Willingham's debut wasn't perfect. The Irish had 11 penalties, and the offense failed to find the end zone. But after Notre Dame's first win over a ranked team in two years, there's reason for optimism. "I hope this was a sign that we're getting back to the business of being Notre Dame," Willingham said, before adding a dose of realism: "We still have a lot of work to do."
Ann Arbor Nail-biter
Practice Makes Less than Perfect
At the end of every Michigan preseason practice, kickers Philip Brabbs and Troy Nienberg would have to convert field goal attempts to keep their teammates from having to run sprints. "Half the team would pick one guy and half the other," special teams coach Jim Boccher says. "They were all rooting for one and heckling the other." In those situations neither Brabbs, a junior who has the stronger leg, nor Nienberg, a sophomore, performed particularly well, Boccher said, with two exceptions. Late in preseason practice Brabbs made two "last-second" field goals of 47 and 49 yards.
Neither kicker did particularly well in the first 59 minutes of the Wolverines' opener against Washington in Ann Arbor either. Brabbs missed attempts of 36 and 42 yards in the first half and was benched. Nienberg, facing a 27-yard chip shot from the middle of the field with 1:29 to play, pushed the kick to the right, and it appeared the Huskies would escape with a 29-28 victory.
Michigan got the ball back on downs with :57 left and moved it 16 yards to the Washington 42, but when a third-down pass fell incomplete with six seconds remaining, the Wolverines seemed to need a miracle. They got one: The Huskies had been trying to switch from a dime (six defensive backs) defense to a nickel on the play and were caught with 12 men on the field. The 15-yard penalty left Michigan with a 44-yard attempt, and it was Brabbs who walked onto the field to kick it. From a yard inside the left hash, he made the first field goal of his college career to win the game 31-29.
Boccher ended up deep in the ensuing celebratory pile, and so did his sunglasses. After the game, he pulled the crumpled glasses, sans lenses, from his locker to show them off, saying, "I'm going to frame them."