Irish Of Old

A busted up knee could hardly put a damper on this day for Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis.

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After a season of disappointment and an uninspiring opening-game victory against a heavy underdog, the Fighting Irish have something to truly celebrate - Notre Dame 35, Michigan 17.

``We definitely showed up against a good opponent and it's sweet,'' said Weis, on crutches most of the game after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee Saturday when he was hit in the second quarter along the sideline. ``This was a big win for our program and our kids.''

Ripping a page out of the playbook that Michigan used for consecutive blowout wins over the Irish the past two seasons, Notre Dame took advantage of mistakes by the Wolverines to jump to a three-touchdown lead. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said his team's six turnovers too much to overcome.

``I don't think we're that far off. We've just got to play better,'' he said. ``I've said it many times, we're not good enough to play poorly and win. We're not right now.''

Jimmy Clausen, who was sacked eight times by the Wolverines last year, was 10-of-21 passing for 147 yards with two touchdown passes, two interceptions and he wasn't sacked. Robert Hughes ran for two touchdowns for the Irish.

After losing 38-0 and 47-21 to the Wolverines the past two seasons, Clausen said the victory Saturday was big.

``It feels great. I was talking to a bunch of the guys before the game, I said, 'Remember what we felt like last year after this game. That's not going to happen again.'''

Weis was hurt when Irish defensive end John Ryan, who is 6-5, 264 pounds, was blocked and crashed into Weis in the leg. The coach was looking in the other direction because the ball carrier had run past him.

``Tommy Brady's got nothing on me,'' Weis joked afterward about the injured New England Patriots' quarterback.

Weis will have surgery on his knee in the next few days.

``I feel like an athlete. First time in my life,'' he said.

The 18-point victory was the third largest in the 37-game series for the Irish (2-0), but well short of the 38-0 loss to Michigan (1-2) two years ago and 47-21 setback last season, part of a humbling 3-9 campaign for the Irish.

The Irish scored their first two touchdowns off turnovers and went ahead 21-0 in the first quarter.

``Neither one of us, is really built at this time to play from behind in a significant margin,'' Weis said.

Considering how sloppily Michigan played in the second consecutive meeting between the two rivals with neither team ranked, it's hard to qualify this as a breakthrough victory for the Irish. But Weis said it answered some questions that lingered after a 21-13 win over San Diego State.

``Because the question was for everyone. It wasn't just for media. It was for coaches, it was for players, for everyone. Where are we going to go from here?'' he said.

Linebacker Brian Smith, who returned a fumble recovery 35 yards for the only touchdown of the second half early in the fourth quarter, said the Irish showed they are an improved team.

``Last year at Michigan, we were embarrassed as a team. We remembered that as we were training and getting ready for the season,'' Smith said.

The victory came on the same day Notre Dame honored former coach Lou Holtz by dedicating a statue of him before the game. Members of his 1988 national team, Notre Dame's last title winner, also were on hand for the victory.

``Today it was not Lou, it was not the '88 team, it was those guys in that locker room stepping up and earn the respect that (senior linebacker) Mo Crum was talking about last night at the pep rally,'' Weis said. ``We had a bunch of guys that stepped up and said we want to make a statement that Notre Dame's not just some garbage school out there.''

This year it was the Wolverines who left the game wondering where they go from here.

``Michigan football will be back,'' Rodriguez said. ``All the naysayers out there, I'm disappointed but I'm not discouraged. Michigan football will be back.''

The second half was played in a steady rain as the Wolverines made four of their six turnovers.

``You can't blame the conditions,'' said Steven Threet, who was 16-of-23 passing for 175 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions for Michigan.

Sam McGuffie ran for 131 yards on 25 carries and had four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown. The Wolverines moved the ball better than they did in their first two games in Rodriguez's spread offense. They just couldn't hold on to it.

``I don't think we're that far off. We've just got to play better. I've said it many times, we're not good enough to play poorly and win,'' he said. ``We're not right now.''

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