Michigan Football: Notre Dame Preview

John ZimmermanContributor ISeptember 12, 2009
Saturday afternoon will match-up two of college football's most storied programs; the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Michigan Wolverines.
This game may not have the same hype build-up that the 2006 game did, when Michigan hammered Notre Dame 47-21 in South Bend, but this game definitely has some major headlines leading to kick off.
I'll highlight some of those headlines throughout this preview, so let's get right down to it.

Notre Dame (1-0) @ Michigan (1-0) 3:30 PM Saturday. Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Offense: With many questions unanswered heading into their season opener last weekend, the Wolverines were able to answer just about all of them in the first half of their 31-7 win over Western Michigan.
Starting a freshman quarterback for only the third time in school history proved to be the right move for coach Rich Rodriquez. Tate Forcier led four scoring drives, throwing three touchdown passes en-route to a 179-yard day through the air.
His audition, as many called it, was passed with flying colors, and coach Rodriquez has given him the keys to the offense. Forcier will have to face a more experienced and better-coached defense this week, so we'll get to see what the freshman is really about.

Carlos Brown got the call at running back for the injured Brandon Minor, who looks to return to the field on Saturday, and rushed for 54 yards. Seven other players contributed to the run game, including speedy-freshman quarterback Menard Robinson, who scored on a 43-yard run after reversing his field and making people miss on his way to the end zone.

Michigan ran up 240 yards rushing last weekend, so the run game this week will be a huge key to setting up the passing game and opening up holes in the secondary for Forcier to find open receivers.

For Notre Dame, they return 10 of 11 starters from the 2008 team including quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide out Golden Tate. Tate was the team top receiver last year, and he was only a sophomore. He has the potential to be Notre Dame's next great receiver.

Along with Tate, the Irish return eight of their nine top receivers from last year. Michael Floyd will be a player to watch Saturday, as he lit up the Nevada defense last weekend for three touchdowns of 70, 24, and 88 yards.

Clausen will undoubtedly look to light-up a young Michigan secondary and spread the ball around to a talented and experienced group of receivers. The ND wide receivers have a clear-cut advantage over Michigan's secondary, so that is an area that the Irish will look to exploit early and often.



Brandon Graham, Ryan Van Bergen, and the rest of the Michigan defensive line held the Broncos and 1,000-yard rusher Brandon West to only 79 total yards rushing for the game. They also put tons of pressure on quarterback Tim Hiller, forcing bad throws and not giving him time to set himself to throw.

The linebackers and secondary have a very tough-task ahead of them this weekend. They faced a talented quarterback with inexperienced receivers last week, but now they face a veteran quarterback with explosive wide outs.

Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, two of Notre Dame's top receivers, could have a monstrous day if Michigan's front four can't get pressure on Clausen.

The key to Michigan's success on defense will come from the men up front. The pressure is on them Saturday afternoon, because if they let Clausen sit back and have all day to throw, Michigan's defense could be in for a long, long day.

While everyone keeps talking about Notre Dame's offensive explosion last week, the one thing people are quiet about is the fact that they shut out a high-powered and prolific offense in Nevada.

Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta will dial up plenty of blitzes and shit players around to try to confuse young Tate Forcier. Notre Dame's defense is much better then Western Michigan, so the Irish will try to lock down the freshman in what's his first big game of his young career.

Notre Dame's goal will be to shut down the Wolverine's running game and force Tate Forcier to go to the air against a veteran secondary. If they can stop the Michigan ground-game, and the front four can get penetration, the the advantage is clearly in Notre Dame's favor.


The Coaches

Entering last weekends game with some off-the-field issues, it was questioned on how the fans would respond to Rich Rodriguez and his team at Michigan Stadium.
Well, a loud roar echoed across the stadium each time position players exited the tunnel during pregame, and a roar unlike any heard over the last 365 echoed across the state of Michigan when the Wolverines took the field as a team for the first time in 2009.
The roars and ovations got louder and louder as the game went on as Michigan rolled to a 31-7 opening day win, their first opening day win since 2006. Signs such as "In Rod We Trust" showed across the stadium, and it was obvious that fans are players are behind and supporting their coach.

Charlie Weis came to Notre Dame a few years ago with high-expectations. In 2006, he led the Irish to a BCS Bowl game before falling at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl. Since then, the Irish have lost 15 games, the most losses over a two-year span in school history.

After playing a handful of young and inexperienced players the last two seasons, Notre Dame has some serious talent at key positions and essential leadership and experience at others. This is definitely Notre Dame's best team since the 2006 team that was ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll.


If Michigan Wins

A Michigan win would give Rich Rodriguez his first win over a big-time rival and also top-25 team. The win would also help raise his support-level in Ann Arbor. A victory would also give Michigan a 2-0 record and a case for a top-25 ranking and a chance to match their win total from last season with a win next week over Eastern Michigan.


If Notre Dame Wins

A Notre Dame win would also put them at 2-0, and give them their second consecutive win over Michigan. A win would also put the Irish on a collision-course with USC week six at 5-0, saying that they can get by Michigan State next week, too. More importantly, the Irish would be in great position to make a run at a BCS game with a big win.


The Pick

This is really a toss-up. Both teams have their advantages, but i'm going with Michigan in this one. I realize Notre Dame's defense is tough and shutout Nevada, but Michigan's offence finally has clicked.

They pushed the tempo last week and that will be a MAJOR key to victory by tiring out the Notre Dame front four. The biggest concern in Michigan's secondary vs. Notre Dame's receivers.

If Notre Dame can hit a few big plays, then watch out. If Michigan can pressure Clausen, however, the pressure will fall off the shoulders of the secondary and give Michigan an edge. Michigan has a key weapon in punter Zoltan Mesko, who can help change the field position in the blink of an eye in the special teams battle.

One final advantage for Michigan, they're playing at the Big House, which some say is louder this year then it has ever been. We'll see how that effects the game as well. This should be a good one, and i'm going with the maize and blue to move to 2-0.


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