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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame linebacker Joe Schmidt could hardly believe what happened.
The Fighting Irish had not only just finished their most lopsided victory ever in the 42-game series with rival Michigan a 31-0 victory, but did so with an exclamation point when Elijah Shumate returned an interception 61 yards for a touchdown as time ran out.
The fact that the touchdown was called back because safety Max Redfield was called for a penalty for leveling quarterback Devin Gardner during the return didn't matter much to the 11th-ranked Irish.
"Shoot, this is a great feeling," Schmidt said. "We're just happy right now. We're on a high note."
It was a feeling shared by Irish fans everywhere who were left seething a year ago when Michigan played the "Chicken Dance" over its speaker system after a victory by the Wolverines, alluding to the fact that Wolverines coach Brady Hoke accused the Irish of "chickening out" of the series.
The dominating victory allowed Notre Dame to keep the title of college football's winningest program with a winning percentage of 73.34 to Michigan's 73.21. Coupled with Texas' loss to BYU, it allowed the Irish to move back into a tie with the Longhorns for second in the FBS for most total wins with 876. Michigan has the most at 911.
The biggest thing for the Irish, though, was finishing the rivalry with a dominating victory and ending Michigan's NCAA record streak of games without being shut out at 365 games.
"Beating them the way that we did is exactly what we wanted," Redfield said. "We couldn't be happier."
Considering how lopsided the score was, it was surprising to see that the Irish managed just 54 yards rushing and that the Wolverines finished with 9 yards more of total offense in a game where they otherwise were thoroughly whupped.
The difference was big plays. Notre Dame made them when it needed to and Michigan repeatedly didn't.
Michigan's opening drive foretold what was coming. The Wolverines got going quickly as Gardner completed his first six passes, five on the opening drive when the Wolverines drove to the Notre Dame 30.
On second-and-3, Gardner threw a screen pass and Irish defensive back Matthias Farley hit Dennis Norfleet instantly for a 2-yard loss. After a Michigan timeout, Gardner dropped back but couldn't find a receiver so he scrambled and appeared to have an opening. But Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith raced up and tackled Gardner at the 29. Then Matt Wile missed a 46-yard field goal wide right.
It turned out to be Michigan's best scoring opportunity in a night where the Wolverines were able to get yards but their drives repeatedly stalled against a young an unproven Irish defense.
"We were able to finish off drives where Michigan was not able to finish off drives," Kelly said. "When you cross the opponent's 40 yard line, you have to score points. Michigan did not do that. "
Notre Dame's had some shutouts against power five conference teams in recent years, including 38-0 against Wake Forest two years ago, 22-0 vs. No. 21 Maryland in Tyrone Willingham's first game in 2002 and 44-0 against Pittsburgh in 1993. But the last time the Irish shut out a team for a school known as a football power was 7-0 when the sixth-ranked Irish beat No. 5 Alabama coached by Bear Bryant in 1980.
Redfield said the defense had fun shutting out the Wolverines.
"We had just as much fun on the first play as the last play. Obviously beating them the way we did is exactly what we wanted and exactly what we prepared for. We couldn't be more happy."
Redfield said he didn't think his hit on Gardner was dirty, saying he is coached on an interception to find the quarterback.
"So I hit Gardner the way I was taught," he said. "If I knew I was going to get a penalty for it, I wouldn't have done it."
Kelly also said he had no problem with the hit.
"Max did not size up somebody or target a player. We felt like in that situation he was doing his job," he said.