WolverinesWire countdown series continues with No. 9, The Fighting Irish in 1991.
Michigan Football’s Greatest Comebacks Countdown: 9. Notre Dame (1991)
A story rivalry renewed, but the Wolverines had been on the losing end to the Fighting Irish as of late.
Starting a new series featuring Michigan’s greatest comebacks in the last 30 years. We start looking back on a high-powered matchup between Michigan and Notre Dame, where the Fighting Irish were riding a four-game winning-streak.
9. 4 Michigan vs. 7 Notre Dame (1991)
- Final score: Michigan 24 – Notre Dame 14
- 1991 record: 10-2 Finished: AP – 6th, Coaches – 6th
- Why it was important: Ranked matchup, rivalry game
We’re counting this one, even though it wasn’t technically a Michigan comeback.
The Wolverines had lost four in a row to the Fighting Irish, who were led by then-head coach, Lou Holtz. The game started out quickly in the Wolverines favor, with ND QB Rick Mirer’s mid-field interception setting up the maize and blue deep in Notre Dame territory for an early field goal.
After both teams failed to convert on the next three possessions, with quarterback Elvis Grbac under center, Michigan drove the field, and with a nifty double-reverse from Grbac to Ricky Powers to Desmond Howard, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner took the rock to the house for 29 yard touchdown to put the Wolverines up 10-0 in the second quarter.
Notre Dame got the ball back and Mirer connected deep with tight end Derek Brown for 46 yards. However, two plays later, Fighting Irish running back Tony Brooks coughed up the ball, giving the Wolverines possession at their own 20.
Michigan took advantage, with Grbac connecting with running back Tyrone Wheatley and Desmond Howard before Ricky Powers and Burnie Leggett asserted themselves, combining for 25 yards to bring the maize and blue to midfield. Grbac attempted to hit Howard deep, and Howard dove at the ball at the goal line for what looked like a spectacular touchdown, but he couldn’t hold onto it. Eventually, Powers took control, sauntering into the endzone for a 16 yard score, putting Michigan up 17-0.
Before halftime, Notre Dame remained within striking distance, marching downfield and scoring on the merits of a Jerome Bettis 3 yard touchdown to bring it to 17-7, Michigan.
It would end up being costly, as Michigan couldn’t convert on its opening drive of the second half, which Notre Dame capitalized on, as Mirer hit receiver Tony Smith midfield. The Wolverines seemed to have the Irish stopped on 4th and 2. But Michigan jumped offsides giving ND a fresh set of downs. Three plays later, Mirer rolled out to his left and hit Smith, again, downfield for a 35 yard touchdown. And the Irish were within three.
But that would be it for Notre Dame’s scoring, and the Wolverines sealed it on the first drive of the 4th quarter. Perhaps not as famous as striking the pose, Desmond Howard had a play that would go down in the annals of Michigan lore, laying out in the endzone for a spectacular catch, which put the Wolverines up 24-14.
A few minutes later, Michigan got the ball back with 6:30 remaining, and behind Ricky Powers’ eight running plays, the Wolverines held on to break the losing streak.
Leaders in Blue
Elvis Grbac – 20/22, 195 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 90.9%
Ricky Powers – 38 carries, 164 yards, 4.3 avg., 1 TD
Desmond Howard – 1 carry, 29 yards, 1 TD
Desmond Howard – 6 receptions, 74 yards, 1 TD
Yale Van Dyne – 6 receptions, 56 yards
Erick Anderson – 9 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
Corwin Brown – 6 tackles
Lance Dottin – 2 tackles, 1 interception