If there was one game that defined the 2008 season for the Michigan Wolverines, it was the game against Notre Dame.
The Michigan team lost four fumbles, threw two interceptions and allowed its bitter rivals to jump out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. It highlighted a season-long struggle for the Wolverines to hang onto the football a equally horrifying picture of the opponent scoring at will.
Surely Michigan won't allow this to happen again?
The team seems more prepared this season—its second under Rich Rodriguez—and is coming off a big triumph over a decent Western Michigan squad.
No. 18 Notre Dame is also entering the game riding a early-season high. The Fighting Irish routed Nevada 35-0 and are looking to embarrass the Wolverines once again, but this time in front of their own fans.
I can't see a scenario where one team blows out the other. Here is how I see things playing out:
Michigan with the ball
Tate Forcier gets the nod once again for Michigan and he should see relief from Denard Robinson as well. The one-two punch for the Wolverines must prove dynamic if they are to be victorious. Both showed flashes of brilliance in their first collegiate game, but Notre Dame brings in a stout defense amped on throwing havoc at the freshmen.
The Fighting Irish secondary is also formidable and they have several highly touted athletes in the backfield. Forcier is going to have to be near perfect with his passes or the mistakes will prove costly in this contest.
The wild card here is the Wolverines rushing attack.
The unit was solid in its 2009 debut, racking up over 200 yards rushing. Robinson spearheaded the attack, but he'll need help against the Irish. Brandon Minor would be a huge lift if he does play and if he doesn't, Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw need to step up big in his absence.
Michigan must also try and get Martavious Odoms and Greg Mathews into the game as well. Junior Hemingway came up huge in the opener, but the Wolverines need all the receivers to perform well in a game as big as this one.
It won't be easy against a good secondary, but the unit must step up.
Notre Dame with the ball
Jimmy Clausen is coming off a four-touchdown performance against Nevada and had a shaky outing last year against Michigan. He will definitely want to continue the good start to the 2009 season and Michigan will be keying in on presenting him with blitzes and different packages to confuse him all afternoon.
Notre Dame has a deep group of receivers led by Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Armando Allen is also a threat to take it to the house out of the backfield, so Notre Dame has no shortage of weapons for Clausen to throw to.
I expect Clausen to air it out early and often and Michigan needs to try and get him on his back early to throw him off his game.
That will be a big key for Michigan. Brandon Graham, Mike Martin and others need to try and get in his face or knock him down to help out the rest of the defense.
Clausen used to be prone to making a few mistakes every game, but a couple years under center might have cured him of his errant throws.
Notre Dame racked up the points early and often against Nevada—like Michigan did against Western Michigan—and I see Clausen being able to find his receivers and the end zone. This will be especially true if U-M cornerback Boubacar Cissoko's injury acts up again.
Kickers for both teams are relatively new—one being a freshman the other a fifth year senior. Fifth year senior Jason Olesnavage saw his first kicks fly on a football field for Michigan against Western Michigan. Notre Dame's kicker, Nick Tausch, is a true freshman who also kicked his first collegiate points last weekend.
Both may be called upon to hit a game-tying or game-winning field goal this weekend and both coaches may finally see what kind of kicker their team possesses.
Michigan also has a dangerous weapon in punter Zoltan Mesko and dangerous weapons in Odoms, Daryl Stonum and Mathews returning kicks. A big kick return by either team could decide the game, especially if the offenses are clicking Saturday.
The Big House is the biggest factor here. The 110,000 strong will be mostly Wolverine fans and that obviously favors Michigan.
Both Rich Rodriguez and Charlie Weis are veteran coaches who know the importance of the game and both should have their squads ready for Saturday.
The weather was iffy last year and it didn't help as Michigan struggled to hang onto the football, but it's expected to be sunny and ideal in Ann Arbor once again. Should the conditions turn south in a hurry, the freshman quarterbacks for Michigan could suffer mightily.
Prediction: I expect a hard-fought and close game throughout. There is talent on both sides of the ball, so this game could be won in the trenches and through the kicking game. Both kickers haven't experienced a big college kick yet, so whichever one doesn't crumble could help lead his team to a win. However, I think Jimmy Clausen provides enough offense for UND to help them edge the Wolverines in Ann Arbor and notch another big win.
Notre Dame 34, Michigan 30