No. 14 Notre Dame heads to the Big House in Ann Arbor to face No. 17 Michigan in the game of the week on Saturday.
In the past week, there has been a lot of talk about this rivalry, and yes it is a rivalry. Anytime you started playing a series in the 1800s I’d say it qualifies as a rivalry. Many pundits (Mark May, Skip Bayless) have simply made up information this week.
Here’s where this rivalry stands: Michigan holds the edge and is 23-16-1 all-time against the Irish. The Wolverines have won five of the last seven meetings and is 13-7 at home in this series.
As of now, this is the last time that Notre Dame is scheduled to play in Ann Arbor. This is a rivalry that shouldn’t be allowed to die. It was bad enough when IU and Kentucky’s basketball rivalry ended (because John Calipari is a coward). These are the games that fans look forward to every season.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said that he didn’t believe that this was a historic rivalry. Michigan coach Brady Hoke responded by saying that Kelly was downplaying the rivalry’s importance to distract from the fact he was chickening out of the series.
This will be another outstanding game in the series, and it will be truly disappointing if the series doesn’t continue.
Here is what fans should be on the lookout for:
- Tommy Rees. Was last game a fluke? Or is Rees really that good? Its very unlikely that he’ll be able to reproduce the game he had against Temple last week. Michigan is a much better opponent. If we’re being honest, Rees should have had a better game considering the opponent and his options downfield. But If Rees is just a game manager, is that really a bad thing? While the Irish will have success this season if he is, but against Michigan Rees really needs to have a game that is above average.
- Devin Gardner. Can the Irish stop him? Not so much the passing, but the rushing. Against Central Michigan, Gardner completed 10-of-15 passes but also threw two interceptions. He then rushed for 52 yards and a pair of touchdowns. If the Irish play their standard solid defense, then Michigan won’t be able to utilize the read option. But when plays break down, that’s when Gardner can really do some damage. Containing Gardner and forcing him to pass will be key on defense.
- The Lines. Notre Dame is very good in the trenches. The defensive line, while solid against Temple, should have had a much better game. They need to play like they are one of the best lines in the country, especially against a strong but inexperienced Wolverine offensive line. Pressuring Gardner will result in turnovers. Rees isn’t a bad passer, but if the offensive line can’t keep him clean, he will start throwing interceptions (plural). The play of both lines will dictate the outcome of this game.
- Stop the Run. Against Central Michigan, the Wolverines racked up 242 yards rushing and six (!) touchdowns. They were dominant at the point of attack and took advantage of a clear mismatch. Notre Dame has a much better front seven and will likely put the clamp down on Michigan’s ground game. If the Irish are unable to do so, the Wolverines will run free and put Gardner in short passing situations often.
- Special Teams. Last week, the Irish saw two kickers miss makeable field goals. Notre Dame must end drives in the end zone as they don’t want to rely on the leg of Nick Tausch. Irish fans had better hope that this game doesn’t come down to a long (or even middle) range field goal.
Notre Dame was inconsistent on offense against Temple and while the defense was solid, it wasn’t quite as dominant as you would like it to be. Michigan is extremely talented team and will give Notre Dame everything the Irish can handle.
Notre Dame falls at the Big House in a tight game 30-27.
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