By TOM COYNE
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — No crazy comebacks this year by Michigan against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish didn’t even let Denard Robinson and the Wolverines get into the end zone this year.
Manti Te’o had two interceptions as the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish picked off five Michigan passes and forced a fumble and backup quarterback Tommy Rees sparked the Notre Dame offense in a 13-6 win over the Wolverines Saturday night.
“A great team win for our guys,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Defensively what can I say? Six turnovers, limited who we felt is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the country to no touchdowns. Just an incredible performance by our defense.”
Robinson, who amassed 948 yards of total offense in victories over the Irish past two years, wasn’t as effective this time around as the Irish repeatedly forced him into mistakes. He threw four interceptions in the first half, then lost a fumble at the Notre Dame 8 on the first drive of the second half.
The Irish (4-0) are off to their best start since 2002 and took another step in trying to re-establish themselves as a college football power. It was a setback for Michigan (2-2), which lost its eighth straight road game against ranked teams since beating second-ranked Notre Dame 47-21 in 2006.
The victory ended a streak of three straight games in which Michigan beat the Irish with a score in the final 27 seconds.
“As much as we would have liked to have executed better on offense, give Michigan a lot of credit,” Kelly said. “They did a very good job defensively, and we knew we were going to be in for this kind of close, tough, hard-nosed football game, and proud of the way our guys pulled it off.”
Robinson apologized to Michigan fans, saying it was the worst game of his career.
“It won’t happen no more. I’m going to be accountable for the rest of the season. I don’t want to feel like this no more. In the 22 years I’ve been living, this is the most disappointed I’ve ever been in myself,” he said.
Robinson finished 13-of-24 passing for 138 yards and also rushed for 90 yards on 26 carries.
“The key to stopping Robinson, the key to stopping such a dynamic player like Denard is everybody has to get to him,” Te’o said. “Denard will start running one way and then totally cut back the other way. Everybody has to get to the ball. You have to really emphasize 11 guys to the ball.”
The victory belonged to the Irish defenders, who held an opponent without a touchdown for a second straight week. Many fans at just the second night game in 22 years at Notre Dame Stadium wore leis to show support for Te’o, a Hawaiian whose girlfriend and grandmother recently died. He finished with eight tackles.
“I can’t thank the students and just the fan base around the world, Notre Dame and non-Notre Dame fans. They’ve been really great,” Te’o said.
Notre Dame ran out the clock after a 31-yard Brendan Gibbons field goal with 3:27 left in the game cut Notre Dame’s lead to 13-6. Rees, who came in for an ineffective Everett Golson midway through the second quarter, connected with Tyler Eifert on a 38-yard pass down the sideline on a critical third down. Then an 8-yard run by Theo Riddick on third-and-8 with a minute left salted the game away.
“It’s a great feeling any time you can beat Michigan,” Rees said. “It’s a great environment … a lot of fun.”
Twice, Notre Dame held Michigan without points from the Irish 10-yard line. Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he never considered pulling Robinson.
“The guy has done a pretty dog gone good job being a quarterback at Michigan and made some good throws in the first half. You know, just better decision making and move forward. What are you going to do, sit there and talk about each one of them? You’ve got to move forward,” Hoke said.
Te’o said it felt great to finally beat Michigan and Robinson.
“He’s gotten me the past two years and Michigan has gotten me three years total. I am just glad on my last hurrah I finally have something to celebrate about,” he said.