For Notre Dame, the image should be seared into memory like a hot branding iron to the head of a cattle's behind. Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31.
Despite racking up 513 yards of total offense, out gaining the Wolverines by nearly 100 yards, out rushing Michigan, and leading 24-7 at the end of the third quarter, Notre Dame lost the football game.
Notre Dame out possessed Michigan by a full quarter, 37:01 to 22:59, and for three quarters beat Michigan brutally.
But in the end, five turnovers and a key blown coverage allowing a 64 yard completion on a wheel route to set up the game winning touchdown pass, are all that mattered in the Irish loss.
Last second losses have become a regularity for Notre Dame when it comes to Michigan.
In 2009, Notre Dame also outplayed the Wolverines all game. Yet a kick return, some head scratching clock management, and insanely poor linebacker assignment discipline led to a game winning Michigan drive and Tate Forcier 11 yard touchdown run to down the Irish 38-34.
For the 2010 match up, the Irish also decided to play gracious host, spot Michigan three turnovers, go an entire quarter without playing offense, and end the first half with a throw 20 rows up the stands rather than a field goal attempt en route to a 28-14 loss.
The Irish also managed to allow more than 500 yards of offense to Denard Robinson, who threw for 244 and ran for 258 in what has been called the single greatest game by a college quarterback.
Yet Michigan still needed a last second, come from behind drive and got it.
Robinson ran around right end for the game winning score with just 27 seconds remaining.
In the last three years, Notre Dame is 11 seconds, 27 seconds, and 6 seconds from three victories.
In the three losses, the Irish are -5 turnovers.
Maybe Notre Dame cannot beat Michigan by simply outplaying them.
The Irish tried that and failed in three consecutive years, and lost.
The team that the Irish must truly face is themselves.
Notre Dame enters the game with an advantage at receiver, running back, offensive line, tight end, defensive line, and linebackers.
The Irish have played well punting, covering kick offs, and have earned positive yardage on kick and punt returns.
Notre Dame has also been playing smart football. They are +5 turnovers, playing great field position football, and have not hurt themselves with mental errors.
Should that trend continue, the Irish should well cover the 4.5 point spread.
Michigan's game plan will be to test the weak Irish secondary by trying to throw often to its wide receivers and running Robinson wide. Michigan will avoid relying on an up-the-middle ground assault against the strength of the Irish defense.
The Wolverines will also try to move Robinson from the pocket to prevent the kind of pressure that the Irish front has applied to opponents so far.
The Notre Dame defense must stay disciplined. Maintaining containment and keeping Robinson inside is a necessity. We've all seen how dangerous he can be, and truly the only way Michigan beats Notre Dame is with Robinson's legs.
On the other side of the ball, expect more of the same. A stacked box trying to make Everett Golson beat the Wolverines with his arm, limiting the running game early. Michigan will bring pressure hoping to disrupt timing and force Golson into mistakes.
Golson must learn to throw "hot," or to the spot from where the blitz has come. Also, he has to improve at recognizing a blitz pre-snap, as he continuously missed those reads against Michigan State.
All in all, the mantra for the Irish in preparation for Michigan has to be discipline.
Do your job, don't screw up, play smart and Notre Dame will toast 4-0 for the first time since 2002, and the first sweep of Michigan and Michigan State since 2004.
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