap, he faked a throw to his right, while dropping the ball to his hip with his left hand. Armando Allen did the rest, taking the ball from Clausen, nearly losing it in the air, before crossing the goal line to give ND a 34-31 lead with 5:13 to go.
But Clausen, a California native, was outdone by the game's other quarterback from the sunshine state. Without the services of Junior Hemingway (ankle) Forcier drove the Wolverines down the field into scoring position, needing a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win. After pulling a nifty escape act to find LaTerryal Savoy at the 5, Forcier again looked to Savoy in the end zone. But the receiver, whose view was obstructed by a defender, dropped the ball with a chance to win.
What to do now?
Earlier in the quarter, Forcier threw an interception when he and Mathews lacked communication on a slant route, making it all the sweeter when Forcier again went to Mathews on a slant for the game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds to go.
"I knew I definitely had to make up for it," said Mathews, who blamed himself for the interception. "I didn't want to sit in the lockerroom and have to go through that, so I had to atone for it."
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