Continuing with what may be the toughest schedule in college football this season, the #11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish will host the #18 Michigan Wolverines Saturday night in South Bend.
Michigan has dominated the rivalry recently, winning 3 straight and 5 of the last 6, but they haven’t faced a Notre Dame team this strong – especially defensively – during that span.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame is 3-0 and fresh off a 20-3 beatdown of Wolverines rival Michigan State in East Lansing last week. In that game, Notre Dame’s offense wasn’t spectacular, gaining 300 yards, but they didn’t need to be thanks to a stout defense that held the Spartans to just 237 yards.
Manti Te’o anchored the defense with 12 tackles and helped the Irish continue their torrid defensive start. Through 3 games, the Irish have allowed just 30 points.
Of some concern is the loss of starting safety Jamoris Slaughter to an Achilles tear versus Michigan State, but Notre Dame is hoping that sophomore Matthias Farley, who is expected to make his first ever start, can fill the void in the secondary.
The offense has been effective if not transcendent, and last week saw the return of senior running back Cierre Wood from suspension, which means another talented runner that the Wolverines must stop. As Alabama proved with their mutli-headed beast of a running back squad, fresh legs can punish Michigan’s shallow defensive front.
Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III present three impressive threats, and quarterback Everett Golson, while not being a world-class runner, can also make plays with his feet.
Michigan is coming off a 63-13 rout of UMass, with only 6 of those 13 points (two field goals) being allowed by a defense that was decimated by Alabama’s power running and precision passing and Air Force’s triple option in the first two weeks.
As always, Michigan’s fortunes rest on the shoulders (and legs) of Denard Robinson.
By now I don’t need to fill you in on a full Robinson scouting report, but it is important to note that as a senior, and after working an entire offseason on his mechanics in the pocket and throwing motion, Robinson’s completion percentage is actually down a fraction of a percent (54.7% from 55.0% in 2011). That number is boosted by his 16-24 performance against the Minutemen, after going just 11-26 against Alabama and 14-25 against Air Force.
Robinson’s legs have looked just fine the last two weeks, however. He gashed Air Force for 218 yards on 20 carries and UMass for 106 yards on 10 carries before taking an early rest. Robinson has almost been a one-man wrecking crew for the Michigan offense, as he has been responsible for 1,050 of their 1,275 total yards so far this year.
Of course, Denard has ripped out the hearts of Notre Dame the last two years. There was this, in 2010:
As if that weren’t bad enough, last year in Ann Arbor there was this:
What Michigan Must Do To Win
The Wolverines will be happy if Robinson can be the hero in his final game against the Fighting Irish, but I think that they will have more success if they are able to run the ball successfully with Fitzgerald Toussaint. Toussaint showed signs of returning to form against UMass (15 carries, 85 yards and a touchdown) after struggling against Air Force and sitting out against Alabama while suspended.
One issue Robinson’s electrifying play can create is a deficit in time of possession, as many drives end with either quick scores or quick turnovers. If Michigan can grind out rushing yards with Toussaint, they will preserve Denard’s health and keep their defense, which has struggled to defend strong rushing attacks itself, fresh by spending long stretches on the sideline.
Notre Dame’s running game is fierce, but Michigan will also need a big contribution from Courtney Avery who has replaced Blake Countess (torn ACL vs. Alabama) at cornerback to keep Golson and the Irish passing game in check. If Michigan decides to stack the box against the run that will create isolation, and if Avery gets picked on like he did against Alabama, the Wolverines could see themselves behind quickly again.
What Notre Dame Must Do To Win
The Irish enter this game a decided favorite. As I mentioned, they have built their success this season on a stingy defense and a versatile running game, and it just so happens those two strengths are a perfect match to capitalize on Michigan’s weaknesses.
It will be important for Notre Dame to open up a lead early, as they did last year, but this time they need to keep it. The way they can do that is by using the pass right off the bat and making Michigan defend the whole field. Once they open those gaps in the air, the ground game will be wide open, and with Michigan’s youth and lack of depth up front, Notre Dame could see huge gains and sustained drives on offense behind Wood, Atkinson III, and Riddick.
The key for the defense, as it is for every defense facing Michigan, will be to contain Denard Robinson. I think Notre Dame should do everything they can to go after Robinson with blitzes and force him to make off-balance, back-foot throws, which is he is prone to do. When faced with pressure and the need to make a read quickly, Robinson is likely to lock onto a receiver and throw into coverage.
The Irish can’t afford to let him escape their grasp, however, as he can turn a sack into a long touchdown scamper in the blink of an eye.
Michigan-Notre Dame Prediction
I think this is the year for Notre Dame to topple the Wolverines and Denard Robinson, and I think they do it with relative ease.
Michigan has shown little ability to get off the field on defense, and Robinson’s accuracy and turnovers have been a problem when facing decent competition.
Notre Dame will capitalize and pound the rock up and down the field en route to an easy victory and a boost into the top 10 of the rankings.
Final Score: Notre Dame 31 | Michigan 20
Who do you think will win? Sound off in the poll below!
Michigan-Notre Dame Game Info
- Michigan – Notre Dame Date: September 22, 2012
- Michigan – Notre Dame Kickoff Time: 7:30 PM ET
- Michigan – Notre Dame TV Info: NBC
- Michigan – Notre Dame Point Spread: Notre Dame -5
- Michigan – Notre Dame Over/Under: 49.5