- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry is one of the biggest and oldest in college football.
Michigan played Notre Dame in the Irish's first football game in 1887, and, with some breaks in the middle, the teams have been rivals since.
"This is important," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "This has always been a game where you get, for both teams, I remember Coach [Bo] Schembechler talking about this, it's a game where you get a gauge of where you are at as a team.
"It's always been in the national spotlight and gives you expectations of how your guys are going to play."
Now, WolverineNation looks at the top five Michigan-Notre Dame games of the modern era leading up to Saturday's matchup at 8 p.m. at Michigan Stadium.
Date: Sept. 12, 2009
Result:: Michigan 38, No. 18 Notre Dame 34
What happened: It had been a tumultuous three weeks for Michigan and its coach, Rich Rodriguez. After a 3-9 season in 2008, the Detroit Free Press alleged the first major NCAA violations in program history a week before the 2009 Wolverines' season opener against Western Michigan -- an investigation into extra practice hours and illegal stretching that led to probation and loss of practice hours. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis was also under immense pressure, almost fired after the 2008 season.
Notre Dame took a 20-17 lead with touchdowns from quarterback Jimmy Clausen to receivers Michael Floyd and Golden Tate offsetting a first-quarter 94-yard kickoff return touchdown from Michigan receiver Darryl Stonum.
A 3-yard Tate Forcier touchdown pass to tight end Kevin Koger gave Michigan a 24-20 lead entering the fourth quarter.
That quarter is why this game is considered a Top 5 game in the history of the series.
On a fourth-and-3 from the Notre Dame 31-yard line during the first drive of the fourth quarter, Rodriguez went for it. Forcier looked to pass, had a lane and faked out Notre Dame defender Darius Fleming so badly he jumped and then fell down. Forcier outran safety Harrison Smith and scored to give Michigan a 31-20 lead.
"It kind of showed that Tate was off to a fast start," Michigan offensive lineman Steve Schilling said. "And could be a special player. It was a big touchdown for us."
Then Notre Dame came scored 14 consecutive points, including an Armando Allen 8-yard run with 5:13 to go -- followed by a two-point Allen conversion off a Statue of Liberty play to take a 34-31 lead. Notre Dame also lost its best player in the fourth quarter. Floyd injured his knee catching a ball out of bounds and freshman Shaq Evans replaced him.
This became critical when the Irish, holding onto the ball and the lead with under 3 minutes remaining, inexplicably threw to Evans on a third-and-10. It led to a punt and set up a final drive for the Wolverines.
If Floyd had been in -- he had seven catches for 131 yards and a touchdown -- the outcome might have changed.
"I think it did [change that game]," Floyd said. "The experience I had with Jimmy and what he thought, having all the repetitions with him, he knew where I was going to be. Having a different guy out there, inexperienced with Jimmy, it's a lot different there."
It set up Forcier's drive into history.
With 2:13 to go and on the Michigan 43-yard line, Forcier moved the Wolverines to a first-and-goal at the Notre Dame 5.
On first down, wide receiver LaTerryal Savoy -- who caught two passes in that drive already -- dropped an open pass after a slight tip in the end zone.
"I remember me having a great opportunity to finish the game off with a touchdown," Savoy said. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen that way, the ball was actually tipped. But as a receiver, I feel I'm supposed to catch everything. It took a lot out of me, not coming down with it.
"But we won the game."
On second down, Michigan called a similar play, sending receiver Greg Mathews to the same spot Savoy was the prior play. Forcier scrambled and found Mathews in the end zone for a touchdown with 11 seconds remaining. The Michigan offensive line forced the whole Irish rush to the left side to open up the passing lane.
"It was probably the only play that I remember," Smith said. "I remember the call, what coverage we were in, everything. We were in man, it was a blitz and they ran kind of a pivot route and Tate kind of rolled a little bit and found a guy over on the sideline.
"Just the feeling when it happened, it was ..."
For Notre Dame, agony. For Michigan, arguably the best feeling the Wolverines had under Rodriguez.
"The whole stadium erupted," Savoy said. "It was one of the loudest moments in my time being at Michigan."
Michigan's players and coaches rushed the field after the win. Forcier and Rodriguez embraced after the 34-31 victory -- and it looked like things might actually turn around under Rodriguez.
Significance to season: Michigan's win catapulted it to a No. 25 ranking and made Forcier, as a freshman, a Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the biggest stars in college football.
"Certainly Tate's career, the first few games of that year he was the star of college football and that was definitely his shining moment," Schilling said.
Forcier won his first four games as Michigan's starting quarterback. Eventually, though, he started to struggle. The Wolverines finished the year 5-7 and missed out on a bowl for the second year in a row.
Notre Dame recovered to start the season 4-1 before a similar collapse happened in South Bend. Unlike Rodriguez, who received a third season despite the collapse, the Irish collapse cost Weis his job.
Historical significance: For a little while, Michigan's players believed. The entire Michigan fan base believed.
While it ended up only being a blip on the three years of mediocrity produced by Rodriguez and his coaching staff, it was easily the best win of his tenure.
"I think so," Roundtree said. "Each game we were trying to win it all for him. But that was probably one of the biggest games."
For Notre Dame, the loss was yet another blip of mediocrity for Weis -- he was criticized heavily for his playcalling on the Notre Dame drive before the final Michigan drive -- and he was out at the end of the season. He is now the offensive coordinator at Florida.
They Said It: "Probably the greatest game of my life," Forcier said after the game in 2009. "But I'm young, so I'm sure there might be a better one.
"But it couldn't get any better than that."
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mikerothstein.