Rewind eight years ago to 2004. The sun was beginning to rise on a new era as a number of important young players matured in the shadows of the Golden Dome. Before the complete resurgence of Notre Dame football under the tenure of Charlie Weis, Tyrone Willingham’s Irish faced off against the highly touted Michigan Wolverines under head coach Lloyd Carr. Brady Quinn and Darius Walker were just beginning to emerge as playmakers at their respective positions. The unit that would eventually lead Notre Dame to two BCS Bowl games in the near future hosted a seventh-ranked Michigan team led by current NFL players Chad Henne, Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, Steve Breaston, Leon Hall, David Harris, Jake Long, and LaMarr Woodley. The Irish, yet to show cohesiveness as a unit, were coming off of a tough 17-20 loss to BYU in week one, while Michigan had defeated Miami Ohio by the score of 43-10.
Michigan opened the first quarter unphased by the Irish home crowd, taking a 6-0 lead after two Garrett Rivas field goals. Michigan added to its lead in the second quarter with another field goal, making the score 9-0 with nearly four minutes remaining in the second quarter. The half ended with both defenses continuing their physical play and Michigan maintaining its 9-0 lead. In the Irish’s first-half possessions, Quinn had thrown two interceptions and the other drives had unsuccessfully resulted in two punts and a loss of downs.
Halftime adjustments were evident when the Irish offense opened the third quarter with a Brady Quinn touchdown pass to wide receiver Matt Shelton, cutting Michigan’s lead to 9-7. Later in the quarter, freshman sensation Chad Henne completed three passes in a drive that started with another Quinn interception and Rivas hit a 47-yard field goal to make the score 12-7. The score would hold after three quarters of play; the Irish maintained possession and good field position after cornerback Dwight Ellick picked off Henne.
The Irish came alive early in the final quarter as Quinn twice connected with Maurice Stovall for 20 yards and then with Walker on a six yard touchdown pass, giving the Irish their first lead. Notre Dame would never look back. Linebacker Derek Curry later recovered a blocked punt that set up another Walker touchdown. The Irish defense, led by defensive tackle Trevor Laws, defensive end Justin Tuck, and safety Tom Zbikowski stifled Henne from effectively distributing the ball to his All-American receiving corps. Ellick later created another turnover by collecting wide receiver Jason Avant’s fumble. The Irish then broke the game open with a touchdown pass to Rashon Powers-Neal, extending their lead to 28-12. Henne finished the game by throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Breaston with just over two minutes remaining. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, it proved too little, too late – the Irish won the game 28-20.
Knocking off Michigan at home was the first signature win for Quinn and his teammates, giving them the confidence to succeed in future games against nationally-ranked football powerhouses. Despite his three interceptions, Quinn had a decent game, finishing with 178 passing yards and two touchdowns. Walker, the MVP of the game, was a workhorse for Notre Dame, rushing 31 times for 115 yards. Maurice Stovall, the 6’5” receiver, led the Irish in receiving with five catches for 82 yards. Henne and Braylon Edwards highlighted Michigan’s performance. Henne threw for 240 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and Edwards grabbed 12 catches for 129 yards. Notre Dame finished the season 6-6, ultimately losing to Oregon State in the Insight Bowl. It would be Willingham’s last season coaching the Irish. Michigan, meanwhile, ended the year 9-3 with a 38-37 loss in the Rose Bowl to Texas.
Although insignificant in the outcome of the 2004 season, this victory over Michigan was the first of a number of great games that helped propel Notre Dame back into national prominence.
Rich Hidy is a freshman in the First Year of Studies Program. He spends his time attending class, running around campus, studying in the library, and participating in campus life. Rich has been writing about sports since his freshman year of high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. Contact him at email@example.com.