Michigan vs. Notre Dame: Complete Game Preview

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IISeptember 18, 2012

Michigan vs. Notre Dame: Complete Game Preview

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    The Notre Dame Fighting Irish may have been overlooked by college followers entering the 2012 season.

    However, the Irish's dominant performance in their 20-3 victory over the then-10th-ranked Michigan State Spartans should have silenced a few naysayers. Notre Dame is on the uptick, and its sophomore quarterback, Everett Golson, can be effective throwing and running the ball.

    The 11th-ranked Irish (3-0) feature a solid trio of running backs in Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III, which will help alleviate pressure for Golson, who completed 14-of-32 pass attempts and tallied 178 yards this past Saturday against the Spartans.

    The 18th-ranked Wolverines (2-1) trounced UMass 63-13 this past Saturday and saw superstar senior quarterback Denard Robinson hop over Tom Brady and Jim Harbaugh on Michigan's career-passer list.

    Robinson hooked up with nine different receivers, and eight Wolverines scored in Michigan's strongest offensive showing of the season.

    Michigan travels to South Bend, Ind. this Saturday, looking to flex its offensive muscle and test the strength of Notre Dame's defense, which held Michigan State to 237 yards over the weekend.

    Irish coach Brian Kelly called the victory a "signature win," but can Notre Dame sign on the dotted line when the Maize and Blue come to town?

Game Day Information

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    Let's start with the basics.

    Who: No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (2-1) vs. No. 11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0)

    When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. (EDT)

    Where: South Bend, Ind.

    Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium

    TV: NBC

    Radio: XM Radio 196, WWJ 950 (Detroit)

    WSBT/ESPN 96.1 FM (Michiana, South Bend, Ind.)

    There are several other secondary stations, so just follow the links!

    Internet Stream: Open Salon

Depth Chart for Michigan

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    Depth chart information obtained from TheWolverine.com. (Current as of Sept. 10, with latest update. Other updates notated via hyperlink.)

    Offense (Power I) 

    QB: Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner, Russell Bellomy; RB: Fitz Toussaint, Vincent Smith, Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes; FB: Stephen Hopkins, Joe Kerridge, Paul Gyarmarti; WR:Roy Roundtree, Jerald Robinson, Devin Gardner; WR: Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson; TE: Brandon Moore (likely out again), Mike Kwiatkowski, Devin Funchess, AJ Williams LT: Taylor Lewan; RT: Michael Schofield, Erik Gunderson; LG: Elliott Mealer, Joey Burzynski; RG: Patrick Omameh, Joey Burzynski; C: Ricky Barnum, Jack Miller


    Defense (4-3)

    DE: Jibreel Black, Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer; DE: Craig Roh, Nathan Brink, Keith Heitzman; DT: Quinton Washington, Richard Ash; DT: Will Campbell, Jibreel Black, Nathan Brink; LB: Jake Ryan, Cam Gordon; LB: Desmond Morgan, Brandin Hawthorne; LB: Kenny Demens, Joe Bolden, Mike Jones; CB: Courtney Avery, Raymon Taylor, Terry Richardson; CB: JT Floyd, Raymon Taylor, Delonte Hollowell; S: Jordan Kovacs, Marvin Robinson, Floyd Simmons; S: Thomas Gordon, Jarrod Wilson, Josh Furman


    Special Teams

    K: Brendan Gibbons, Matt Wile; P: Matt Wile, Seth Broekhuizen; LS: Tom Pomparico, Jareth Glanda; Returns: Jeremy Gallon, Dennis Norfleet, Drew Dileo

Depth Chart for Notre Dame

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    Depth chart information obtained from Irish Illustrated.com (Current as of Sept. 9, with latest update.)

    Offense (Spread) 

    QB: Everett Golson, Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix; RB: Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel; WR: John Goodman, Daniel Smith, Justin Ferguson; WR: TJ Jones, Davarius Daniels, Chris Brown; WR: Robby Toma, Davonte Neal; TE: Tyler Eifert, Ben Kovack, Troy Niklas; OT: Zack Martin, Ronny Stanley; OT: Christian Lombard, Nick Martin; OG: Chris Watt, Connor Hanratty; OG: Mike Golic, Hanratty; C: Braxston Cave, Golic, Matt Hegarty 


    Defense (3-4) 

    DE: Kapron Lewis-Moore, Sheldon Day; DE: Stephon Tuitt, Chase Hounshell, Jarron Jones; NT: Louis Nix, Kona Schwenke, Tony Springmann; LB: Ben Councell, Romeo Okwara, LB: Prince Shembo, Ishaq Williams, Anthony Rabasa; LB: Manti Te'o, Jarrett Grace, Kendall Moore; LB: Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Joe Schmidt; CB: Bennett Jackson, Jalen Brown, Josh Atkinson; CB: KeiVarae Russell, Elijah Shumate; S: Zeke Matta, Matthias Farley, Dan McCarthy; S: Jamoris Slaughter, Nicky Barrati, Chris Salvi


    Special Teams

    K: Kyle Brindza, Nick Tausch; P: Ben Turk, Brindza; LS: Jordan Cowart, Scott Daly; H: Turk, Luke Massa; PR: Neal, Goodman, Riddick; KR: George Atkinson, Riddick, McDaniel

What Happened to Wolverines Last Week

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    Perhaps this slide should reflect what happened to the UMass Minutemen last week, not the Michigan Wolverines.

    UMass came to Ann Arbor as a sacrificial lamb this past Saturday and left 63-13 losers. However, a few positives should have been taken from the game, especially for freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn, who completed 14-of-29 passes and threw for 141 yards.

    Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson threw for a season-high 291 yards and three touchdowns, rushed for a shade over 100 and jumped over Tom Brady and Jim Harbaugh on Michigan's career-passer list.

    Not a bad weekend for "Shoelace."

    Devin Funchess continued to show his big-play ability, Roy Roundtree got involved with two catches (25 total yards) and Fitz Toussaint injected a little life into the Wolverines' struggling ground game with 85 yards and a touchdown.

    The Wolverines needed a blowout win, especially after a meek Week 1 showing against Alabama and a disappointing close-call victory over the Air Force in Week 2.

What Happened to Notre Dame Last Week

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    The Notre Dame Fighting Irish didn't do much this past Saturday other than chop the legs from underneath the Michigan State Spartans, who were ranked No. 10 and thought to have one of the top defenses in the country.

    Notre Dame probably would have notched a larger victory if not for at-times sturdy play by Michigan State's defense, but a 20-3 win in East Lansing was definitely enough to open a few eyes.

    That win vaulted Notre Dame from No. 20 to No. 11 in the polls, and Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood showed just how dangerous of a tandem they can be.

    Don't forget about George Atkinson, either. Notre Dame has a three-headed monster of a backfield, similar to what the Spartans had in 2011.

    Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson wasn't spectacular Saturday, but he was effective and managed the game well. He commanded attention each time he took a snap; that's the case when a quarterback can stretch the field with his arm or manipulate a defense with his legs.

    Beating Michigan State the way it did can only inflate Notre Dame's confidence as Michigan—a team with a lesser defense than Michigan State—struts into South Bend.

    “This is a signature win for us,’’ Irish coach Brian Kelly told reporters after beating the Spartans (via The Detroit Free Press). “Michigan State is a great team with a great defense, but we were able to get some big plays in the run game and you could see what Everett can do. He has a great demeanor. He keeps his eyes downfield and he as the ability to do those kinds of things. He’s only going to get better.’’

What It Means for Both Teams

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    Notre Dame and Michigan are used to being top dogs in college football.

    Both rich in tradition, pageantry and pride, the Irish and Wolverines are fighting to reach elite status, where many college football followers feel both programs belong.

    Great Michigan and Notre Dame teams are good for the game.

    After an electrifying finish in 2011, Michigan claimed a 35-31 win over the Irish at The Big House in Ann Arbor. The rivalry, the past—none of that matters (much, anyway) to Michigan coach Brady Hoke.

    Irish coach Brian Kelly was obviously pleased with the way his team dominated the other Big Ten team from Michigan, so he's probably looking to devise a game plan to effectively slow down Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson, thus creating a blueprint to beat Michigan.

    A win for Notre Dame would be enough to get into the top 10 (depending on other outcomes). A year ago, Notre Dame was in a great position to knock off Michigan, so losing this time around isn't an option.

    On the other hand, Michigan showed resilience by battling back from a 24-7 deficit entering the fourth quarter. Robinson, who threw for 338 yards and rushed for 108, engineered drives; receivers like Junior Hemingway, who tallied 165 receiving yards and made plays; and the Notre Dame defense melted before over 100,000 Maize and Blue supporters in Ann Arbor.

    Does this game really mean anything to either team?

    Just a little.

    Michigan-Notre Dame is a rivalry even non-Irish and non-Wolverines fans get geared up for; it means that much to college athletics. Michigan coach Brady Hoke knows that Notre Dame's defense is the toughest his team will face since Week 1 against Alabama.

    "When you watch them, their front seven is playing very aggressive," Hoke said Tuesday during the Big Ten coaches' teleconference (via MLive.com). "They held Michigan State to 50 yards rushing (last week). They flow to the ball really, really well and they've created turnovers and opportunities for their offense and that's a big part of the game of football."

Key Player for Michigan: Denard Robinson, but Others Have to Help

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    Denard Robinson will typically be the key player for Michigan each week; he is the offense to an extent.

    However, Notre Dame will key on Robinson—like it tried to do in 2011—in order to stop big plays from happening and being embarrassed on national television.

    "Shoelace" threw for 338 yards and rushed for 108 a year ago during Michigan's 35-31 win over Notre Dame and is coming off a 291-yard performance against UMass.

    Don't count on that happening this week, but look for Robinson to throw the ball around a little more; he could be more comfortable doing so since he hit nine receivers in the Wolverines' 63-13 victory over the Minutemen.

    While Robinson is the guy to watch, Fitz Toussaint could help out by establishing a steady tempo on the ground. Notre Dame's defense is far too aggressive and hard-hitting for Robinson to rush 20 times this Saturday.

    Tight end Devin Funchess, a 6'5", 240-pound frosh, is big enough to combat the Irish defense. He could be targeted five or so times, depending on what's available.

    Roy Roundtree might want to finish with back-to-back game-winning touchdown grabs versus Notre Dame too. He caught two passes in Michigan's win over UMass, looks more comfortable after having knee surgery and will most certainly be amped up for Saturday.

Key Player for Notre Dame: Everett Golson

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    Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Everett Golson is only 6'1" and 185 pounds, but he plays much larger than that.

    His arm is developing, he's a rushing threat and he's capable of decimating Michigan's defense if given the chance.

    Golson wasn't great against Michigan State, completing just 14-of-32 pass attempts, but he's been fairly accurate this season, evidenced by two performances in which he completed 66 percent of his passes.

    He's thrown for 611 yards and three touchdowns through three games with just one interception, which is the kicker.

    “He’s a work in progress,” Irish coach Brian Kelly told the Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s somebody that’s had two starts, and he was on the scout team at this time last year. He continues to get better.”

    Kelly added: “When you look at the film and you see him, you go, ‘Wow.’ Physically, he does some really good things. We just need to make sure he’s taking that next step.”

    Michigan hasn't faced this dangerous of a quarterback since Week 1 when it saw Alabama's AJ McCarron.

    And we know how that ended: a 41-14 loss.

Michigan Will Win If..

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    The Wolverines can get past the Irish if they're not too one-dimensional.

    While quarterback Denard Robinson will be Michigan's most important player Saturday, Michigan can't rely upon him too heavily; he can take over on the ground, but he can't be forced to.

    Establishing some type of reliable presence on the ground will be key, too. Fitz Toussaint and Vincent Smith have to give the Wolverines solid carries and convert on 3rd-and-short rather than forcing Robinson to go to the air.

    That didn't work well for Michigan State and Andrew Maxwell this past week, and it won't work for Michigan.

    Sure, last year's shootout was a great game from an entertainment standpoint. But that won't be the wise choice for the Wolverines. Engaging in a shootout with the 2012 Notre Dame team doesn't seem like a great game plan. 

    If anything, Michigan should watch what worked for Michigan State—which wasn't much— and try to do that. Going to the middle of the field through the air isn't a good idea, either. Notre Dame's linebackers showed that they're great in coverage and hit hard.

    The last thing Michigan wants is to get its wideouts blasted on every play. Quick throws to the flat and hitch/curl routes might be the way to go.

Notre Dame Will Win If...

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    The Alabama Crimson Tide and Air Force Falcons showed that the Michigan Wolverines run defense is filled with holes and inconsistencies.

    Alabama's TJ Yeldon, a bruising back, looked like he was toying with the Wolverines in Week 1, and Air Force's Cody Getz, a 5'7", 175-pounder, rushed for 130 yards in his team's 31-25 Week 2 loss.

    Cierre Wood is in between Yeldon and Getz in terms of size at 6'1" and 215 pounds (give or take a few pounds). As a junior in 2011, Wood menaced Michigan's defense, which was stronger then than now, for 134 yards on 25 carries. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry in Notre Dame's 20-3 win over Michigan State, which has one of the Big Ten's better defenses.

    If Wood goes for another 130 yards or so against Michigan, Notre Dame will win—and win big. Earlier this summer, I thought that Michigan would have no problem with Notre Dame this fall. I was wrong. I've admitted the fact that Michigan's hype heavily influenced my opinion of the team.

    The Wolverines can't stop the rush. We all know that. Wood, along with senior Theo Riddick, could have a career day and lead the Irish to their second consecutive win over a team from Michigan this season.

Prediction Time

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    Michigan leads its series with Notre Dame, 23-15-1.

    But it will fall to 23-16-1 after being defeated Saturday by Notre Dame.

    The Irish defense will be too much for Michigan, which should try to run the ball, but probably won't have much success doing so.

    Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson has the ability to make things interesting via ground-game theatrics and by way of his OK arm. As mentioned, he threw for 338 yards and rushed for 108 during Michigan's 35-21 win in 2011.

    But the Irish are waiting for him. This Saturday could be Robinson's most challenging game this season, other than Week 1's debacle against Alabama, of course.

    Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood will control the ground game, and quarterback Everett Golson will have little problem finding receivers TJ Jones, John Goodman and Robby Toma. Michigan's secondary is without Blake Countess.

    And while he's just one player, Countess provided a certain attitude that guys like JT Floyd, Courtney Avery and Jordan Kovacs benefited from.

    Tight end Tyler Eifert could get in the mix, too. Why not?

    I like Notre Dame this week, 31-17.