Great Moments In Harbaugh: 1985 Notre Dame

Submitted by Ace on May 27th, 2015 at 3:28 PM

Previously: 1984 Miami

The Highlights: WolverineHistorian

The Setup: We left off with Michigan's opening game from the 1984 season, so there's clearly some catching up to do. After knocking off #1 Miami, the Wolverines fell back to earth the next week with a 20-11 defeat at the hands of #16 Washington, and a few weeks later they'd suffer their worst loss when Jim Harbaugh broke his arm diving for a fumble against Michigan State. Michigan went on to lose that game, and with Harbaugh out for the season the Wolverines stumbled to a 6-6 record, their worst under Bo Schembechler.

In Natural Enemies, John Kryk laid out the stakes for the 1985 season opener against Notre Dame:

Never was a Notre Dame-Michigan game more pivotal for both teams than the one played at Michigan Stadium on September 14, 1985.

Michigan was coming off its worst season in 17 years, 6-6, and its fourth straight with fewer than 10 wins. Some critics were suggesting the game had passed coach Bo Schembechler by.

Notre Dame was coming off another mediocre campaign, 7-5, and coach Gerry Faust was entering the final year of a five-year contract. It was believed Faust had to take the Fighting Irish to a major bowl game to have any chance of staying.

Thus, for both teams, for both coaches, this game was the crossroads. The winner would spring toward the path of rejuvenation; the loser would turn back and battle the same old demons for yet another season.

The mood was so tense in the week leading up to the game that after Harbaugh threw a couple picks in a scrimmage against the first-team defense, Schembechler threatened to bench him for Chris Zurbrugg, who'd filled in for Harbaugh the previous season with middling results.

Despite both teams' mediocre results the year before, this matchup wasn't short on talent. Michigan had Harbaugh, Jamie Morris, and a pair of All-Americans in defensive lineman Mike Hammerstein and cornerback Brad Cochran. Notre Dame featured longtime NFL QB Steve Beuerlein (though coming off major shoulder surgery), a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back in Allen Pinkett, and future Heisman winner Tim Brown at receiver.


The Game: Bo didn't bench Harbaugh, of course. The motivational ploy didn't produce instant results, however, as Notre Dame controlled the action in the first half. While Michigan's defense couldn't prevent the Irish from moving the ball in the early going, they stiffened up in the red zone, twice forcing John Carney field goals after ND had advanced into the red zone. Carney hit all three of his field goal attempts in the first half, adding a 47-yarder just prior to halftime.

Michigan, meanwhile, couldn't get anything going. Harbaugh completed just two of his ten first-half passes, and the Wolverines crossed midfield only twice, resulting in two Mike Gillette field goal attempts. Gillette split the pair, and Michigan went into the locker room down 9-3.

The game swung with the opening kickoff of the second half. Notre Dame returner Alonzo Jefferson fumbled Rick Sutkiewicz's short kick off his knee, and Michigan's Dieter Heren pounced on the ball at the Irish 14-yard line. In Irish Eyes, Notre Dame's review of the 1985 season (PDF link), Schembechler is quoted as saying, "it was the only time the Lord looked down on somebody other than Notre Dame."

Facing a third-and-six on the ensuing drive, Michigan dialed up a gorgeous quarterback draw. Harbaugh capped off the ten-yard run with a headfirst dive into the end zone and an exuberant celebration:

Notre Dame's next drive stalled quickly, but they got new life when Erik "Soup" Campbell muffed a punt that Cochran had nearly blocked, setting the Irish up inside Michigan's 30-yard line. Again, the defense came up huge in the shadow of their own goal posts, stuffing Pinkett on three straight carries to force a fourth Carney field goal.

Harbaugh finally got the passing game going on the next drive, spearheading an 80-yard touchdown drive with first-down throws to Paul Jokisch, Jamie Morris, and Gilvanni Johnson; he picked up another with the wild reverse-field scramble at the top of this post. The running game clicked, Notre Dame picked up a roughing the passer call to extend the drive, and Gerald White finally scored from three yards out after Michigan had run 7:02 off the game clock.

Another long possession, this one 7:18, ended in a Gillette field goal after an Irish goal-line stand. Michigan led 20-12 and left Notre Dame with few opportunities to even the score. A last-gasp drive from the Irish got all the way to the 11-yard line. Yet again, the defense came up huge. Mike Hammerstein, a dominant force all game, and Mark Messner combined to sack Beuerlein. That set up a fourth-and-16, and the two D-line stalwarts blew it up—Hammerstein exploded off the ball, forcing a hold, while Messner tore off the left side to induce a back-footed throw easily intercepted by Doug Mallory:

Michigan ran out the clock to preserve the critical win and break into the top 25 after being left off the preseason polls.

As many anticipated, this game set the tone for both programs in 1985. The Wolverines would finish 10-1-1, losing only to then-#1 Iowa despite not giving up a touchdown, with a season-ending victory over Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl. The Irish stumbled to a 5-6 record, capped by a 58-7 blowout against Miami in the season finale. Gerry Faust, who'd jumped straight from Cincinnati Moeller High School to Notre Dame in 1981, would be replaced by Minnesota coach Lou Holtz in the offseason.

The Harbaugh: Harbaugh's passing numbers were a little rough—7/17, 74 yards—and he did almost all of his damage through the air on the long touchdown drive. Instead, he did his best work as a runner, rushing nine times for 60 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.

The Most '80s Screencap Segment of the Game: Eventually these won't be the intro graphics, but this is too good to overlook:

The X's and O's playing out an insane QB sweep with motioning TE misdirection is just perfect.



May 27th, 2015 at 3:37 PM ^

My first game as a student, so I suppose it's an appropriate place for my first post despite lurking for years. Hot day. I remember Beurlein seeming huge. Messner was always a favorite. He was so infectious with his enthusiasm. Great memories. 


May 27th, 2015 at 4:11 PM ^

I would have loved to have heard Notre Dame's reasons for hiring Gerry Faust.  But I was barely a year old at the time. 

Dominant high school coach (who had coached nothing but high school) should make an easy transition to a major college program, right? 

Mi Sooner

May 27th, 2015 at 7:15 PM ^

Faust ran Cinci Moeller (a catholic) HS football and flat out dominated HS football on Ohio.  He had a lot of experience recruiting also.  yes, I typed recruiting.  back in the day, HS recruiting bans were not enforced that much.  Faust recruited the crap out of the Tri-state area, and most of those kids went on to play D1 football and star in many cases.  The thought was that recruiting to ND would be even easier for him than recruiting for a HS team.

BAck in the day, it wasnt unheard of that a HS coach would move up to a college post.  Today, that would never happen at the D1 level.


May 27th, 2015 at 4:20 PM ^

Faust was so golly gee too. I think that was the first time we'd played them in awhile, but we might've the year before. It was very exciting. It became so much more fun when Holtz was around. Great write up Ace, but wasn't Messner a defensive lineman?


May 27th, 2015 at 5:06 PM ^

The series took one of those two-year breaks in '83-84, so it was the first time they played in 3 years. I remember that night the campus was as lively as I'd ever seen it. In that era, Michigan fans were used to winning and never seemed to get too excited about big wins. But after that 6-6 season in '84 and because it was ND, people really let loose that night. It was the start of a fun season.


May 28th, 2015 at 9:50 AM ^

Undersized...and one of the best we've ever had. Looked for all the world like a part of the other teams' backfields, he spent so much time back there.

And plain mean.

A buddy of mine was the regular long snapper and a back-up OL back then. I remember seeing him once immediately after they had picked teams for the spring game. "YES!" he exulted, thrusting two fists into the air. "Messner is on MY team!!!

Those were the days...


May 27th, 2015 at 4:56 PM ^

Not sure what Moeller did, but the defense was crazy good that year.  Of course, Messner and Hammerstein were big time players that year.  When you have 2 guys on the D-line that are unblockable most of the time, that always makes for a good defense.  Doug Mallory was also very good that year.


May 27th, 2015 at 5:22 PM ^

... but it seems like every time we played Notre Dame it was "a crossroads".  I remember the past couple UTL games were each pegged as crossroads for the 2 programs.

Just the nature of a big non-conf opponent early in the year I suppose.


May 27th, 2015 at 6:11 PM ^

Harbaugh breaks arm
Chris Zurbrugg/Russ Rein (aka ThreetSheridan 1.0) help the team limp to 6-6 season capped by a Holiday Bowl loss to pseudo national champs BYU

One of our best defenses ever goes 11-1-1 with soul crushing time expiring FG kick loss @ Iowa (#1 vs #2?) and weird tie to Illinois. The Harbaugh to Kolesar throw against OSU and Fiesta Bowl win over Nebraska remain some strongly positive memories.

Hopefully we can get a similar contrast between 2014 and 2015...


May 27th, 2015 at 7:59 PM ^

My theory: 6-6 in 1984 probably wouldn't have happened if Bo had decided to redshirt true freshman and No. 1 ranked QB recruit in the nation, Steve Smith, back during 1980 season, (Big Ten title, Rose Bowl win, 10-2).

In 1980 the starting QB was John Wangler (5), and 2nd string was Sophomore Rich Hewlett (2).  Steve Smith's redshirt-burning downs back in 1980 should have been given to experienced and capable Rich Hewlett.

Redshirting Steve Smith in 1980 would have allowed him to be RS Sr. going into 1984 season with Harbaugh at 2nd string and Zurbrugg as No. 3. Russ Rein would have been No. 4 on depth chart. 

Even if Michigan faltered to 7-4 or 6-5 (unlikely), then a healthy RS Sr. QB Steve Smith would have probably destroyed BYU's bogus MNC in the Holiday bowl that year.  BYU was fortunate to beat Air Force's option offense earlier.


May 28th, 2015 at 12:21 PM ^

At the time, I remember the press regarding Steve Smith as Michigan's "extra tailback". Statistically he was on par with Rick Leach as a runner.  Smith had a better YPC rushing 5.28 vs. Leach's 4.47, but Leach had a ton more attempts from Option I/wishbone set for Bo '75 through '78.  I think Michigan was more multiple from 1980 onward.

Under Smith, I suppose more downs were used to give the ball to 1k rushers like Butch Woolfolk, Lawrence Ricks and Rick Rogers. Or to throw it to WR Anthony Carter.

Lots of trade-offs for Jerry Hanlon, but no real bad decisions.

I still can't get over Steve Smith's 5.28 YPC. His passing improved as a junior and senior, and he was fast enough to be lethal on QB draws.



May 27th, 2015 at 7:34 PM ^

Gerry Faust was a long time high school head coach (Moeller H.S., Cincy, Ohio) for 19 years, with 5! Ohio AAA state championships over his last 6 years.

I believe he is one of the few coaches ever hired from H.S. level straight to NCAA Div 1 HC level. The fact that this occurred at a place like Notre Dame, coming off some decent consecutive football seasons in 1977 (MNC), 1978 (Cotton Bowl win) and 1980 (Sugar Bowl loss vs. No. 1 Georgia) seems inconceivable today.

The first two games of Faust's tenure at Notre Dame were perfect. For manic depressives.

In 1981 preseason Notre Dame was ranked No.4 in the nation (understandable after 9-2-1 and 7 pt Sugar Bowl loss with lots of talent returning). 

First, on September 12 the Irish shellacked LSU 27-9 in South Bend.

Next, on September 19 ND was ranked No. 1 in the nation. Their opponent, Michigan, was No.1 the week before, but lost to Wisconsin in Madison 14-21.  Michigan then annihilated the Fighting Irish 25-7 on national TV in Ann Arbor. 

I believe this still stands as one of Michigan football's few victories over No. 1 ranked college football teams. 

Michigan has almost exclusively been on the receiving end of that goddamned stat ('76 vs. Purdue, '77 vs. Minnesota, '81 vs. Wisconsin, '90 vs MSU, etc.)


The FannMan

May 27th, 2015 at 8:07 PM ^

The last play was almost 30 years ago, but I still expect the hold not to be called, the ball to take a crazy deflection in an Irish player's arms, and for Messner to be called for roughing the passer.

I know, I have issues.


May 27th, 2015 at 8:34 PM ^

Please, say Gerry Faust again. Slowly. Oh yeah. That's it. 

The best part: So they could hire Faust, ND fired a guy who had won a national championship three years before, had a .764 winning percentage and went 9-2-1 and took them to a Sugar Bowl the year he was fired. 


May 28th, 2015 at 10:17 AM ^

Great Memory
Had been working in London, UK for 4 years and just came back to the U.S. for the first time in 5 years. Took my dad and favorite uncle to the game(both have passed away in the last 5 years). We had an awesome time together.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad


May 28th, 2015 at 11:24 AM ^

Eric Kattus was such a great TE.  He was a great blocker, could catch the ball, and was just a hell of a nice guy.  He was elected captain his senior year and it totally caught him off guard.  I really liked that guy.