Notre Dame vs. Michigan: 5 Reasons It's an Instant Classic

Rich ThomaselliSenior Writer ISeptember 11, 2011

Notre Dame vs. Michigan: 5 Reasons It's an Instant Classic

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    Michigan vs. Notre Dame has been a legendary matchup for decades. After all, it's the winningest program in college football history against, arguably, the most legendary program in college football history.

    The two teams have had some great battles over the years, but nothing will top Saturday night—a 35-31 Michigan victory after the Wolverines trailed 14-0, 24-7, and then 31-28 with just 30 seconds to play after a Tommy Rees touchdown pass.

    But Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson redeemed himself and led an 80-yard drive in a half-a-minute, capping it with a touchdown pass with two seconds remaining for the win.

    It was, as ESPN announcer Brent Musburger said after the game, "an instant classic."

    And here are five reasons why...

5. You Know the Night Time Is the Right Time

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    This was the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium, and this has to rank as one of the most astonishing games in the venue's long and glorious history.

    Michigan drew more than 114,000 fans to The Big House for the contest, and while the streak of 100,000-plus fans dates back to the 1970s, this was something special. Michigan athletic director David Brandon said he probably could have sold 150,000 tickets for the game.

    College football is truly meant for a Saturday afternoon, and there was always a sentiment from former Michigan coaches Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr that that's when games should be played. In the afternoon. With plenty of sunlight. Many Old Blues in Ann Arbor had no sentiment toward night games, either. Trust me—I lived it.

    But this had the feel of an SEC-like game, like the atmosphere at LSU on a Saturday night.

    Simply put, it was awesome.

4. Three TDs in the Final 72 Seconds

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    There have been many spectacular endings in college football history, but 35 total points in the fourth quarter and three touchdowns in the final 72 seconds is insane.

    That's how it played out, though. Michigan scored moments into the fourth quarter to cut it to 24-14. After a quick three-and-out, the Wolverines scored again on a Denard Robinson TD pass to make it 24-21.

    Then the fun started.

    With 1:12 left, the Wolverines took their first lead on a jailbreak screen from Robinson to Vincent Smith, who went 21 yards with some nifty moves to make it 28-24.

    But then Michigan's infamous sieve-like defense let Tommy Rees and Notre Dame come roaring back, driving down the field and scoring when Rees hit a wide-open Theo Riddick, and the Irish were up 31-28 with 30 seconds lef.

    Michigan started on its own 20-yard line after a touchback. After an incompletion, Robinson hit Jeremy Gallon for a 64-yard gain to the Notre Dame 16, with Gallon doing a tremendous job of not only getting open but then running after the catch across the field and getting out of bounds with eight seconds left.

    But instead of just calling for a running play to position the ball for a game-tying field goal, Michigan went for the whole ball of wax. Robinson hit Roy Roundtree in the corner of the end zone for the dramatic game-winning TD.

3. Signature Win, Signature Loss

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    This was a signature game for both head coaches.

    For Michigan first-year coach Brady Hoke, it was a signature win in just his second game. After last week's rain-shortened victory over Western Michigan, this one was a biggie. Hoke needed to put his stamp on the program early, and this was it.

    For Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, it was a signature loss. The Fighting Irish are now 0-2 and staring right in the face of an 0-3 start after next week's game against Michigan State.

    The circumstances certainly created another storyline and an interesting backdrop to the game.

2. Michigan vs. Notre Dame Is Always Good for College Football

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    Ideally, this is the kind of game where you like to see single digits in front of each team's name coming into the contest.

    As in national ranking.

    But Michigan was unranked coming in, and ND was 0-1 after last week's humiliating home loss to South Florida. This game needed to be something special because, no matter what, these are still two of college football's premier programs.

    A great Michigan-Notre Dame tilt is great for the sport in general.

1. Redemption for Denard Robinson

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    Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson torched Notre Dame last year in the Wolverines' victory, with more than 500 yards in total offense.

    But at one point on Saturday night, Robinson was 2-of-11 for 48 yards, with two interceptions and a TD.

    He finished by completing nine of his last 13 passes for 290 yards, three touchdowns and an INT.

    All totaled, Robinson was 11-of-24 for 338 yards, four TDs, three INTs and 108 rushing yards for good measure. That's 446 yards of total offense for "Shoelace"—and a bit of in-game redemption for those questioning whether he should be a Heisman Trophy candidate and if he could adjust to Brady Hoke's new pro-style offense.

    Big, big game for Denard Robinson.