It may take a decade before Notre Dame plays at Michigan again, but the Irish and Wolverines scored enough points to last a decade in Saturday night's 41-30 Fighting Irish loss at Michigan Stadium. With the rivalry set to end next season at Notre Dame a record crowd of 115,109 packed into the stadium to see the offensive display.
After Notre Dame went three-and-out on its first possession, Michigan scored the first points of the game. The Wolverines drove 44 yards to the Irish 27 before settling on a 44-yard Brandon Gibbons field goal. The field goal was Gibbons' 15th straight to set a new school record.
The Irish were three-and-out again on their second drive and Michigan made them pay quickly. Devin Gardner hit wide receiver Jeremy Gallon with a 61-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the drive. Gallon first broke free over the middle and then broke a pair of tackles to race to the end zone to make it 10-0 Michigan with 5:35 on the clock in the first quarter.
The 10-point deficit lit a fire under Rees and the Irish offense. Rees had completed 1-of-2 passes in the first two drives, but hit Corey Robinson, DaVaris Daniels and T.J. Jones for gains of 12, 22 and 18 yards during the drive, which covered 75 yards and ended with a four-yard touchdown pass to Jones. The ball deflected off George Atkinson in the front of the end zone before Jones caught it in the back of the end zone.
The Irish gained 75 yards on the touchdown drive after gaining a total of 15 yards on their first two drives combined.
An 18-yard punt return by Jones after a Michigan three-and-out gave the Irish golden field position at the Wolverine 46 to start their next drive. A 16-yard pass to C.J. Prosise moved the ball as far as the 25 before Kyle Brindza hit a 44-yard field goal to tie the score at 10-10 with 14:05 to play in the first half.
Michigan answered with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive of its own that ate 5:22 off the clock. It looked like the Irish were going to hold the Wolverines to a field goal attempt after an apparent incomplete pass on third and goal from the 14, but KeiVarae Russell was called for pass interference in the end zone and Gardner scored from two yards out on the next play to put Michigan up 17-10.
Notre Dame looked like it would hit pay dirt again on its next possession, as Rees hit Daniels, Jones and Atkinson with big gains to move the ball deep into Michigan territory. The drive stalled at the seven though and Brindza connected on a 24-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 17-13.
Gardner did his best Denard Robinson impersonation when Michigan got the ball back. Gardner ran for a seven-yard gain on the first play and then bolted 35 yards to the Irish 21. A pair of holding calls stalled Michigan's drive and Gibbons came on to hit a 38-yard field goal to give Michigan a 20-13 advantage.
Then Rees made the game's first big mistake. After misfiring on a pass attempt for Amir Carlisle, Rees was chased from the pocket on the next play and was intercepted by Blake Countess, who returned the ball to the Irish 24. Gardner connected with Gallon for another touchdown four plays later to make it 27-13 Michigan at halftime.
Michigan drove to the Irish 33 to start the second half before Ishaq William's first career sack forced a Wolverine punt. Notre Dame then marched 90 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown drive that ended when Rees hit tight end Troy Niklas with a 20-yard touchdown pass. The drive, which saw Rees complete 6-of-7 passes, used 5:25 on the clock and brought Notre Dame to within a touchdown.
The Wolverines answered the Irish score in a hurry though. Gardner hit Gallon for a 41-yard gain to the Irish 25 and then the two connected three plays later for a 13-yard touchdown pass - the third hook-up of the night between the two to make it 34-20 Wolverines.
Notre Dame moved all the way to the Michigan 15 on the ensuing drive after a 50-yard kickoff return by Atkinson started the drive at midfield. Rees was incomplete on a fourth and four attempt to give the ball back on downs with 13:38 remaining.
Then a miracle happened. Michigan faced third and 11 at its own 16 when Irish safety Austin Collinsworth blitzed and forced Gardner into his own end zone. Gardner, who was trying to avoid both Collinsworth and Prince Shembo, tried to throw the ball away to avoid a safety, but a diving Stephon Tuitt snatched the ball out of midair for an improbable touchdown. The play was reviewed and the call stood - bringing Notre Dame to within seven with 12:06 still to play.
A Michigan three-and-out was followed by a 40-yard field goal by Brindza to make it a 34-30 game. The drive started at the Irish 48 after Wolverine punter Matt Wile shanked a punt for a net of just 21 yards.
The Wolverines (and penalty flags) broke the backs of the Irish defense multiple times on the next drive, which covered 75 yards in 10 plays and ended with a Gardner touchdown pass to Drew Dileo. Fitz Toussaint ran for 22 yards on the second play of the drive and then caught a 31-yard swing pass to plays later to move to the Irish 48.
It looked like Bennett Jackson had an interception on third and 12 at the 23, but the Irish cornerback was called for a push off. On third and five at the nine Matthias Farley looked like he broke up a pass at the goal line, but another pass interference call extended the drive again. Gardner hit Dileo two plays later to make it 41-30 with 4:18 left in the game.
Notre Dame moved the ball quickly to the Michigan six with an array of passes by Rees. Countess snatched a deflected ball in the end zone though to squelch any final Irish hopes for a comeback.
Rees finished the game 29-of-51 for 314 yards with both a pair of touchdown passes and interceptions. Gardner was 21-of-33 for 294 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He added 82 yards and a TD on the ground as well.
Gallon had eight catches for a career-high 184 yards and three touchdowns. Jones led the Irish with 94 yards and nine receptions.
Michigan outgained Notre Dame 166-96 on the ground and 460-410 in total yardage. The 41 points the Irish allowed are the most in a regular season game for the Irish since a 45-38 loss to Stanford at the end of the 2009 season in Charlie Weis' last game.