Notre Dame Football: Stopping Denard Robinson Is Key to Irish Victory

Erin McLaughlinSenior Analyst IISeptember 20, 2012

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 08:  Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines runs for a third quarter touchdown while playing the Air Force Falcons at Michigan Stadium on September 8, 2012 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

These are definitely exciting times for Notre Dame. Their new agreement with the ACC will be great for both sides. They are 3-0 for the first time since 2002. It is definitely way too early to discuss a national championship or even a BCS bowl at this point. But still, Irish fans are really starting to believe. Even haters and neutral fans are talking about the Irish.

Even with all of the positive things happening for Notre Dame, there is a cloud of concern this week. It is due to the fact that the team that taught Notre Dame football will be in South Bend this weekend.

That is, of course, the Michigan Wolverines. In one of the most storied rivalries in college football, the Irish have suffered three straight last-second, heartbreaking losses in which Notre Dame dominated for most the game.

For the last two contests, the biggest thorn in the Irish's side has been dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson. In 2010, he accounted for 502 combined yards and three touchdowns. Then last season, he finished with 446 yards offense, ran for a score and threw for four more. That included a miracle drive in which he went 80 yards with about 30 seconds left. It concluded with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree with two seconds left.

If that isn't cause enough for concern, the Irish also have to deal with the loss of Jamoris Slaughter at safety for the year in a secondary that was already the thin part of a solid defense. It is certainly something that will have to be addressed in the upcoming bye week.

In the meantime, they need a plan for stopping Robinson and the rest of the Wolverines offense.

I have always believed that the best way to stop a great offense is to not let it get it started. That means lots of three-and-outs. The key to that is first down. The Irish must make plays for no gains and losses on first down. Manti Te'o and company did a great job of that against Le'Veon Bell. I am sure they are up to the challenge this week, but Robinson does present a different type of threat.

A great play on first down forces the opposing offense into passing situations on second and third downs. That puts the defense at the advantage, as the threat of run becomes less of a factor. One thing Bob Diaco might want to really consider is putting Prince Shembo in as a spy for Robinson. That will make it a little harder for him to find running lanes.

The other key to not let Robinson and company get going is that the Notre Dame offense really needs to reestablish that dominant running game we saw against Navy. The reason for that is because Robinson obviously can't do any damage from the sideline and a strong running game keeps the ball with the Irish.

More importantly, it keeps Robinson on the bench. Look at the picture above—that is exactly where we want to see Robinson on Saturday.

Getting back to running the ball should be possible this week, because the Wolverines don't have as strong of a defensive line as Notre Dame has seen in the last two games against Purdue and Michigan State. They also know that they have to respect Golson's arm and escapability.

The Irish are definitely determined to win this one, as the seniors don't want to go their whole career having never beat Michigan. Expect to see another exciting game in this rivalry. Hopefully, the result will be better for Notre Dame this time.