Notre Dame vs. Michigan: Key Matchups to Watch in Primetime Showdown

T.J. McaloonContributorSeptember 7, 2013

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 10:  Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish throws a first quarter pass behind Will Heininger #39 of the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on September 10, 2010 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Tonight Notre Dame travels to Ann Arbor for a primetime showdown against Michigan at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

With both head coaches—Brady Hoke of Michigan and Brian Kelly of Notre Dame—making small adjustments to give their team the best chance to win, every decision will be crucial.

With those tweaks and changes, there are three match-ups that will be pivotal to watch to determine the success for either team. 


Tommy Rees vs. Michigan's Secondary

Last week, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees looked great against Temple. But against the Owls—who went 4-7 in 2012 and finished 113th in overall defense according to Football Outsiders—he wasn’t pressured that much. 

The result from last week was a three-touchdown, zero-interception performance. 

This week, against Michigan, Rees will face a tougher secondary that has given him problems in the past. Against Michigan he’s been picked off three times and is 0-1 as a starter. 

However, last year his insertion into the game sparked life into the Fighting Irish offense as he went 8-for-11 for 115 yards and rushed for a touchdown. 

If Michigan’s defense can pressure, it will force the Fighting Irish quarterback into throws where his receivers are double or triple covered. If Rees can find time in the pocket he will be able to take Notre Dame’s offense to a victory.


Fitzgerald Toussaint vs. Notre Dame’s Linebackers and Defensive Line

In his lone game against Notre Dame, Toussaint was held to only 58 yards and without a touchdown.

Last week, the Fighting Irish defense was able to hold Temple, as a team, to 134 rushing yards. However, they did allow a rushing score, a goal-line plunge. 

Toussaint will be running into a defensive wall that allowed only four touchdowns, led the NCAA in 2012 and kept opposing offenses under 3.5 yards per carry. 

Notre Dame’s lone loss in 2012 was in the national title game when Alabama ran wild to the tune of 265 yards and two touchdowns. 

Toussaint will have to get the Michigan running game going tonight. If he doesn’t, then the Wolverine offense will suffer the same result as last year, being limited to field goals. 


The Special Teams

You really don’t pay attention to any of the players on the special teams units unless something goes wrong. This is why these two units may be the most important set of players tonight.

If a crucial field goal is missed, a punt is blocked or a kickoff or punt is returned for a touchdown, it may be the deciding factor as to who comes out with a win. 

Last year the game was decided by field goals. Two years before that Notre Dame was able to hang around in the game as Michigan missed both of their field goal attempts, but still won 28-24.

These teams are so evenly matched that the game could come down to either one of the kickers with the fate of the game resting on their foot.


So which one of these crucial points will sway the game for Michigan or Notre Dame? Who knows, but it will be exciting to see which one is the key to a huge victory.