Michigan finally comes to life in 38-0 rout of Irish

Tim Cronin

Jimmy Clausen had to be envious.

There he stood on the sideline, a 6-foot-3 bruise in a white jersey, watching Mike Hart gain yard after yard on the ground.

Hart, the senior tailback who guaranteed Michigan would beat Notre Dame, had one thing going for him that Clausen, the Fighting Irish’s freshman quarterback, did not: an offensive line.

That was only one of the major differences in previously winless Michigan’s 38-0 rout of the overmatched Irish on Saturday. There were countless others as the Wolverines racked up their first victory of the season, sending the Irish, 0-3 on the year, to their fifth straight loss.

There were the three Irish turnovers in the first half, each of which Michigan converted into a touchdown, delighting a Michigan Stadium mob of 111,178, few of whom wore Irish green.

There was the sloppy defense by the Irish, from putrid tackling up front to a paucity of speed and positioning in the secondary.

Continually, there was Hart, pounding away. After Hart’s brash statement in the wake of last week’s drubbing by Oregon, it was no surprise head coach Lloyd Carr would call on him early and often. Nor was it a surprise that Hart, legs still churning when the Irish actually got a hand on him, ran 35 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns before he was pulled late in the third quarter.

“It was to fire myself up and fire this team up,” Hart said of his guarantee. “It was something to keep me focused.”

The final score was set by then, the outcome decided long before. Notre Dame, outscored by 136 points in the last five games, and by 102-13 this season, and without an offensive touchdown since the second quarter of last season’s Sugar Bowl, was never in the game.

It was 31-0 at the half. The Irish were lucky to have 0. They then had 11 offensive yards, with an ineffective blocking scheme run by invisible blockers accounting for six sacks of Clausen in the first 30 minutes.

There was also a forced fumble by Clausen, who may not have had a deer in the headlights look but was effectively roadkill against the Wolverines (1-2).

The first series set the tone: A snap over halfback Armando Allen’s head for a 17-yard loss, an end-around from the Irish 1 that almost went nowhere and a nearly-intercepted pass. Then things fell apart, with three turnovers in the next four series.

So head coach Charlie Weis is starting over. He replaced today’s usual tape session with a four-hour practice, saying, “We’re starting training camp Sunday.”

Weis promised a return to basics.

“You’d like to think three games into the season, some things you’re doing better and better,” Weis said. “A play that you’ll get a four-yard gain on every time. A pass on third-and-8, you’ll get a 10-yard gain. Instead, we’re grasping.

“Figuratively, I feel like I’ve gotten punched in the mouth by a right cross.”

The offense finished with 79 yards, with 85 passing yards and minus-6 rushing yards, sacks of Clausen accounting for minus-65 yards. They fumbled six times. Only James Aldridge’s late rushes for 34 yards on the last two series made it that respectable.

At one point, the Irish were at minus-52 yards rushing. The team single-game record remains minus-12 yards against Michigan State in 1965, but for the season, the Irish have lost 14 yards rushing.

The defense wasn’t any better when it mattered. Hart led Michigan’s 289-yard rushing attack. Freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett passed for 90 yards and three touchdowns in his first start, making Chad Henne’s injury absence a non-factor.

Michigan State is next for Notre Dame. To Weis, it might as well be St. Mary’s.

“We’ve had three lopsided losses,” Weis said. “It really doesn’t make any difference who we’re playing until we get good at something.”

Clausen wasn’t among the seven Irish players allowed to comment, but free safety David Bruton might have spoken for everyone when he said, “It’s time to go to work.”

In fact, it’s past time.

More college sports coverage can be found online at  www.dailysouthtown.com/sports