This Week 4 matchup was always going to be a big game, but thanks to the 3-0 start by the No. 11 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish; it is now huge. The No. 18 ranked Michigan Wolverines could have made this event even bigger by knocking off Alabama in Week 1, but that certainly didn't happen.
As it stands, the Wolverines are 2-1 after a blowout win over UMass in Week 3, and now travel to South Bend to take on the surprising Fighting Irish. The Irish have done it with defense, and that is shocking considering that was believed to be their biggest weakness.
Their perceived depth and experience in the secondary has not been an issue yet. The Irish have held their three opponents to an average of 10 points per game.
The Wolverines were blown to smithereens in Week 1 by Bama, 41-14, then subsequently struggled to a win in Week 2 against Air Force. The 63-13 rout over UMass really didn't prove much as the teams aren't on the same talent level.
However, this game could catapult the Wolverines back into the BCS bowl picture.
Here is a closer look:
When: Saturday, September 22 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN
TV: NBC Sports
Live Stream: NBC Sports
Radio: Nationwide on IMG Network (click here for station in your area for Notre Dame)
Odds: Per Oddsshark.com Irish are favorites (-5.5)
Injury Report: Per Oddshark.com
Blake Countess, CB—Out For Season (knee)
Brandon Moore, TE—Questionable September 22 (knee)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Amir Carlisle, RB—Questionable September 22 (ankle)
DaVaris Daniels, WR—Questionable September 22 (ankle)
Cameron Roberson, RB—Out For Season (knee)
Jamoris Slaughter, DB—Out For Season (Achilles)
What's at Stake?
Michigan cannot afford to lose this game if they want a shot at playing in a major bowl game. It's their second major test of the season, and a 2-2 record heading into conference play would not be an ideal situation for the Wolverines.
The Irish need the game to validate their unlikely shot at playing for a national championship. The win would make them 4-0, but that would include a sweep of the state of Michigan, and this year that carries some weight.
What They're Saying
Per Mark Snyder of Detroit Free Press, Michigan's Offensive Coordinator Al Borges speaks about quarterback Denard Robinson's fundamentals:
How many balls have you seen him throw off his back foot in three games, where he's lunging back, tossing the ball in the middle of the secondary?
He didn't do that all the time last year, but he did it some -- usually (with) catastrophic (results). I'm not going to assume anything and, knock on wood, but he doesn't do that near as much. ... His footwork is like night and day."
Robinson better be sharp against the Irish. The quickest way for the Wolverines to fall in South Bend will be via the turnover. Robinson must take care of the ball for his team to have a chance.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was asked how he can continue the team's winning ways. He said this during the post-game press conference after the win over Michigan State (published on Notre Dame's official website):
Don't get infected with success. It's easy to forget how you got here. It's easy to listen to how great you are. We've got to avoid the noise and stay disciplined on the process. If we do that, we'll be pretty good in November.
The Irish can't afford to get overconfident. They are still trying to prove the naysayers wrong, but Kelly took the right approach with the media.
Michigan's Player to Watch - Denard Robinson
How Robinson performs will dictate the Wolverines' fate in this game. The Irish will stack the box to take away the Wolverines' rushing attack—including the fleet-footed Robinson.
He must prove he can beat Notre Dame through the air and make smart, accurate throws to manage the game. If he plays this way he can shift the pressure to the freshman QB on the other side of the field.
Notre Dame's Player to Watch - Manti Te'o
Te'o is the leader of this defense, and he deserves a lot of the credit for how this young unit has performed. I can't even imagine where Notre Dame would be without his leadership.
He'll have a responsibility to spy Robinson in some instances, and he'll lead the second level of the Irish defense that must tackle well to contain Michigan's running game.
Key Matchup - Robinson vs. Everett Golson
Who will win the QB matchup?
Ultimately, the game will come down to turnovers. The quarterback that takes care of the ball will put his team in a great position to win.
This is going to be an intriguing matchup, and the quarterback position will decide the outcome of this game.
I'm totally not sold on Michigan this year. Robinson has turned the ball over four times in three games, and though he's certainly been dynamic, he doesn't match up well with Notre Dame's opportunistic defense.
The Irish have forced seven turnovers in their three games. Robinson won't run rampant on the ground, and he won't consistently make the plays in the passing game to beat Notre Dame.
The Irish will win a physical contest 17-10.
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