His own team might eventually have as good a running game as the Irish had three years ago, he said. But Michigan.... "We may not be good enough to beat Michigan. Maybe nobody is."
Wolverine coach Gary Moeller was unimpressed by Holtz's blather. In the three years since Bo Schembechler left, Moeller has endured three wild and often unsatisfying games with the Irish. "It's always something," Moeller said, recounting one strange finish after another in their 1-1-1 series. "And you never know, their team could come together this week."
Because of...? "You know, the distractions."
Who knows what motivated Notre Dame? Holtz allowed as how he had a little meeting with his seniors on Thursday morning, but he wouldn't say regarding what. Perhaps Gipp, on his deathbed, had told Holtz, "Lou, someday when the boys are down...." Who knows? Linebacker Pete Bercich said it was "more of a manor-mouse type of thing."
But there was some uplift to go along with the challenge. "A tears-in-the-eye type of thing, too," said Bercich. "I was as fired up as I've ever been. I can't say I was angry as much as—well, angry, I guess."
Underdog, beleaguered and, yes, angry with a tear in the eye, the Irish were awesome to behold. Unmindful of the 106,851 fans in Michigan Stadium, another NCAA record, Notre Dame stormed for a score on its first possession. On the final two plays of the drive, McDougal floated a seven-yard pass to tailback Lee Becton, then ran the option 43 yards for the touchdown. Neither McDougal nor Failla—who was kept out of the game because of a hand injury—has "a feel for the option," according to Holtz. Powlus certainly did. Yet there was McDougal skittering down the sideline.
On Notre Dame's next possession, McDougal lofted a 43-yard pass deep to Johnson, the onetime quarterback and now wideout, to set up a first-quarter field goal. A one-minute drill by McDougal pushed the Irish to a 24-10 lead at half-time, by which point he had passed for 137 yards and run for 69. After that, Holtz admitted later, he "buttoned up" the offense prematurely, but by then the Irish had buttoned up Michigan's entirely.
Michigan was not helpless, but it will need to regroup before it can think national championship again. Wheatley was fabulous (146 yards on 25 carries), simply running away from everybody. "He just plays quick," Moeller likes to say of Wheatley. But only one of the Fab Five had more yardage on passes from Collins than Irish safety Jeff Burris, who had 61 yards on two interceptions. "Hopes for the national championship are gone," Collins said.
There was surprising humility all around. Many of the Wolverines have Notre Dame complexes, having been overlooked in recruiting or in postseason honors. Shonte Peoples, Michigan's decorated safety, was still boiling over Notre Dame's decision to stop recruiting him after he had gotten a low score on an admission test. (If true, Peoples's accusation would help refute one point in the distracting book.) "I feel that I'm the best safety in the country," Peoples said before the game. "Whoever Holtz has [Burris], he's not as good as me."
Peoples, who admitted he blew the coverage on McDougal's 43-yard pass to Johnson, ate his words with gusto after the game. "In the first half I didn't measure up," he said.