ANN ARBOR, Mich. – ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Notre Dame’s chance to leave with a victory in its last trip to Michigan Stadium for the foreseeable future bounced away with 89 seconds to play Saturday night.
Michigan’s 41-30 victory was sealed when Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees’ pass on first-and-goal from the 6 was deflected into the hands of the Wolverines’ Blake Countess as an NCAA record crowd of 115,109 watched.
“I felt that we missed some opportunities offensively that could have given us the opportunity to win this football game,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “This was one of those that our offense needed to carry the day for us, and we just came up short on a couple of key plays for us,” Kelly said.
The series between No. 14 Notre Dame (1-1) and No. 17 Michigan (2-0) will end after next year’s game in South Bend.
The Wolverines sent the Irish out of their stadium with the “Chicken Dance” playing over the loud speakers. Michigan coach Brady Hoke said at a May luncheon that Notre Dame was chickening out of the series with the Wolverines.
Michigan has won four of the last five games in the series, and the Wolverines have beaten the Irish at home four straight times.
It was Notre Dame’s first regular-season loss since falling to Stanford 28-14 on Nov. 26, 2011.
“This is a tough one,” left tackle Zack Martin said. “But it’s going to show the character of this team and the identity of this team to see how we bounce back.”
Along with the bad bounce in the final minute and a half, Notre Dame was undone with its failure to contain quarterback Devin Gardner and receiver Jeremy Gallon, a Tommy Rees interception and defensive penalties on Michigan’s second-to-last offensive series.
“We left some opportunities out on the field,” said Rees, who threw for 314 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. “I take full accountability for how that shook down. I’m proud of the way the guys played, and we need to do better.”
Gardner threw for 294 yards with four touchdowns, and Gallon had eight catches for 184 yards with three TDs.
Gardner also ran for 82 yards and a touchdown.
“A good athlete,” defensive end Sheldon Day said of Gardner. “He’s spinning around, keeping plays a live. He just did a good job.”
Notre Dame was called for pass interference twice on Michigan’s final scoring drive that ended with Gardner hitting Drew Dileo for a 4-yard touchdown with 4:18 to play.
“I want my football teams to play smarter and more discipline,” Kelly said.
Gardner’s final touchdown toss of the first half was set up by a mistake by Rees.
The Irish senior was rolling to his left with 1 1/2 minutes left in half when he tried to connect with tight end Troy Niklas, instead Rees was intercepted by Michigan’s Blake Countess as the Wolverines’ 48. Countess returned the interception to Notre Dame’s 23, and four plays later Gardner connected with Gallon for a 12-yard touchdown and a 27-13 lead at halftime.
“I’d like to have that one throw right before the half back,” Kelly said.
Notre Dame appeared to get back on track in the third quarter as it forced Michigan to punt on the opening series. The Irish then embarked on a 90-yard, 12-play march which ended with Troy Niklas’ 20-yard TD catch to cut the Wolverines’ lead to 27-20 with 4:55 to play in the third quarter.
But Gallon struck again on the ensuring drive as the senior had a 41-yard catch to help set up his 13-yard TD grab that gave Michigan a 34-20 lead with 1:54 left in the third.
The Irish caught break when Gardner tried to avoid a safety by throwing the ball in his end zone and it falling into Tuitt’s hands. After the play held up to a review, Michigan’s lead was cut to 34-27 with 12:06 to play.
Brindza got the Irish to within 34-30 of the Wolverines with a 40-yard field goal with 9:15 to play, but then Michigan drove 75 yards on 10 plays to take the lead with Dileo’s TD.
“Losing is losing,” Kelly said. “We are going to go back to work on Tuesday with the emphasis on a more discipline approach to every thing.
“We’ve got to tighten up everything, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. They understand what I mean.”