Michigan Football: Offensive Stars Who Must Play Their Best to Defeat Notre Dame

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2013

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1:  Quarterback Devin Gardner #12 of the Michigan Wolverines passes in the fourth quarter against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Outback Bowl January 1, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  South Carolina won 33 - 28. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Michigan got the season off to a nice start with a 59-9 win over Central Michigan, but things will not be this easy against Notre Dame.

Not only are the Fighting Irish the No. 14 team in the country, according to the AP Poll, but this will likely be the toughest defense the Wolverines face all season. While Manti Te'o is gone, there are still plenty of future NFL stars on the well-coached unit.

This will require every offensive player to step up his efforts and play as well as he possibly can. In this rivalry matchup, points will be especially tough to come by if these guys are not at their best.


Taylor Lewan, OT

If there is one guy you can count on to excel regularly in this offense, it is Taylor Lewan. That being said, he has the toughest task of the day in a matchup against Stephon Tuitt.

Tuitt is one of the top defensive ends in the country, totaling 12 sacks and 47 tackles last season as a leader of the unit. He has the size and speed to give any offensive lineman trouble.

This is where Lewan has to prove that he is truly one of the best in the country at his position. The All-American moves well for a big man, and he uses his wingspan to keep opponents in front of him.

His ability to keep defensive players out of the backfield helps keep the offense running smoothly, especially with so much inexperience around him. If he struggles against Notre Dame, the rest of the players will have nowhere to turn.

The senior must be a leader and carry the team by succeeding in his individual matchup.


Derrick Green, RB

There will be a number of running backs who touch the ball for Michigan in this game, including Fitzgerald Toussaint as the likely starter. However, the Wolverines should do everything in their power to get the ball to Derrick Green as much as possible.

The true freshman showed in Week 1 that he is ready for the college game, and this will be a chance for him to really break out. Against Central Michigan, Green rushed for 58 yards on only 11 carries and added a touchdown.

Notre Dame has plenty of guys who can tackle well, especially Dan Fox and Louis Nix III, in the middle of the field. This makes it important to put a premium on pure talent.

Green has the size to handle the tough carries inside, but he also has the speed and agility to break off long runs. This is something that Fitzgerald has not done consistently in his Michigan career.

Only the freshman has the ability to beat the Irish on his own, and he needs to be a big part of the offense on Saturday.


Devin Gardner, QB

No matter what happens with the rest of the offense, it will always come down to the quarterback. While Devin Gardner showcased his ability at the end of last season, he is still largely unproven as he comes into his first full year as a starter.

Against Notre Dame, we will finally see what kind of player he is capable of being. 

There was a lot to like in Gardner's performance against Central Michigan. The quarterback completed 10 of his 15 passes for 162 yards and then added 52 rushing yards, totaling three touchdowns. Unfortunately, he also threw two interceptions in the rout.

While the turnovers did not hurt him in Week 1, there is no question that they will be an issue against the Irish. He will quickly learn that every single pass at this level has to be perfect and one poor decision could be the difference in a game.

Five interceptions doomed Michigan against Notre Dame last season, and Gardner has to make sure that this year goes by a different script.

He will be asked to do a lot as both a passer and a runner in this game, but the most important thing he has to do is avoid turnovers to give his team a chance of winning.


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