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Notre Dame vs. Michigan: Keys to Explosive Matchup in Ann Arbor

Aug 31, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees (11) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass in the first quarter against the Temple Owls at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer ISeptember 7, 2013

Both No. 14 Notre Dame and No. 17 Michigan won their respective matchups with ease in Week 1.

Now, one must lose.

Coming off a 59-9 dismantling of Central Michigan, the Wolverines host the Fighting Irish on Saturday.

This will be the last game of the historic rivalry at Michigan Stadium, and there has been plenty of jawing back and forth before the clash. Notre Dame made the decision in the offseason to end its rivalry with Michigan after the 2014 season. Michigan coach Brady Hoke did not like that, declaring the Fighting Irish were "chickening out" of their rivalry, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com.

You can bet both teams will be revved up for this one. Here's a look at the keys to the game.

 

Louis Nix III, Stephon Tuitt vs. Michigan Offensive Line

Notre Dame has a formidable one-two punch in nose guard Louis Nix III and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Nix posted 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, three quarterback hurries and one forced fumble in 2012. Tuitt added 45 tackles, 11 sacks, nine quarterback hurries and one forced fumble.

The matchup between Wolverines offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Tuitt on Saturday is going to be fun to watch. Both are projected top-10 selections in the 2014 NFL draft.

While Lewan may be able to at least contain Tuitt, Michigan's young interior offensive line of Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller and Kyle Kalis may have a harder time stopping Nix. All three players started their first collegiate games against Temple last week.

 

Michigan Running Game

While Notre Dame's running game will be important in this matchup, Michigan has more potential with its rushing attack, given dual-threat quarterback Devin Gardner and talented freshman Derrick Green.

Michigan can be more creative with its play-calling, given the presence of Gardner, adding more variables for the Notre Dame defense to worry about. Gardner rushed for 52 yards and two touchdowns against Central Michigan last week. Green rushed for 58 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in his collegiate debut.

And don't forget about senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who rushed for over 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011. He's coming off a broken leg in 2012, but he's shown he has the talent to make a difference for the Wolverines. He rushed for 57 yards and two touchdowns last week against Central Michigan.

 

Turnovers

People forget that amid all the turnovers in 2011, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees completed 66 percent of his throws while tossing 20 touchdowns.

Last season, Rees saved the Fighting Irish on multiple occasions. In his 2013 debut as starter, all he did was go 16-of-23 for 346 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, he didn't commit a turnover.

Michigan's defensive line is still a question mark but, regardless, you can bet defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will create pressure with blitzes to try to force Rees into a turnover.

Rees played splendid football against Temple, but can he do the same against Michigan?

 

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