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Wolverines' comeback keeps unlucky Irish in loss column

by | CBSSports.com College Football Insider
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Wolverines wide receiver Roy Roundtree catches the game-winning TD late in the fourth quarter. (US Presswire)  
Wolverines wide receiver Roy Roundtree catches the game-winning TD late in the fourth quarter. (US Presswire)  

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan still has never lost a home game at night.

Those wild, wacky Wolverines scored 28 points in the fourth quarter, including two touchdowns in the final 72 seconds, to stun Notre Dame 35-31 Saturday night.

Oh, what a night!

"It was fun," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "I had fun."

The Wolverines alternated between experiencing the thrill of victory, agony of defeat and thrill of victory in a "you'll never believe it unless you saw it" final stretch.

In the last 2:16, the teams combined for 199 yards of offense, averaging 16.6 yards per play, and three touchdowns. Michigan had 138 yards and two touchdowns on eight plays, while Notre Dame had 61 yards and one touchdown on four plays. Trailing 24-21, Michigan took over at its 42. Five plays later, Denard Robinson hit Vincent Smith, who weaved through the Irish defense, for a 21-yard touchdown with only 1:12 remaining. Michigan 28, Notre Dame 24.

Notre Dame responded by quickly driving to Michigan's 29. On third-and-5, Tommy Rees hit a wide open Theo Riddick for a 29-yard touchdown with only 30 seconds remaining. Notre Dame 31, Michigan 28.

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"I was thinking we were going to win the game, find a way to get it done," Hoke said. Michigan started at its 20, needed at least a field goal for overtime. After a first down incompletion, Robinson found Jeremy Gallon running free down the Michigan sideline -- the closest Irish defender might have been Notre Dame's band standing in the end zone.

"They left me open," Gallon said. "I was just waiting for Denard to throw the ball. I just was trying to focus on the ball."

Robinson threw a perfect rainbow to Gallon, who hauled it in and then cut across the field. Racing against time and a couple of Irish defenders, Gallon finally stepped out of bounds at Notre Dame's 16-yard line. Eight seconds remained.

"Once I turned around I saw Gallon by himself," Roy Roundtree said. "I was like, 'Whoa, how did this happen?'"

Oh, it happened all right. And it happened against the Irish. Again.

With eight seconds remaining and two time outs, Hoke said at that point he never considered attempting a game-tying field goal. "You play to win," Hoke said.

So, Robinson dropped back and threw into the end zone to Roundtree, who was getting mauled by Notre Dame's Gary Gray in the end zone. Roundtree fought off Gray and caught the winning touchdown with two seconds remaining.

"Once I just jumped up in the air and focused on it, when I came down I made sure one foot was in," Roundtree said. "Once I hit the ground, I was like, 'Man, I just scored a touchdown.'"

It was Roundtree's only catch of the night.

"Coach tells us big-time players make big-time plays," Roundtree said.

For Notre Dame, all of the heightened preseason expectations -- seeking its first BCS bowl appearance since 2006 -- have vanished two games into the season. It's wait until next year again in South Bend. When exactly did Notre Dame become college football's version of the Chicago Cubs?

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has proven he is one of the top offensive minds in the country with what he accomplished at Cincinnati and this year, but that hasn't translated into any wins this season.

In fact, Notre Dame might be the only team in the history of college football history to start 0-2 despite gaining more than 500 yards in each game.

"It's devastating," said Irish wide receiver Michael Floyd, who had 13 catches for 159 yards.

In the last three years, the Irish have lost to Michigan by four points each season: 38-34 in 2009, 28-24 in 2010 and 35-31 in 2011. It's Michigan's first three-game winning streak against Notre Dame since, oh, back in 1908.

This also is only Notre Dame's fourth 0-2 start since 1979, and up next is a visit to No. 17 Michigan State.

The only luck the Irish have right now is rotten. They have committed 10 turnovers (after committing only 24 in 13 games last year) and have lost five turnovers inside the opponents' 10-yard line. You know, the Dead Zone.

"They can be a good football team," Kelly said. "They're not one right now, because of the mistakes we're making."

Early on, Notre Dame was a machine. The Irish dominated the first three quarters. With 2:13 remaining in the third, Rees hit T.J. Jones on a 15-yard touchdown pass giving Notre Dame a 24-7 lead, silencing the Michigan Stadium record crowd of 114,804.

Who knew Michigan's throwback jerseys were a throwback to last year when the Wolverines had one of the nation's worst defenses?

Notre Dame had a stranglehold on this one. At that point the Irish had outgained Michigan by nearly 300 yards -- 410 to 141 -- and had held the Wolverines to only six first downs.

"There was no complacency, guys feeling good about themselves," Kelly said. "They were locked into the game."

Maybe so, but Notre Dame suddenly turned into the Keystone Cops. Michigan scored touchdowns on consecutive drives, pulling within 24-21. Notre Dame actually caused a fumble near the goal line, but Robinson scooped it up and ran in from a yard out -- showing Notre Dame how you're supposed to fumble inside the 10.

With their lead cut to 24-21, the Irish responded by driving 53 yards. They had first-and-goal at the UM 7. Rees dropped backed to pass and the ball slipped out of his hand. No one laid a hand on him.

Michigan recovered, but the Irish defense bailed them out with Robert Blanton intercepting Robinson in the end zone with 4:23 remaining. However, the Irish were stuffed on third-and-1, punting back to Michigan setting up the hectic final minutes in the first night game in Michigan Stadium's storied history.

"We've done two-minute drills since we got here in January," Hoke said. "Probably done a thousand [of them] with different scenarios because those are the high pressure situations you have in a football game. I was confident we knew how to handle that."

Despite accounting for 446 yards of offense (108 yards rushing 338 yards passing) against the Irish, Robinson still had enough energy once the game ended to race to the north end zone. He leapt into a raucous student section.

"Every time you see this game, you're going to know that both teams are going to fight to the end," said Robinson, who has a ridiculous 948 yards total offense and eight touchdowns in two games against Notre Dame. "It's never over until you see zeros on the clock."

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