Michigan's last three meetings with the Irish can be summed up in the fourth quarter with improbable last-second comebacks orchestrated by even more improbable theatrics made by Denard Robinson and company. In the realm of football there is no greater dishonor than losing to a team you had thoroughly beat for three-and-a-half quarters. Notre Dame has not forgotten.
Tomorrow's meeting holds the possibility of another thriller. Michigan, coming off its bludgeoning at the hands of Alabama, escaped a close one at home against Air Force before blowing the doors off of UMass in its first season as an FBS school. Likewise, Notre Dame was taken to the wire by Purdue before traveling to East Lansing and embarrassing the Spartans en route to a 20-3 victory.
On paper, Notre Dame's resumé is more impressive, though Michigan apologists will point out that their one loss came to the No. 1 team in the country, the same team that pantsed Arkansas at home 52-0. That being said, one can't overlook how strong Notre Dame looked against an opponent that was ranked in the top 10 on the road, and Michigan just doesn't have an impressive win on the books this year.
Let's take a look to see how the teams match up this year.
Michigan Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
In order to escape South Bend with a victory, Michigan will again have to turn to senior quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson is 41-of-75 for 699 yards and has been throwing a pick for every two touchdowns so far this season. He has also ran 40 times for 351 yards and four scores. These are all numbers that look like Denard numbers—not much of a surprise here.
The bigger story will be if Michigan's offensive line, which has struggled at times this year, can keep Notre Dame's impressive front-seven out of the backfield, especially All-American linebacker *Manti Te'o. Te'o's role will almost certainly be to contain Denard Robinson at all costs. Expect to hear his name called ad nauseum Saturday night.
The other major factor of this game will be how Notre Dame's young secondary matches up with Devin Gardner, Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon. The Irish's secondary looks something like "true freshman, redshirt freshman, sophomore and smouldering ruin." Bad recruiting over the last couple of years has forced Notre Dame to convert people to other positions (sound familiar Michigan fans?), and if Notre Dame's defense has a weakness—this is definitely it.
If Denard has time to throw the ball, look for this matchup to go in favor of the Wolverines. If not, it will be a long evening for Michigan.
*Linebackers are members of the defensive team that line up approximately three-to-five yards behind the line of scrimmage, behind the defensive linemen. Linebackers generally align themselves before the ball is snapped by standing upright in a "two point stance." Linebackers can be used in coverage, run support or as a pass-rusher. Michigan has none of these.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Michigan Defense
This is where things don't look so good for the Wolverines. Everett Golson's numbers look strikingly similar to Denard Robinson's (41-of-81 for 611 yards, 3 TDs and, 1 INT). The Irish also have a pair of backs in Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III that have combined for 232 yards on 61 carries. Those are not Denard numbers.
That shouldn't matter much, however, because Michigan has proven that it can do absolutely nothing about the run. They have allowed 232, 290 and 112 (UMass) rushing yards respectively in their first three games and have not displayed sound tackling mechanics yet this year.
Michigan is also without starting cornerback Blake Countess because God hates Michigan corners (see: Troy Woolfolk, JT Floyd, et al). Replacing him is junior Courtney Avery who has been hit-or-miss throughout his career at Michigan and will probably be tested this Saturday by a talented receiving tandem of Tyler Eifert and DaVarus Daniels.
Look for Notre Dame to use the run early and, if Michigan can't stop it, often.
ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame
Briefly, Special Teams
Michigan has not done a great job of covering punts this year, but it hasn't burned them too bad just yet. Both teams have adequate kickers. Nothing to see here folks.
This is the most worthless part of any sports article out there but, for some reason, we all feel the need to provide some sort of forecasting when referring to a game that has yet to happen. Having the ability to say "Look! I told you so!" is something of a fad in most of the popular sports columns out there, so I feel compelled to give you my prediction based on flimsy evidence and very little fact.
Rivalry games are strange in that it seems like every year these things can go either way—just look at the last three meetings between these two teams. That being said, I don't think Michigan will be able to pull enough rabbits out of their hat to stop Notre Dame from celebrating a home-victory tomorrow night.
Notre Dame 31-20