In a match up of two Top 20 teams, Michigan Football will play at Notre Dame on Saturday night. Kick off is scheduled for 7:39 (EST) and the game will be televised on NBC. The Irish are ranked 15/11 and Michigan checks in at 17/18.
The Irish enter the game as the overwhelming favorite. Can Denard Robinson continue his magic against Notre Dame?
Fighting Irish are back
After a convincing 20-3 win at Michigan State, the word on the street is, “Notre Dame is back”. The Irish renaissance has been spearheaded by their defense which is led by one of the nation’s top defenders, linebacker Manti Te’o. Notre Dame enters the game ranked 8th in the country in scoring defense and 18th in total defense. They also rank 11th in turnover margin.
The strength of Notre Dame’s defense is the front 7. The defensive backs were perhaps a weakness and they received a dose of bad news when they lost strong safety Jamoris Slaughter to a season ending achilles injury last week.
Offensively, Notre Dame is led by sophomore QB Everett Golson and senior running back Cierre Wood. Golson is a playmaker, but definitely not a polished passer. Wood looked good against the Spartans after serving a two game suspension to start the season. Notre Dame’s offensive line is anchored by two Outland Trophy candidates left tackle Zack Martin and center Braxston Cave.
With a win, Notre Dame would improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2002.
Most people don’t know what to make of Michigan yet. They’ve been largely dismissed and written off after a 41-14 loss to Alabama in their opener. It should be noted that the Tide has gone on to outscore Western Kentucky and Arkansas by a combined score of 87-0 since that game. Michigan edged past Air Force, who leads the nation in rushing offense, and just thrashed a bad UMass team. Now the grind begins for the Wolverines and it starts with this game at Notre Dame.
One of the biggest concerns for Michigan is that they have just 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery and no interceptions through 3 games. “That’s one thing we’ve started very slowly with,” Brady Hoke said after the UMass game. “Getting the ball back for our offense. That’s frustrating. We have to do a better job. We’re knocking some balls down here and there, but I think our coverage needs to be much tighter. I think when the opportunity is there, we need to make plays on the football. At the same time, we need to get 11 guys to the football to get the ball knocked out.”
Michigan’s offensive line has also been an area of concern and they will be tested by Notre Dame’s impressive defensive line. “There’s no question that it’s going to be a test,” Brady Hoke said on Monday. “They have been very productive as a football team and as a defensive team. You know, we’ll have to block at the line of scrimmage and need to do a great job of protection.”
The Wolverines have won 3 straight and 5 of the last 6 against the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame Stadium is trembling over the return of Denard Robinson. The last time he played there (2010) he had a game for the ages. He set a school record with 502 yards of total offense. He set a Notre Dame Stadium record with an 87 yard touchdown run and he scored the game-winning TD with 27 seconds left.
Robinson was equally impressive in Michigan Football’s victory over the Fighting Irish last season. He racked up 446 yards of total offense, good for 4th on Michigan’s all-time list, and threw the game winning TD pass with 2 seconds left on the clock.
Michigan’s receiving corps has been a position of strength through the first 3 games. “I think it’s probably one of the better positions on our team, from a depth standpoint,” Hoke explained on Monday. “Last week, watching them block on the perimeter, I thought that was exciting.” Michigan has 4 receivers with over 100 yards on the season; Devin Gardner (155), Jeremy Gallon (146), Devin Funchess (140) and Drew Dileo (111). Gardner has a touchdown reception in all 3 games this season and Funchess has scored in each of the last two games. They should match up well against Notre Dame’s secondary.
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Denard Robinson has paced Michigan’s rushing attack with 351 yards and 4 TDs, he is averaging 8.8 yards per carry. Michigan has not received a lot of production from the running backs. Fitz Toussaint has carried the ball 23 times for 92 yards, Vincent Smith has 53 yards and Thomas Rawls 51 yards. It would greatly enhance Michigan’s chances of a victory if one the backs could have a strong game.
Michigan’s defense has faced a unique variety of teams this year. They started off against an NFL Caliber offensive line in the Alabama game. Then they did a 180, going against Air Force’s wishbone attack and finally played against a bad UMass team. The Wolverines rank 57th in total defense and I think they are better than most are giving them credit for. The defensive line is a work in progress, but the Wolverines do have an array of young, talented playmakers. That group is headlined by sophomores Jake Ryan and Frank Clark. Clark missed the season opener, but leads the team with 3 TFLs and 3 pass break ups. Ryan is third on the team with 20 tackles and has notched 2 TFLs and 2 PBUs. True freshmen linebackers James Ross III and Joe Bolden have been impressive. “They’re both very instinctive football players,” Hoke said. “At that position, being instinctive is a big plus.” Along the defensive line another pair of true freshmen have been making their mark. Mario Ojemudia tallied 4 tackles last week and looks like a future star. Ondre Pipkins is improving each week and can be a disruptive force with his size, (6-3, 340) and athleticism.
A Michigan victory would cause people to rethink what they thought they knew about the Wolverines.
Prediction: So far this season I am 3-0 predicting the outcome of Michigan’s games. Despite all the fuss about Notre Dame being back, I think this game is a toss up. For any new readers, who might not be familiar with my analysis, I always look at things in a light most favorable to Michigan. My brain tells me to pick Notre Dame, my gut is conflicted and my heart tells me to pick Michigan. In my 2012 season preview, I picked Michigan to win this game. I’ll admit my confidence in that pick has been rattled. However, I once vowed that when in doubt, like I am this week, I would default to my pre-season pick. Denard Robinson will be the difference, he has played in a lot of tough, close games for U-M and he won’t be rattled in a hostile environment. I think Michigan has something to prove and they are better than people think. Wolverines win 31-24. If you disagree, leave a comment below and give us your prediction.
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