Irish freshman leads Notre Dame in upset of No. 7 Michigan
Published 1:28 am Monday, September 13, 2004
By By ADAM FISHER / Niles Daily Star
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Tyrone Willingham found what Notre Dame's offense needed in an unlikely place Saturday against Michigan.
The spark came from true-freshman running back Darius Walker. In his first action for Notre Dame, Walker ran for 115 yards and two touchdowns in three quarters.
He was part of a Notre Dame offense that grinded out 313 yards in a 28-20 upset over the No. 7 Wolverines. It was the Irish's first victory over at Top 10 team since 2002 when they beat the Wolverines, who were also ranked seventh.
Willingham said it was only a matter of time before Walker stepped in for the injured Ryan Grant. He said he knew the freshman would play against Michigan, he just didn't know he would get 31 carries.
Walker said he was ready to play today, but had no idea he would shoulder so much of the offensive load.
In the first half, however, it looked as though the Irish offense was going to bury Notre Dame with turnovers. Irish quarterback Brady Quinn threw two interceptions in the half.
Notre Dame's defense, however, made up for Quinn's mistakes, holding Michigan to field goals after each turnover.
Looking at a 9-0 halftime deficit, the Irish knew it had to toughen up on defense and get moving on offense if it was going to avoid its 11th loss in 16 games.
Shelton helped the Irish get things going in a hurry in the third quarter. Three plays into Notre Dame's first possession of the second half, Quinn lofted a pass to Shelton streaking down the sideline.
Shelton jumped over a Michigan defender and wrestled the ball away from him for a 46-yard touchdown. The scoring drive lasted just 1:14.
The long strike pulled the Irish to within 9-7 and seemed to rejuvenate the defense. Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr said that the long pass to Shelton was a turning point of the game, both offensively and defensively, for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame gave up one more field goal before the defense got two turnovers to set up Irish scores.
With 30 second remaining in the third quarter, Irish cornerback Dwight Ellick intercepted a deflected pass at Michigan's 30-yard line. The pick set up Walker's first score to give Notre Dame its first lead at 14-12.
Less than two minutes later, Notre Dame's Jerome Collins blocked a Michigan punt and the Irish recovered the ball at the 5-yard line.
The very next play, Walker took the ball around the left side of the line and trotted into the endzone for his second score.
Walker was the first Irish freshman to run for 100 yards since Julius Jones had 146 against Navy in 1999.
He was also the first Notre Dame freshman to run for two touchdowns since Matt LoVecchio did it against USC in 2000.
Notre Dame's final score, a seven-yard pass to Rashon Powers-Neal, came off a Michigan fumble. Willingham said the passing touchdown was a direct result of Walker's success on the ground.
Cornerback Preston Jackson said the Irish defense benefitted from the success of the offense as a whole.
Both Willingham and Carr said they weren't surprised by Notre Dame's defensive strength, even though the Irish lost to BYU in Week One.
Carr said Notre Dame's ability to hold the Wolverines to field goals following big drives in the first half kept Michigan from breaking the game wide open and allowed the Irish to come back in the second half.
Walker said the upset victory was vindicating for the Irish, especially since no one thought Notre Dame could pull it off.
Willingham said he was also excited, but was careful not put too much stock in the win.