Commentary

Forcier sparks Wolverines rally

Originally Published: September 12, 2009
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- This was Michigan's answer to the charge that coach Rich Rodriguez wiped his feet on the 20-hour-per-week rule.

This was the Wolverines' reply to former teammate Justin Boren, the offensive lineman who transferred to Ohio State, and all the other players and onlookers who believe that Rodriguez is turning Michigan into something it isn't.

[+] EnlargeTate Forcier
Domenic Centofanti/Getty ImagesFreshman quarterback Tate Forcier's rushing and passing gave the Wolverines a new look.

Actually, that last charge may be true. The Wolverines are not the team that went 3-9 last season. Michigan is an athletic bunch that plays hard enough to overcome its lack of experience. In other words, the Wolverines are too young to know that they had no business winning Saturday.

With a freshman quarterback too goofy to be nervous, and a few well-placed seniors throughout the lineup, Michigan stunned No. 18 Notre Dame 38-34 in one of the most exciting games ever played in one of the sport's great rivalries.

"Everybody kept saying a freshman couldn't do it," Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier said. "I did it."

The last thing Forcier did, a 5-yard slant-and-out pass to senior wide receiver Greg Mathews with :11 on the clock, ended a game that had been an emotional seesaw for players and fans alike.

Take Mathews: Earlier in the fourth quarter, he had run the wrong route, causing Forcier to throw an interception that Notre Dame converted into the touchdown that put the Irish ahead 34-31 with 5:13 to play.

"I felt like I definitely would have to make up for it," Mathews said. "I didn't want to be sitting in the locker room and having to go through what I have been through [last year]."

The only player on the field whose stomach wasn't doing its best Nastia Liukin was Forcier, the San Diego product who enrolled at Michigan in January.

"I have been like that my whole life," Forcier said. "Ever since I was a little kid, I never get nervous."

[+] EnlargeGreg Mathews
Matt Cashore/US PresswireGreg Mathews' game-winning catch stunned ND.

Forcier made plays by reading the Notre Dame defense. He made bigger plays with his feet, sprinting and ducking and weaving his way out of the pocket, giving himself space to find receivers or tuck the ball and run. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. He just turned 19 last month.

Rodriguez said that's the player he saw on video from Scripps Ranch High, the kid who just makes plays. The coach believes the kid is a throwback.

"Sometimes you recruit a guy and he worries about who else you're recruiting," Rodriguez said. "Tate didn't really care. … When he came to camp here, he threw for four hours straight, then he was asking, 'What else do you want me to do?' I told [quarterbacks coach Rod Smith], 'That's the guy we want.'"

Michigan (2-0) is one win away from matching its victory total of a year ago. Notre Dame (1-1) lost a game that it will think about as long as this rivalry remains important to both teams. Given that they have agreed to play through 2031, it may take awhile for the Irish to let go of this one.

Irish fans will think about the two incompletions on Notre Dame's possession before Michigan's game-winning drive -- two plays that stopped the clock. The Wolverines started their last possession at their 43 with 2:13 to play and two timeouts they did not need to use.

"They weren't just going to sit back there and let us run the ball," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "So we went to a quick, three-step drop -- the same pass we had been hitting all day. But then we threw an incomplete pass, and now it's third-and-long.

"So then you have two choices -- you run the ball just to make them use their timeouts or you try and win the game."

Notre Dame was winning at the time, 34-31, and it's hard to believe Weis didn't believe that his defense could stop Michigan. Coaches, generally a conservative lot, like to eliminate the bad things that can happen. Weis stayed aggressive, and it backfired.

Jimmy Clausen's pass zipped incomplete past freshman wide receiver Shaquelle Evans, who was playing because the Irish's most dangerous weapon, Michael Floyd, had been injured earlier in the fourth quarter. Floyd caught seven passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. Golden Tate caught nine passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. It was almost enough.

The Irish dominated the first half, controlling the ball for nearly 19 minutes and gaining 302 yards of offense. But they led only 20-17, thanks to the 94-yard kickoff return by Darryl Stonum late in the first quarter.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Matt Cashore/US PresswireRich Rodriguez and the Wolverines walked out of the Big House as big winners.

In the third quarter, Michigan senior running back Brandon Minor, who missed the opener with an ankle injury, gouged the Notre Dame defense for 71 of his 106 yards. He also put some licks on blitzing Irish defenders throughout the game. In the fourth quarter, Minor said he kept trying to make Forcier laugh in the huddle to keep him loose. Minor needn't have bothered.

"We're getting ready to get on the bus today," Rodriguez said, "and I see Tate walking out. All of a sudden he says, 'Oh, I forgot to brush my teeth!' That's what he's thinking about when he's getting on the bus and getting ready to go to the Big House."

As for the larger meaning of the victory, Rodriguez wouldn't allow that it meant anything beyond a 2-0 record. But his players swelled with pride that they had won for their coach. They couldn't be happier.

"Tate and all of our guys love to be a part of the University of Michigan," Rodriguez said. "They love being a part of the program. We're going to keep getting better. We could play better than today."

When the game ended, helmets flew through the air and the middle of the Big House turned into a maize-and-blue mosh pit. The players then sprinted en masse in front of the student section. Occasionally, their cleats touched the ground.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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