Notre Dame Football: Keys to a Vital Fighting Irish Victory vs. Michigan
Following a landscape-altering 20-3 win over Michigan State last week, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will look for another huge victory against a ranked opponent when they take on the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday.
The victory was the Irish's first against a Top 10 opponent since 2005, and fired up talks of a BCS bowl berth in South Bend. Led by Manti Te'o, the Notre Dame defense stuffed the Spartans powerful offense and got clutch play from quarterback Everett Golson.
Coming off such a huge victory, it would be easy for the Irish to come out flat against Michigan this week. If they do, look for Denard Robinson and Co. to come out and put an end to Notre Dame's big bowl dreams.
On the other hand, if the Irish come out strong and follow a few key steps, they should be able to keep their record unblemished.
With that in mind, here are a few things that Notre Dame must to do avoid a letdown and come away victorious on Saturday.
Everett Golson: Avoid Turnovers
A week after getting benched in the fourth quarter for turnover problems against Purdue, the freshman signal-caller went out and did exactly what his team needed last week against Michigan State.
Golson's numbers, 14-of-32 for 178 yards and two total touchdowns, were wholly unspectacular. Nonetheless, by avoiding turnovers and making plays when absolutely needed, he put his defense in a position to win the game.
To expect anything more than game management from Golson this week against Michigan or for the rest of the season is unrealistic.
Luckily for the Irish, the Spartans were probably the best defense they will face this season and their young quarterback passed the test with flying colors.
Golson should have a far easier go against a Michigan defense that has struggled all season to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With time in the pocket to read the Wolverines defense, Golson should be in line for another solid performance on Saturday night.
Running Game Must Dominate
For Golson to feel comfortable in game manager mode, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick will need strong games on the ground.
Though the Wolverines' defensive line has struggled getting after the passer, its biggest weakness has been in run stopping.
In Michigan's two tests this season, Air Force and Alabama dominated the line of scrimmage and combined for 522 yards on the ground. And it wasn't as if either team got particularly dominant individual performers, either. A whopping five players have already gone over the 65-yard mark against the Wolverines front seven this season.
If Notre Dame hopes to come away with this victory and the Top 10 ranking it probably entails, it will be up to Wood and Riddick to make that number seven on Saturday.
Contain Denard Robinson on the Outside
Against Michigan State, the Notre Dame defense proved that it is among the best units in college football.
The Irish essentially ended Bell's Heisman campaign, limiting the Spartans back to just 77 yards on 19 carries, and stymied any attempt that Michigan State made at a big play.
That penchant for stopping big gains will have to continue on Saturday against Wolverines star Denard Robinson.
A preseason Heisman favorite, Robinson's 2012 campaign has been a mixed bag. After an atrocious outing against the Crimson Tide in Week 1, the quarterback has come out the last two games looking vastly improved.
Regardless, it is far more important for the Irish to stop Robinson's feet than his arm.
Despite a habit for making big plays, the Michigan quarterback's development as a drop-back passer has plateaued over the past two seasons. The senior dual-threat has completed just 54.7 percent of his passes thus far in 2012, and already has four interceptions in 75 passing attempts.
That rate continues a troubling trend for Robinson, who threw an interception every 17.2 pass attempts last season.
If the Irish can stifle Robinson's running on the outside and force him into becoming a more conventional passer, they could turn this game into a blowout.
Nonetheless, simply slowing him down would go a long way toward a Notre Dame triumph.
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