Can Notre Dame Overcome its Big House of Horrors in 2019?

Notre Dame has its work cut out for itself in 2019 if it wants to return to the College Football Playoffs.  Road contests against playoff contenders and rivals who have had their number in their own houses sit firmly in their way.  While Notre Dame’s trip to Athens in September is widely considered its toughest contest of the year, Notre Dame is also going to have to overcome its house of horrors to the north in Ann Arbor to repeat last year’s playoff run.

Since 1997 Notre Dame is 1-7 against Michigan when they have to play in the Big House.  Sandwiched around that lone win in 2005 that turned out to be over a very over-rated Michigan squad, are a pair of blowouts and a few excruciating losses that still make most Notre Dame fans cringe.

Related: Notre Dame vs. Michigan Football Rivalry 

1999: “Peak Bob Davie”

This might be the game that characterizes the dysfunction of the Bob Davie Era perfectly.  Notre Dame went into Ann Arbor and took a 22-19 lead with just over 4:00 left in the game.  All they needed to do was get a stop to take home a win.  That would have been too easy though.

Immediately after taking the 22-19 lead, Notre Dame got assessed a ridiculous, excessive celebration on Bobby Brown’s successful tw0-point conversion reception.  By today’s standards, this penalty is laughable.  Hell, it was laughable then.  Still, Notre Dame could have stopped Michigan or at least held them to a field goal.

The Wolverines returned the ensuing kicking to the Michigan 42 yard line thanks to the 15-yard penalty.  Later in the drive Notre Dame safety Ron Isreal gifted Michigan another free 15 yards with a bonehead hit out of bounds.  Michigan took a 26-22 lead with less than 2:00 minutes remaining.  That’s when we got peak Bob Davie.

Jarious Jackson led Notre Dame on a drive down the field and had the Irish just outside the redzone with a little less than a minute remaining.  That’s when classic clock mismanagement reared its all to familiar head under Davie and time eventually ended up running out on Notre Dame with the ball on the 12 yard line.

Oh, and the Michigan quarterback that day?  Some guy named Tom Brady.

The Blowouts of 2003 & 2007

There isn’t much need to go too deep into either of these beatdowns.  Michigan outclasses Notre Dame in every way in both contests en route to 38-0 victories in both.  Amazingly, neither embarrassment cost a coach their job.  Tyrone Willingham was only in his second season but survived for another year before it became apparent he was not going to get it done.  Charlie Weis managed two more years, which allowed for one more gut-wrenching loss in the Big House.

2009: “Classic Charlie Weis”

If the 1999 meltdown was quintessential Bob Daive, Notre Dame’s loss in Ann Arbor a decade later was quintessential Charlie Weis.  The Irish came in ranked #18 in the week two clash.  After falling behind 20-31 in the second half, Notre Dame came roaring back.  Jimmy Clausen led the Irish to 14 points in just over four minutes in the 4th quarter to give Notre Dame a 34-31 lead with just over 5:00 minutes left.

Again, all the Irish needed was a stop.  How many times did we hear that under Weis, though? This time Notre Dame got it.  The only problem was that after getting one first down, Weis decided it was a good idea to pass the ball with 2:24 left in the game letting Michigan save its final two timeouts.

Tate Forcier (remember that guy?) launched one of the shortest Heisman campaigns ever after that with a touchdown drive to give Michigan a 38-34 lead with just 11 seconds left. Michigan used both timeouts along the way. Now imagine if Weis just let the clock tick.

2011: The Worst of the Worst

Apologies if this is causing flashbacks for any of you at this point, but this is the history Notre Dame is up against in October.  Fair warning though, this one might be the worst of the bunch.

Still with me?  Ok, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Two years after Forcier’s last-second touchdown, Weis got the boot, and Brian Kelly brought a 0-1 team to town fresh off an embarrassing loss to South Florida to start the season.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, Notre Dame was in command of the game with a 24-7 lead entering the final 15 minutes.  You’d think a lead like that was safe.

It wasn’t.

Michigan ripped off three unanswered touchdowns in the 4th quarter to take a 28-24 lead with just 1:12 remaining.  Tommy Rees found some magic and marched Notre Dame back down the field for a four-play touchdown drive to retake the lead with 0:30 remaining.

That should have been enough to get the win, but sadly it wasn’t.  On 2nd and 10 from their own 20 with 0:23 left, Michigan’s Denard Robinson connected with Jeremy Gallon for 64 freaking yards. They scored the winning touchdown on the next play on a pass that at worst should have been deflected and at best been intercepted.  Instead, it was one of the most gut-wrenching losses of the Brian Kelly era.

2013: Hey, It Wasn’t Thaaaat Awful, Right?

You know, at this point, I don’t any of us need to rehash much more.  2013 was, by these standards not that bad.  Sure, Notre Dame could have won this one too if Turnover Tommy didn’t make an appearance, but at least this one was totally devastating right?

Brian Kelly, Mike Elston, and Tommy Rees are the only Notre Dame coaches or players who took part in the last two trips to Ann Arbor – and Rees, now Notre Dame’s QB coach, was at the time its starting quarterback.  Notre Dame’s bad luck in the Big House, however, has spanned 20 years at this point and impacted many staffs and rosters.

No player on the Irish roster has ever played in the Big House.  Most of the roster, though, was at Notre Dame when the Irish beat the Wolverines to start the 2018 season in South Bend.  It’s about time that Notre Dame changes its recent history in Ann Arbor.

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  1. Yeah, Weis was certainly an ‘offensive genius’. I still remember him going for 4th down against Navy instead of going for a FG that would have won it. Then they go to OT and lose the game against Navy. I couldn’t believe it. I remember afterward he cited the inconsistency of our then FG kicker (I forget who). But who cares? There was seconds left. Make the FG and you win it. Miss and you’d still go to OT. It was a no lose–except for Weis who decided to ‘go for it.’ There’s a reason he’s not coaching anywhere anymore.

    Sorry, off topic I guess. I started following ND in force around 2002, during Willingham’s first year. Before that I was just a casual fan. I remember some heart breaking ND losses to the Meat chickens. 38-0 in 2007 comes to mind.

    And I still love that beautiful 31-0 against the Meat chickens a few years back. The lone bright spot in the BVG era. Frankly looking back I’m not sure how our defense pulled that off (I guess the Meat chickens really were THAT bad). But still 31-0 is still oh so sweet.

    And it cracks me up every time that they have ‘their’ coach and they still manage to disappoint. The media keeps saying, ‘nope, this is the year Michigan wins it all, they are right there’ and then they flop again.

    All that being said, I still expect this to be one of our toughest contests this year. Michigan is usually ready for ND and they love games in their ‘big’ house. And of course it always seems the refs are part of the team as well. Anytime there’s any question the call seems to go Michigan’s way (I find it laughable when maize and blue fans complain about the refs). I still remember when they called Armando Allen out of bounds when you could see daylight between his foot and the line, even on replay.

    1. Was 2007 the game where Clausen got sacked/destroyed by 4 D-Linemen at the exact same time? I remember thinking I had never seen anything like that before and how much Clausen may have regretted coming to ND haha! Talk about being thrown to the freakin wolves.

      Night of the 2011 game, I remember we had a huge party in my dad’s man cave, lost our minds when we scored with 30 to go, and then the party literally ended about 5 seconds after the TD catch with my dad turning off the big screen and cussing up a storm. Everyone left out of fear he might kill someone haha!!

      On paper this year against MI, we are probably similar. It will come down to coaching. Scary thought for both ND fans and MI fans.

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