Michigan vs. Notre Dame to some isn’t a big a match-up as it used to be. Yet, to me and my family it is a huge rivalry and a reason for us to get together. The history of both teams only adds to the madness.
Like Michigan, Notre Dame owns its’ share of historical merits. And among any other program, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team mirrors Michigan’s achievements as a program more than any other in all of college football.
Notre Dame has been guided over the years by legendary coaches such as Ara Parseghian, Knute Rockne, and Lou Holtz. Michigan of course is known for Fielding Yost, Fitz Crisler, Beenie Osterbaan and Bo Schembechler.
Both teams have played football competitively since the mid-1800’s. They’ve combined for 22 national championships (11-a-piece). Both schools are in the top five of most winningest college football programs (Michigan being number one and Notre Dame being number four).
And unfortunately, both schools are fighting to restore the luster of their championship pedigree due to the down times each institution has faced over recent years.
So it is fitting that these rivals play for more than a win in the record book or bragging rights for a year. They play this game on Saturday for the pride, tradition and heritage of their universities. And that right there makes it more than just a game.
NOTRE DAME BY THE NUMBER
Notre Dame and Coach Brian Kelly come into the big house as slight favorites according to the Vegas odds makers. Despite the Irish loss to Southern Florida, the Irish are actually as good and talented as the hype that has surrounded them this summer.
Even though starting quarterback from week 1 Dayne Crist was just demoted to back-up by Coach Brian Kelly in favor of Tommy Rees, the Irish still bring a potent offensive attack into Ann Arbor Saturday night. Running back Cierre Wood and senior wideout Michael Floyd will keep the Michigan defense focused.
Expect Notre Dame to utilize an up-tempo pass friendly spread attack with bursts of a running game mixed-in. But I expect them to rely heavily on Floyd, Theo Riddick and tight end Tyler Eifert to keep Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense off the field.
Tommy Rees will need to be accurate and calm under pressure to keep Notre Dame in the game. The Irish ranked 34th in passing offense as opposed to ranking 92nd in rushing and ranking 61st in total offense in 2010.
Defensively the Irish will be led by junior linebacker Manti Te’O, fellow linebacker Darius Fleming and senior defensive end Ethan Johnson. In 2010 Notre Dame ranked 50th overall in total defense. They also ranked 54th and 50th respectively against the run and in pass. Yet, they were great ranking 23rd in the nation in scoring defense.
Last week, Notre Dame held South Florida to only 254 total yards of offense although the Irish surrendered more in time of possession.
Armed with a high powered passing attack and a linebacking core that is prime and ready for all that Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense will throw their way, I expect these Fighting Irish will live up to their hype and come out firing on all cylinders.
Michigan’s defense must improve upon their performance they put up against Western Michigan and they’ll need to do a few more things well to earn the victory Saturday night…two TD returns aside.
First off, the Wolverines must continue to pressure and keep pressure on QB Tommy Reese (or which ever Irish QB happens to be under center during the game). To accomplish this, Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin will have need to bring more pressure up front and do a better job of disrupting the Notre Dame offense without bringing the additional safeties like Kovacs on the blitz. Notre Dame will now be expecting the attack that Michigan deployed with great success against the Broncos and Jordan Kovacs will be a marked man. The rest of the Michigan secondary must excel against the tall lanky receivers like Riddick and Floyd as well.
Going into week two, the Michigan offense under Al Borges is still a bit of a mystery in part due to the defensive performance scoring two touchdowns and the loss of the 4th quarter to the weather. Denard Robinson was effective in a reduced roll and was able to connect on most of his passes.
Offensively Michigan should be able wear down the Notre Dame defensive line with our stable of diverse running backs led by Fitz Toussaint. This will allow Al Borges to utilize the play action to create big passing play opportunities for the Michigan receivers and tight ends. If those receivers are not open Robinson can use pump fakes and pure talent to draw defenders and create running lanes to gain positive yards.
Still keeping the spread in the offense also creates a number of possibilities and will keep the defense guessing all night long. This game will be a close, physical game.
The night time atmosphere and throwback jerseys will add to the aura of the game. In the end though I expect the Maize and Blue will prevail but I see it coming down to the last five minutes of the game before the outcome is ultimately decided in favor of the good guys.
We will see Saturday… Under the lights!!
Michigan 31 Notre Dame 28