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Worse yet, game day dawned rainy and cold—weather that favored a running team. The question of whether or not Taylor could pass seemed moot; if Skrepenak & Co. manhandled the Notre Dame front five as Holtz feared, Michigan wouldn't need to throw. Hoard, Boles and Bunch would run for all the yardage the Wolverines would need.
Of course, Holtz was just up to his usual poor-mouthing. What he hadn't mentioned was that Michigan's center Steve Everitt and right guard Joe Cocozzo were starting their first games and would spend the afternoon in the company of Notre Dame's All-America nosetackle and human groundhog Chris (Zorro) Zorich. Still, Schembechler was confident. "I'm not saying Zorich won't make any plays," he said last Friday, "but they're ready for him. Listen, it's not like these guys aren't shaving yet. They're good!"
Schembechler was especially high on Everitt, who had caught his eye last spring. With a week remaining in spring drills, Everitt mashed several fingers on his right hand in a door. So he learned how to snap lefthanded and started in the spring game. "I think he's going to be a great one," said Schembechler, adding sternly, "and we are not going to have a long afternoon up front!"
Wishing failed to make it so. Boles, Bunch and Hoard totaled a puny 85 yards rushing against the Irish. And the blocking of Michigan's offensive line turned out to be one of Schembechler's biggest disappointments. "We're going to get yelled at tomorrow in films," said Skrepenak after the game. The Notre Dame defensive front three of Zorro, Jeff Alm and Bob Dahl "read which way you're going and then roll off you," said Skrepenak. "You can't get into them as much as you'd like. You feel like you want to kill somebody, and you find yourself flat on your face."
Schembechler mulishly ordered the Wolverines to bang the ball up the gut, and three of their first four possessions ended in punts. When Michigan finally got on the board 25 seconds before half-time—on a nine-yard pass from Taylor to flanker Chris Calloway—kicker J.D. Carlson bounced his extra-point attempt off the left upright, leaving Michigan behind 7-6. Carlson's miss was quickly forgotten, however, after the second-half kickoff.
Ismail gathered in the ball at the Irish 12 and began to move. "Our front line opened up a decent-sized crease, and the second wall, our wedge, picked off the guys that were left," he said. One hip fake later, Ismail was at midfield with one man to beat. But what was this? That man, speedy freshman defensive back Corwin Brown, was closing in on Ismail. That lasted about two seconds. Rocket kicked in his afterburners and, shortly thereafter, found himself in the end zone.
"It was kind of like a boxer getting knocked down," said Michigan linebacker J.J. Grant of Ismail's first strike. "Then we got back up on one knee and got punched again." That second punch was Rocket's other kickoff return for a TD, which Holtz had been certain would not happen.
It occurred after Notre Dame had increased its lead to 17-6 in the third period on a 30-yard field goal by Craig Hentrich and Michigan had scored early in the fourth period on a five-yard touchdown pass from substitute quarterback Elvis Grbac to tight end Derrick Walker while Bolcar was nearly climbing up Walker's back. That made the score 17-12; the two-point conversion try, a Grbac pass in the coffin corner to Desmond Howard fell incomplete. As Notre Dame prepared to receive the kickoff with 12:58 left in the game, Holtz sounded the alarm. "Move up," he told the kickoff-return team. "He's going to squib it."
"He" was the Wolverines' second-string kicker, Gulam Khan, whom Schembechler had inserted in the game, presumably to communicate his displeasure with Carlson. Khan, an aspiring medical student from Shaker Heights, Ohio, did not squib it. He sent his first varsity kickoff, a majestic end-over-ender, high and deep and directly into the arms of Rocket. "Truthfully, we were kind of surprised they would kick it to me again," Ismail said later. After all, it had been 32 years since anyone had returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Michigan—and it seemed unlikely to happen again so soon.
For his encore, which covered 92 yards, Ismail actually had to shake three tacklers. Linebacker Tim Williams, closing in from the right, hit Ismail with a forearm but could not bring him down. Neither could linebacker Brian Townsend, who did somewhat better—he got both arms around Rocket's legs but couldn't hang on. A moment later defensive back Lance Dottin dove at his waist but fell away as if an electric current were coursing through Ismail. And then he was gone. "I felt someone on my legs," said Ismail after the game, "then I saw [teammate] Rodney Culver level somebody." Alas, that somebody was Khan, the kicker, feebly attempting to avert disaster. Culver broke Khan's left arm with the block.