The current Notre Dame team has talent. Forget what Holtz had been telling us. "If his cupboard is bare then we made some bad choices," said Schembechler, "because we recruited most of those players."
Saturday's game also proved yet again that mistakes, the making and not making of them, are really the most important factor in football. Notre Dame ran and passed almost at will on a defense that allowed the fewest points in the nation in 1985 and was said to be, if not better, at least more arrogant, this year. "I don't want to sound cocky, but we're like the Chicago Bears," declared Wolverine middle guard Billy Harris in the preseason. "We're ready to make videos." But it was Notre Dame's own foul-ups that kept the Irish from scoring big. "Yeah, we kinda self-destructed," said defensive tackle Robert Banks, which is something Michigan's opponents often seem to do.
Consider that last year Maryland gained 335 yards on the Wolverines but was shut out 20-0. Reason: four interceptions and a lost fumble. In the '86 Fiesta Bowl, Nebraska outgained Michigan 370 yards to 234 but lost 27-23. Reason: an interception and three lost fumbles. And then consider that in Michigan's final seven games last season, its own offense turned the ball over a total of five times. You can't achieve much tighter control than that without having the football stitched to your chest.
And the player most responsible for such error-free stinginess is senior quarterback Jim Harbaugh. The 6'3", 207-pound son of Western Michigan head coach (and former Michigan assistant) Jack Harbaugh, Jim led the nation's quarterbacks in passing efficiency last season, completing 66% of his throws for 1,913 yards and 18 TDs, with only 6 interceptions. By contrast, Iowa's Chuck Long, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, was intercepted 15 times. Miami's Vinny Testaverde, this year's early Heisman favorite, also threw 15 interceptions last year.
But Harbaugh is not only a careful passer, he is also a crafty and accurate one, and a brilliant scrambler as well. Against Notre Dame he completed 15 of 23 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown, and did it by eluding every type of rush the Irish threw at him. In the official play-by-play sheet distributed to the press, one of Harbaugh's plays was described thusly: "Harbaugh, under a heavy rush, runs around all day in the backfield, finally hits [John] Kolesar for 13 [yards]."
The young man, who was born in Perrysburg, Ohio, and lived with his family in six other college towns, has now gone eight games without throwing an interception. And during that stretch. 12 of his 146 passes have gone for touchdowns. Should he go four more games without having a pass picked off, a year will have passed since his last errant throw—on Oct. 12, 1985 against Michigan State. If that happens, Harbaugh should be handed the Heisman on the spot and be put in charge of all our nuclear reactors.
Three days before the Notre Dame game Harbaugh sat in the team cafeteria in Ann Arbor, pondering his ascent to brilliant helmsman. "Last year I was as surprised as anyone by my stats," he said with a shrug. "It wasn't like I was trying to be Mr. Efficiency. I guess I am very conscious of avoiding interceptions, because the philosophy here is, don't put the defense in a bad position. But, I don't know." He laughed, looking a little like Tom Cruise thinking about his superiors in Top Gun. "When I throw an interception, Bo tends to—ahem—get upset."
No kidding. Then again the boss has never had an offensive-minded quarterback at Michigan so perfectly attuned to his defense-first philosophy. "I've not bragged on him, and I'm probably not going to say anything after this," Bo had said during the preseason. "But there is no quarterback in America I'd rather go into the season with and have run my team than Jim Harbaugh."
Harbaugh would make a great All-America, too. He's courteous, smart (a solid B student) and straight as the day is long. He lists Bob Knight as one of his favorite people. He drives a $400 piece-of-junk Volkswagen and sometimes wears its keys around his neck on a string. "I lost them the other day, and I don't want to go through that again," he says. And won't parents everywhere be thrilled if Harbaugh becomes a national hero? Question, folks: Which hairdo would you rather have your son wear—a Harbaugh or a Bosworth?
"I like to think of myself as my own man," Harbaugh says. "What guys like [Jim] McMahon and [Brian] Bosworth do is okay, but I'd rather draw attention to the team than to myself." Harbaugh's gaze shifts. He spots Schembechler, who is dining a few tables away. "It's not like Bo is gonna beat the crud out of me if I make a mistake," he says. "I can handle him." Harbaugh smiles and shakes his head. "But he is getting in shape...."