The Big Ten Conference and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have had a long relationship that has resulted in three regular rivalries between the two: Notre Dame versus the Purdue Boilermakers, Notre Dame versus the Michigan State Spartans, and Notre Dame versus the Michigan Wolverines. This season the Fighting Irish are 2-0 with only the Wolverines remaining. This weekend in South Bend, under the lights, the Fighting Irish get the Wolverines.
The recent history of the Fighting Irish/Wolverines rivalry has been one of tragedy and sorrow for the Fighting Irish and relief and joy for the Wolverines.
With Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson playing a big role in the last few games between the two teams, this will examine the last three games between the two teams as they are the three installments of the rivalry that Robinson has been at Michigan for.
In the 2009 installment it was Tate Forcier and not Robinson that was quarterbacking the Wolverines. Robinson, a freshman at the time, would watch from the sidelines as Forcier would rip the collective hearts out of Fighting Irish fans with a last-minute fourth quarter drive that ended with Forcier completing an 11-yard touchdown to Greg Matthews. The score gave the Wolverines a 38-34 victory. To this day, the 72 combined points is the most in the history of the rivalry.
The 2010 installment was Robinson’s first appearance in the rivalry, and he would continue the trend of last-minute heroics that Forcier started the year before.
That year the Fighting Irish trailed 21-7 at the half and had to make a second-half comeback of their own, eventually taking a 24-21 lead late in the fourth quarter. The go-ahead score came on a 95-yard touchdown play from Fighting Irish quarterback Dayne Crist to receiver Kyle Rudolph.
It was here that Robinson made an instant impact on the rivalry, leading a touchdown drive following the Crist to Rudolph play that ended with Robinson himself taking the ball in from the final two yards. Final score: Michigan 28, Notre Dame 24.
And last year’s installment was memorable for the final quarter and only the final quarter. For the first three quarters, it was all Fighting Irish. The Wolverines defense was still in the middle of improving itself, but that didn’t stop the Fighting Irish offense. And while the Fighting Irish offense wasn’t having issues working properly, Robinson was made to look much more the mortal than the man known as Shoelace thanks to the Fighting Irish defense during the first three quarters.
Entering the fourth, the Fighting Irish lead 24-7, and then Robinson exploded. He would lead three scoring drives in the first thirteen minutes of the quarter to take a 28-24 lead. The Fighting Irish, in a manner befitting this rivalry, ran right down the field and re-took the lead with thirty seconds to play. That was all the time Robinson needed as he was able to complete a few really big passes including the game-winning touchdown pass with only seconds to play. Final score: Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31, 28-7 Michigan in the fourth quarter.
This Saturday promises the same kind of fireworks. Robinson will be playing in his final game against the Fighting Irish and with a Wolverine team that is slowly rebuilding the momentum it lost against the Alabama Crimson Tide, he will be looking for a showcase performance in primetime. The Fighting Irish will be looking to continue to legitimize their undefeated start to the season and keep the notion that they could end up in a BCS bowl game alive.