This game needs no further buildup. Cutting to the chase...
Dan: Notre Dame
This is the game that everyone has had circled on their calendars since Kelly was hired. What will we see on Saturday? Rodriguez is in his 3rd year of implementing his system at Michigan, while Kelly is in his 2nd game. However, Kelly’s cupboard was already full of talented assets he could fit to his system, while Rodriguez had to start from scratch. I’ll admit I’m much more nervous about this game than I was two weeks ago after Denard Robinson’s performance against Connecticut.
Let’s start though with Notre Dame’s Offense. At times, we moved the ball with precision and force. Our run game looked good, and our short passing game seemed efficient, particularly in the first half. If Michael Floyd does not fumble that ball and we don’t have the communication gaffe that resulted in the safety, we would have blown that game open. Don’t expect Floyd to make the same mistake this week. Additionally, part of me wonders if we were keeping Floyd on the perimeter last week to save him for this game. I also think Theo Riddick will be more involved, and that, in general, we will look to pass it more against the incredibly depleted UM secondary. That said, two things have to improve to win this game: Crist’s mental quickness and the play-calling in the red zone. Crist sometimes seemed slow in reacting last week. He also was a little nervous and used his check-down options prematurely. I’d like to see him play “quicker”. We also need to be a little more aggressive in our red-zone play-calling. Until Crist gets the feel of game speed QB draws / off-tackles, those plays are not going to work in the red-zone.
On defense, the ND cornerbacks impressed me last week, with the exception of Walls one-on-one on the deep ball. I am not too concerned about Robinson airing it out, so I think our cornerbacks match up well. I have been pretty hard on the linebackers all week, but as I think back, they were in position, they just were over aggressive in the tacking (particularly Manti). I think they are quick enough to contain Denard Robinson and limit him to small gains if they can wrap up. They need to be careful not to over-pursue and open up large cut-back lanes or he will burn us badly. Additionally, ND defensive line needs to continue to improve upon the good performance last week. The defensive ends also need to be careful of trying to get upfield too far and opening running lanes for Denard. That said, I am starting to come around and feel a little more confident in this game.
The bottom line is that ND is better at almost every position save maybe QB, and I’m not convinced of even that. If the Irish can shut down Robinson, it really neutralizes the entire Michigan game plan at this point. On Monday, I was thinking UM looked like a really good bet at +4, but I’m starting to come around and talk myself into a ND victory that stays close but is controlled most of the game.
Notre Dame 34 Michigan 27
Jeremy: Notre Dame
I’m starting to write this entry and I still have no idea who I’m going to pick to win this game. At this point, I know only two things: 1) I’m excited as hell to get to South Bend, and 2) I’m terrified of Denard Robinson.
Michigan’s offense was dangerous before last weekend, and after Shoelaces looked like a right-handed Pat White in torching the UCONN defense, it must be considered downright deadly. Everyone got a little taste of his athleticism last year, but his performance at the end of the Iowa game showed he still had a ways to go with his passing game. Rumors from Michigan’s spring game and fall practice suggested that Denard had come a long way in improving that aspect of his game. I’m not sure that I’m ready to call him a great (or even good) passer after watching last week’s highlights, but he’s definitely improved. If the Irish can force Michigan into a bunch of 3rd and long situations, I don’t think Robinson can beat ND with his arm.
Of course, the chances that the Irish will be able to consistently put Michigan in those situations will depend entirely upon the front seven’s ability to slow the explosive Wolverine rushing attack. As improved as the Irish defense looked last week (particularly in tackling), I still don’t have the confidence that ND will be able to bottle up the run game. Stopping the run hasn’t been ND’s specialty since God knows when. I’ve become so used to the idea that ND will get gashed on the ground that holding Michigan to under 200 yards rushing would be nothing short of a miracle. Michigan’s offensive line is experienced, and only has to provide Robinson and his waterbug RBs a small bit of daylight. Brian Kelly substituted liberally on the defensive line last week, and I fear that Michigan will be able to take advantage of the rotation and make hay while Nwankwo, Cwynar and Hafis Williams are in the game. The LBs are going to be called upon to make the difference in the run game, so here’s hoping that Manti, Carlo and the boys bring their A game.
On offense, Kelly and Molnar played things quite close to the vest against Purdue, taking advantage of a successful running attack and keeping everything rather conservative through the air. Look for Crist to try to take advantage of the super-thin Michigan secondary early by going over the top to Floyd. The “strength” of Michigan’s defense is in the front seven, with guys like Craig Roh and Mike Martin getting most of the publicity. I am confident that the Irish will be able to obtain at least an adequate measure of success on the ground, acknowledging that Braxston Cave will have his hands full with Martin on the interior.
Well, I guess I’ve got to pick, right? I think we’re in for a barnburner and have no doubt that this will be a shootout. The Irish can win if they can find a way to keep Robinson in front of them and make sure their tackling continues to improve. They’ll also need to try to maintain possession of the ball and perhaps grind some yards out on the ground to keep the Michigan offense on the sidelines. A sputtering ground game won’t doom the Irish however, as the weakest unit on the field is clearly the Michigan secondary. ND should be able to hit on some big plays through the air, particularly with Floyd, and with Kyle Rudolph or Tyler Eifert down the seam. Perhaps most important, the Irish must capitalize on their scoring opportunities and not settle for FGs in the red zone. Sounds like I talked myself into it. I fully expect to change my mind 30 times before kickoff.
ND 34 Michigan 31
Jimmy: Notre Dame Ah, the cursed Wolverines. No other team boils my blood quite like Ann Arbor’s favorite rodents. There’s always a ton at stake with the Michigan game, even if neither team is ranked (which has only happened 4 times in the last 100 years…the last 4 years). Something tells me this year will be the last time that happens for a while. The nature of this series begs for a close contest. A shaky, at best, Michigan defense will find out how many playbook pages Brian Kelly saved last week. Michael Floyd was Superman last year, until he met his kryptonite with 6 minutes remaining, in turn crippling Weis’ tenuous grasp at victory. 60 minutes of Floyd getting open against a Calista Flockhart-thin secondary will make a huge difference in the outcome. Allen and Wood should build on their Purdue success, moving the chains at a steady clip, something Weis was never comfortable doing. I know it goes against everything Kelly’s offense espouses to be, but I’d love to see the offense grind it out and bleed the clock some, if only to keep the ball out of Mr. Robinson’s hands.
Robinson treated UConn like Halloween, carving them up every which way. I hope Te’o walked into Monday’s team meeting and declared “#16 is Mine.” Elite middle linebackers relish the opportunity to wreak havoc on an opponent’s best weapon. Manti has the chance to morph from prized recruit with promise to bonafide college star with a disruptive Saturday. Punishment will be doled out for certain if Robinson totes the ball another 20+ times. Weather may play a huge factor in each offense’s abilities. I trust a quick strike aerial spread offense more than a running spread if the field conditions are slick.
With total confidence, the Fightin’ Irish are the more complete team and will emerge victorious from this heated contest. Michigan is desperate to remove the cloud of doubt hanging over DickRod’s future, and I’m still not positive the team is 100% behind their coach. There is no doubt Brian Kelly commands the locker room and every one of his players will run through a wall for him tomorrow. If Purdue was an energetic/welcoming/celebratory atmosphere, this will be an electrically charged, every-fan-leaves-it-in-the-stadium, voice-be-damned-for-the-next-week, inspired effort.
Notre Dame 36 Michigan 29
Matt: Notre Dame It's obvious to whomever watched the ND and Michigan games last week what this game will come down to: stopping Shoelace Robinson. He completely tore up the UConn defense, to the tune of about 200 yards passing and rushing. And those Irish fans who don't get squeamish thinking about last year’s Michigan game, you remember Tate Forcier making plays on the outside and ultimately winning the game. Well, Robinson is just a little bit more athletic than Tate. The LB's have to stay disciplined, the corners will need another stellar tackling game, and first time starter Zeke Motta will have to keep everything in front of him and not get burned by the big play.
Add it all up, and that sounds like a lot to ask from an Irish defense that just one year ago was dreadful. Chalk this pick up to a hunch that ND is more prepared to play this year than they were last year. The offense moves the ball with ease against what on paper is a weak Michigan defense, and the Irish D forces some bad balls by Robinson en route to a tight 4th quarter come from behind win. ND 31 Michigan 27
Mike: Notre Dame
While there were some nervous moments late in the game, the inaugural game of the Brian Kelly era was, by and large, a success. In contrast to prior years, the Irish appeared to be fundamentally strong, particularly on defense and special teams. There are still areas of concern, of course, but the positives certainly outweighed the negatives. In addition, I am somewhat convinced that my sarcastic “Marve for Heisman” chants, which were clearly heard by Robert Marve and a good portion of his teammates, may have prompted the idiotic celebration penalty on Purdue’s only touchdown.
Anyway, there are bigger fish to fry this week for the Irish, as the hated Wolverines come to South Bend. At this moment, it’s worth noting that, despite believing themselves to be one of the all-time great programs, Michigan fans revere a coach who won zero national championships and went 2-8 in the Rose Bowl. That should serve as Exhibit A of the “Michigan complex;” i.e., a delusional belief of one’s status in the college football (and academic) universe. Also, for any ND fans who are unfamiliar with this rivalry, allow me to suggest the book “Natural Enemies,” by John Kryk (Editor’s Note: Agree wholeheartedly that this is a must read book. An official book review of this fine work is long overdue on these pages). After reading this book, you will certainly understand why Michigan is so worthy of contempt and scorn. On to the picks…
Notre Dame on Offense: Although ND moved the ball reasonably well against the Boilermakers, there is plenty of room for improvement. In particular, I expect to see the Irish, especially Theo Riddick, to have more success through the air this week against a terrible Michigan secondary. Likewise, the explosive tandem of Armando Allen and Cierre Wood should be able to duplicate their performance from last week, though hopefully sans fumbling. As noted in my picks last week, there was no reason to expect anything special from Connecticut’s offense, so I am not really worried that Michigan’s defense will be much better than expected prior to the start of the year.
Notre Dame on Defense: Despite having a clear edge on offense, Notre Dame fans are rightfully concerned with their defense this week against Michigan. Even though the Irish defense was rock solid last week, it is quite possible that their success was primarily attributable to Purdue’s ineptitude. Moreover, as many observers may recall, the Irish followed a shutout in last year’s opening game against Nevada with a complete meltdown against Tate Forcier and Michigan in Ann Arbor. Notre Dame won’t suffer the same type of defensive collapse this year, but Denard Robinson will make some plays with his legs against the Irish defense. The difference, however, is that Robinson’s shortcomings as a passer (yes, I’m aware that he went 19-22 last week, but those were almost exclusively short and intermediate passes) will allow Notre Dame to force him into a big mistake or two during obvious passing downs.
Special Teams: Obviously, Notre Dame’s kick coverage, led by Bennett Jackson, was exceptional last week. Still, one week is not enough to erase my recurring nightmares of Daryl Stonum going the distance last year. Similarly, I need more evidence to feel completely comfortable about David Ruffer at placekicker, though his kickoffs were encouraging.
Coaching/Intangibles: As with last week, both teams should be full of fight for this enormous rivalry game. For his part, Brian Kelly has downplayed the rivalry, but I am certain that the Irish will be ready to play, as will the Wolverines, who are still playing for their coach’s job. Michigan will match Notre Dame for a good portion of the game, leading to more anxious moments, but the Wolverines lack the firepower to keep up with the Irish. Look for the Irish to move to 2-0 as the heat remains on the embattled Rich Rodriguez.
Notre Dame 35 Michigan 24