Michigan vs. Notre Dame: Complete Game Preview
Saturday evening's matchup of No. 18 Michigan and No. 11 Notre Dame marks the 40th installment of the storied rivalry, which the Wolverines lead 23-15-1 all-time.
Revenge may play as a critical factor for the Fighting Irish, who lost to the Wolverines in heartbreaking fashion in Ann Arbor a season ago by a score of 35-31. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson led the Wolverines to a 28-point fourth-quarter comeback victory, after they trailed 24-7 entering the final period of action.
Robinson and Co. will make the trip to South Bend for the first time since 2010 and hope to stretch their winning streak against Notre Dame to four games.
For a preview of this highly anticipated contest, have a look through the slideshow.
Who: Michigan at Notre Dame
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. (EDT)
Where: South Bend, IN
Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium
Radio: IMG Notre Dame Radio Network
Internet Stream: http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/38985841
Depth Chart for Notre Dame
QB—Everett Golson, Tommy Rees OR Andrew Hendrix
RB—Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood OR George Atkinson III
WR—John Goodman, Daniel Smith
WR—T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels
WR—Robby Toma, Davonte' Neal
TE—Tyler Eifert, Ben Koyack
LT—Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley
RT—Christian Lombard, Nick Martin
C—Braxston Cave, Mike Golic, Jr.
LG—Chris Watt, Conor Hanratty
RG—Mike Golic, Jr., Connor Hanratty
DE—Kapron Lewis-Moore, Sheldon Day
DE—Stephon Tuitt, Chase Hounshell
NG—Louis Nix III, Kona Schwenke
LB—Prince Shembo, Ishaq Williams
LB—Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese
LB—Manti Te'o, Jarrett Grace
LB—Danny Spond, Ben Councell
CB—Bennett Jackson, Jalen Brown
CB—KeiVarae Russell, Josh Atkinson
FS—Zeke Motta, Nicky Baratti
SS—Matthias Farley, Chris Salvi
Depth Chart for Michigan
QB—Denard Robinson, Russell Bellomy
RB—Fitzgerald Toussaint, Thomas Rawls
FB—Stephen Hopkins, Joe Kerridge
WR—Roy Roundtree, Devin Gardner
WR—Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo
TE—Brandon Moore, Mike Kwiatkowksi
LT—Taylor Lewan, Erik Magnuson
RT—Michael Schofield, Erik Gunderson
C—Elliott Mealer, Jack Miller
RG—Patrick Omameh, Joey Burzynski
LG—Ricky Barnum, Joey Burzynski
DE—Jibreel Black, Frank Clark
DE—Craig Roh, Nathan Brink
NT—Quinton Washington, Richard Ash
DT—Will Campbell, Nathan Brink
LB—Jake Ryan, Cam Gordon
LB—Kenny Demens, Joe Bolden
LB—Desmond Morgan, James Ross III
CB—Courtney Avery, Raymon Taylor
CB—J.T. Floyd, Raymon Taylor
FS—Thomas Gordon, Jarrod Wilson
SS—Jordan Kovacs, Marvin Robinson
What Happened to the Fighting Irish Last Week
For the first time since October of 1983, Notre Dame defeated a Top 10 team during a night road game.
The Irish pounded Michigan State at Spartan Stadium by a score of 20-3, with the Spartans' lone score coming on a 50-yard field goal late in the second quarter.
It was an utter domination for the Notre Dame defense, which prevented Michigan State from entering the red zone for a full 60 minutes. Even more shocking was the fact that the Irish defense limited the Spartans to only one snap past the 50-yard line during the second half.
The astounding performance was a direct result of Notre Dame's ability to stop Michigan State's rushing attack, which was held to 50 net rushing yards on 25 total attempts.
Spartan running back Le'Veon Bell, who entered the game as a Heisman Trophy candidate, was corralled for 77 rushing yards on 19 carries.
The Irish offense sputtered, but did just enough to outlast the Spartans.
Quarterback Everett Golson completed 14-of-32 pass attempts for 178 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown strike to John Goodman. Golson also recorded a six-yard rushing touchdown.
Surprisingly enough, the Irish ground game rumbled to 122 net yards, 13 more rushing yards than the Spartans had allowed in their first two games.
The 20-3 victory vaulted Notre Dame to the 11th spot in the AP Poll, and 15th in the USA Today Coaches' Poll.
What Happened to the Wolverines Last Week
After beginning the season with a 41-14 loss to Alabama at Cowboys Stadium, the Wolverines have won two games in a row, including last week's 63-13 victory over Massachusetts.
Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson put on yet another stunning performance, accumulating 397 total yards against a weak UMass defense. "Shoelace" completed 16-of-24 passing attempts for 291 yards and three touchdowns, but threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
Robinson also led the Wolverines in rushing, accumulating 106 yards on 10 carries, including a 36-yard touchdown scamper that put the Wolverines ahead, 35-10.
The Michigan defense was a cause for concern, though.
The Wolverines allowed 259 total yards to the Minutemen, 200 more than they piled up against Connecticut in Week 1.
What It Means to Both Teams
Neither Brady Hoke nor Brian Kelly will buy into the revenge factor of Saturday evening's contest, but you better believe revenge will be on the mind of every player on the Irish roster who suffered through last season's epic collapse in Ann Arbor.
The added motivation, along with the current tidal wave of momentum the Irish currently find themselves on, has transformed Saturday evening's showdown against the Wolverines a must-win ballgame.
Michigan has won three consecutive meetings in the series, the longest such streak for the Wolverines over the Irish since they won eight straight from 1887 to 1908. The Irish fanbase is clamoring for a victory over Michigan, which would likely propel Notre Dame into the Top 10 of both the AP and USA Today polls.
And with the nation's most difficult schedule, the Irish walk a thin line each every week on the quest to reach a BCS bowl game. Saturday's contest is a crucial point in that journey.
The same is true for the Wolverines.
Despite an ugly 41-14 loss to Alabama in Week 1, Michigan still has hopes of reaching the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2006-07. A victory over 11th-ranked Notre Dame would go a long way in adding some shine and sparkle to the Wolverines' BCS résumé.
Key Player for Notre Dame
Key Player: LB Manti Te'o
During the previous two meetings between Michigan and Notre Dame, the game within the game has been Manti Te'o versus Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson.
Because Robinson is the most dangerous rusher on the Michigan roster, Te'o has been charged with tracking down the speedy, elusive Robinson. That endeavor hasn't gone well, as Robinson has carved up the Irish defense for 948 total yards during the past two seasons.
This season is different, though, as the Irish front seven has evolved into a top flight unit. Te'o will no longer be given the burden of stopping the running game on his own, and will now have the luxury of keying in on Robinson whenever he's on the field.
The key to stopping Robinson is to take away running lanes up the middle of the field, and force him outside if he chooses to escape the pocket and attempt to pick up yards with his feet. However, forcing him to beat the defense with his arm is the ideal scenario.
Key Player for Michigan
Key Player: QB Denard Robinson
Under second-year head coach Brady Hoke, quarterback Denard Robinson has become Mr. Everything for the Michigan offense.
Through last week's win over Massachusetts, Robinson has thrown for 5,339 career yards and rushed for 3,474 more. That's a combined total of 8,813 yards of offense in three seasons, only two of which when Robinson has been a starter.
He is the engine behind the Michigan offense, meaning that if he sputters, the Wolverines are in for trouble.
The biggest threat to stop Robinson for the remainder of the season? Notre Dame's front seven. That unit held Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell to just 77 yards on 19 carries last week, and held the Spartans to 50 net rushing yards on the night.
If that group can live in Michigan's backfield like it did against Michigan State, Denard Robinson could be in for a long day.
Notre Dame Will Win If...
It has been discussed heavily thus far, but Notre Dame will win if its defensive front seven can corral Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.
In last season's meeting, the Irish did an excellent job of containing the pesky quarterback for three quarters. It was that fateful fourth quarter in which Robinson threw four touchdown passes that spelled demise for the Fighting Irish.
The most promising note for Brian Kelly and Co. is that the defense limited the Wolverines to seven points through three quarters. If the defense can put together a solid four-quarter performance, the Irish will earn a victory, marking the first 4-0 start since 2002.
Notre Dame also needs its own quarterback, Everett Golson, to continue to play within himself and protect the football. The redshirt freshman has done an outstanding job in those facets of the game through three starts, only committing two turnovers and managing the offense well enough to keep his job safe.
Golson will also be facing a weaker defense on Saturday than the one he saw a week ago, meaning that a rise in his completion percentage and passing yards could be on the way.
Michigan Will Win If...
Michigan will win if it can find a way open up running lanes for quarterback Denard Robinson.
That's no easy task, as the Wolverines offensive line was atrocious against Alabama's front seven in Week 1, and didn't show much improvement against Air Force or Massachusetts during the past two weeks.
The magic number for Saturday's contest will be 200. When Robinson rushes for 200 more or more yards, the Wolverines typically walk away with a victory. It's unlikely to happen against a vastly improved Notre Dame front seven that has limited its first three opponents to a total of 289 net rushing yards.
Add in the fact that the Irish played a rush-happy Navy squad in Week 1, and you'll see that this season's Notre Dame defense is the real deal.
Containing Denard Robinson will be a true test for the Irish front seven, though.
During Michigan's three-game winning streak over Notre Dame, the Wolverines have come from behind to win in the final 30 seconds of regulation in each meeting. The three victories have come by a total of 12 points.
As the old saying goes, "something's gotta give."
Notre Dame is more than due for a win over the Wolverines. Consider the fact that Michigan has had shaky performances along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball through three games, and a Notre Dame victory seems all the more likely.
This season's matchup will also mark the first time in four tries that the Irish shut down Denard Robinson.
My Prediction: Notre Dame 28, Michigan 17