Saturday will be exciting, and how could it not be? Ohio State vs. USC is on—and normally, the phrase "so is Notre Dame/Michigan" would be thrown in there without hesitation.
Um, not so much this year.
This game, so lovingly called "Cripple Fight" or "Cripple Fight 2008" by some on the 'net, is setting up to be one of the most pathetic in this long and storied rivalry. Why, you ask?
Well, that's what I'm here for.
The Irish, under Charlie "Weebles Wobble" Weis, were being touted by many to top 10 wins this season. But after the shocking near-loss to one of DI-A's worst programs, San Diego State, the harsh reality set in. (And no, I'm not talking about the Vegas lines, which went from Notre Dame -8 to Michigan -1 in a matter of two weeks.)
The offensive line, while solid in pass protection, still sucks versus the run. The run game as a whole was not very good, "earning" a measly 3.1 YPC against SDSU. Their wide receivers are one-dimensional and not good at that lone dimension.
True, they have one burner for a WR (Golden Tate), but Michigan has Morgan Trent (OMG 4.13) and Donovan Warren to counter.
The only true positive was Jimmah Clausen, and he had all day to throw against a porous SDSU pass rush.
As for Charlie the Hutt, he now finds himself backpedaling a bit now that people are once again talking about his "To hell with Michigan" comment. He claims it was a tribute to Bo, but when Bo said it, he meant it.
Stick to your guns (or bounty hunters, Mr. Hutt) and admit that you meant it. You gave the Wolverines enough bulletin board material already, but there's no way they're going to want to lose to a flip-flopper like yourself.
Defense is still a massive issue in South Bend, where they gave up 345 yards and 4.7 YPC against SDSU, who lost to Cal Poly Tech. Yes, you read that correctly.
This might be the true heart of "Cripple Fight": the Michigan offense vs. the Notre Dame defense. Oh, what a car-crash this will be.
So what is the strategy? It can't possibly be a "pound it, pound it, pound it (I know we're Catholic, but not like that)" strategy, can it? Against Michigan's front four, I would certainly hope not if I were an Irish fan.
The key for Notre Dame will be to try to take the defensive line out of the game with short dink-and-dunk passes that force Michigan's linebackers, less than stout in the first two games, to drop into coverage more often. I expect to see a healthy dose of the tight end, whomever that may be at game time.
As for Michigan, well, it doesn't get much better.
The loss to Utah in the opener tells us a few things. While not infinitely better, Steven Threet is a superior quarterback to Nick Sheridan. Threet has a tendency to sail throws but at least not in a manner in which they land in the middle of wrong-colored jerseys.
The ground game improved, albeit against an opponent of inferior quality, but this weak Notre Dame defense could be just what the doctor ordered. Expect to see plenty of Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw in this one.
Defensively, things haven't been perfect, but they've been pretty darn good. The line has been as advertised (great), the linebackers are steadily improving with Obi Ezeh as the standout anchor, and the secondary has been very good aside from Stevie Brown, who may or may not know how to play football.
(Note: Stevie was somehow a highly rated recruit, yet makes so many colossal errors that I no longer believe this, no matter what kind of information is given.)
The key for Michigan will be to throw plenty of screens and quick slants to counter the heavy blitzing Notre Dame defense. If the line can come through, McGuffie and Shaw should be able to pick up decent gains and allow Threet to get a few play-action passes off. Fireworks will not be had, but at least we can resemble a real offense.
This won't be pretty and will probably cause more pain than pleasure, but Cripple Fight will be close. The Michigan defense should be able to shut down Jimmah and friends on the way to a huge road win.
Attention, Mr. Weis: You might want to start preparing your resume, because no one in South Bend is going to want you if you lose to Michigan.
Final Score: Michigan 10, Notre Dame 6