Michigan takes next step

As impressive as Michigan played in its 38-0 humiliation of Notre Dame, it didn't compare with their behavior after the game. They boasted very little, and sounded to a man as if they understood the victory, as stunning as it may have been, only counted as one step in their 12-step program to get to the Sugar Bowl.

"The key to a championship year," quarterback John Navarre said, "is keeping your focus and maintaining it each week."

Upon more persistent questioning, however, some of the Wolverines said their motivation this season stems in part from the national championship won by their archrival, Ohio State, a year ago.

"They are a great team and our biggest rival," said tailback Chris Perry, who has emerged not only as a Heisman Trophy contender but as a leader in the Michigan locker room. "When they go out and win a national championship, you try to go out and one-up each other. That's what rivals do. They're one up on us."

Defensive end Larry Stevens, who regularly jacks up his teammates' emotions, reacted immediately to the question about Ohio State with, "You kiddin' me? That does a lot. We feel like we let them win the ballgame (14-9 last year)." Stevens collected himself. "I don't want to talk about that," he continued. "It's obvious. You have to go through Michigan."

No one in maize and blue is demanding that the Wolverines be taken seriously by the outside voices. Michigan is too busy taking itself seriously.

"We can be great," safety Marlin Jackson said, emphasizing the second word in the sentence. "I can't say it yet. We do have the makings of a great team, if we keep working hard and listening to the coaches."

Jackson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge last Thursday involving a fight with another student. He served a one-game suspension earlier in the season, and coach Lloyd Carr can't go on long enough to explain the importance of the junior's move from corner to safety. Jackson and the other safety, Ernest Shazor, tied for the lead in the Irish game with six tackles.

"Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor give us something in the middle that really strengthens us," Carr said. "You don't have to substitute to be able to cover down with both wide receivers on the same side of the ball. I knew Marlin Jackson would be a great safety. He has good instincts. When Marlin sees something as he is running backwards, away from the ball, (suddenly) he's running downhill toward the ball. He's fearless that way. I really believed it would be a good move for us. I never doubted that."

Here Comes The Questions
Since starting last season 8-0, Notre Dame has gone 3-4, with three of the losses coming at the hands of ranked teams by a cumulative score of 110-19. The Irish got outplayed in everything Saturday, right down to the Wolverines' Steve Breaston returning four kicks for 105 yards. On his first three returns, Breaston caught the ball and ran straight up the middle of the field, as designed by special teams coordinator Jim Boccher.

"We wanted Steve to get north-south as soon as possible," Boccher said, "because the punter (Nick Setta) doesn't have a great hang time. We thought because of last week's issues of protection that they would be aware of that and be a little slow covering."
Breaston's 55-yard return to the Notre Dame 2 late in the first quarter set up the Wolverines' first touchdown.

It's safe to assume that the honeymoon for coach Tyrone Willingham has been replaced by the first marital spat between him and the Notre Dame fans.

"I don't think there's anything we can take positively from this game," Willingham said Saturday. "We were out-played, out-coached, out-everythinged. It was a team effort."

Willingham's gallows humor disappeared when he was asked a question that needed to be asked: do you feel humiliated? Willingham stared a hole through the journalist, then barked, "Next question."

That is the next question, coach. The Irish looked terrible.

Family Ties
The Tennessee defensive coaches visited Texas A&M for a couple of days last winter to learn the secrets of Dennis Franchione's defense, one that limited the Volunteers to 222 yards last season when Franchione's Alabama team beat Tennessee, 34-14. Such tutorials are a staple of the college game, a way for coaches to learn new wrinkles or different schemes. There is one universal rule: the host staff won't share its secrets with coaches of future opponents.

No one thought twice when Tennessee graduate assistant Shane Beamer took a chair at the table in College Station. No one except Franchione. The coaches from both staffs ended their small talk when the Aggie head coach entered the room. Fran spotted Beamer and said, "You'll have to leave."

The coaches laughed. Beamer's father Frank is the head coach at Virginia Tech, which plays Texas A&M on Thursday.

"I'm serious," Franchione said. "You'll have to leave."

The coaches stopped laughing. Beamer got up and walked out. "I got the keys to one of the rental cars, and drove to Houston and visited a couple of friends on the Texans' staff," Shane Beamer said.

Franchione didn't think twice about it. "I thought Shane being there was a little bit of a stretch. Blood is thick." Franchione added that when Tennessee arranged the visit, he didn't think about Shane being there, and that surely he would find out everything from his fellow Volunteer coaches, anyway.

"Shane is a class kid," Franchione said. "I was a little bit uncomfortable in showing things. I would expect that if my son went to Blacksburg, they would do the same thing."

When Shane called his father to tell him what happened, Frank laughed. "I probably would have done the same thing," Frank said.

Growing Pains
Trailing 20-10 against Oklahoma a week ago, Alabama coach Mike Shula elected to have Brian Bostick kick a 36-yard field goal with 1:32 to go, then try for the onside kick in order to get the remaining seven points. The Sooners recovered the kick and ran out the clock.

Trailing Boston College 24-14 on Saturday, Connecticut coach Randy Edsall chose to go for a fourth-and-four at the Eagles 9-yard line with 48 seconds to play. The Huskies failed to convert. The question is, why not kick the field goal?

"We needed 10 points," Edsall said Sunday. "If we didn't get a touchdown, recovering an onside kick and scoring a touchdown with no time outs would have been a lot harder than if we just needed a field goal to tie."

Freshman kicker Matt Nuzie, a star in the season-opening victory over Indiana, missed two 34-yard field goals earlier in the game. "On Friday, he tried eight or 10 field goals and made every one of them," Edsall said, "including a 56-yarder. But in the game he tried to aim it instead of just kicking it. The other thing is, he hasn't been able to execute the onside kick."

The Huskies, 2-1 after the loss, sold out their new 40,000-seat Rentschler Field, and the fans let the visiting Eagles know they were there. Both schools are hoping that, when UConn begins Big East play next year, the rivalry will become a fixture on Thanksgiving weekend. "The parking lot was filled with tailgaters," Edsall said. "The people here are starting to get it."

Spartans Sputtering
In the fourth game of the 1999 season, Louisiana Tech scored on a 28-yard touchdown with two seconds to play to win at Alabama, 29-28. On Saturday, Louisiana Tech scored two touchdowns in the final 69 seconds, the second on a 11-yard pass with, yep, two seconds to play, to win at Michigan State, 20-19.

Four years ago, the Crimson Tide rebounded from the shock of the loss to win the Southeastern Conference championship. Spartan coach John L. Smith will be elected governor of California before Michigan State wins the Big Ten this season.

"If we're making the kinds of mistakes that we've been making," Smith said, "then we've given our guys too much. Apparently we're not able to handle some things, and I put the blame on us as a staff."

The Spartans were a mess Saturday. They had a touchdown called back because of a six-men-on-the-line penalty. The Spartans recovered a fumble at the Bulldog 18 and, after two penalties and a missed field goal, got no points. They failed to recover Louisiana Tech's onside kick after the first late touchdown. And defensive end Greg Taplin negated a sack of Luke McCown on that final drive with a face-mask personal foul.

In other words, Michigan State is sloppier than a kindergarten art class. With an angry Notre Dame team awaiting them Saturday, followed by the Big Ten schedule, the season doesn't look promising. The battle to stay out of the conference cellar is Oct. 4, when Indiana visits East Lansing for the Spartans' homecoming.

Just FYI
That's an interesting tactic for Pittsburgh quarterback Rod Rutherford to take regarding Heisman votes. He's not talking to the media. Answer the questions about the misdemeanor assault charge on Sept. 5, and they will go away. ... I-AA Eastern Kentucky gained 614 yards and held the ball for 36:23 at Central Michigan, yet lost 42-41, thanks to three turnovers and 13 penalties. ... UCLA coach Karl Dorrell is an offensive coach, yet the Bruins defense is the unit making headlines. UCLA beat Illinois, 6-3, despite the continuing struggle of backup quarterback Drew Olson (11-of-31 for 94 yards, one interception, five sacks), who's standing in for injured Bruins starter Matt Moore. Illinois didn't cross the UCLA 40 until midway through the third quarter, and didn't do so again until the final drive, when John Gockman missed a 43-yard field goal with 27 seconds to play. Senior inside linebacker Brandon Chillar made a career-high 13 tackles and intercepted a pass, one of four Illini turnovers. ... If that score sounds familiar, UCLA beat Illinois, 6-3, in the 1991 John Hancock Bowl (nee Sun Bowl). ... Sean Considine blocked one Iowa State punt that Iowa recovered for a touchdown, and another that the Hawkeyes converted into a field in the 40-21 victory on Saturday. Last season, Iowa blocked two punts and a field goal, returning all three for touchdowns, and scored two points on a blocked PAT. ... Airborne spy? The pilot of Hawaii's charter to Los Angeles for the USC game was the brother of Trojan offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Given that the Trojans led 52-6 in the middle of the third quarter, then cruised to a 61-32 victory, it's safe to say that they didn't need any help.

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Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.