Michigan vs. Notre Dame: Young Studs to Watch in Marquee Matchup
There will be a few new young studs to watch when Michigan and Notre Dame collide this weekend.
The same familiar faces will still be there of course—Denard Robinson, Manti Te'o, Brady Hoke, and Brian Kelly, among others.
They'll now be joined by some freshmen and sophomores that have yet to star in the fierce rivalry.
These young players have a chance to make a huge impact on the game and must be watched this weekend.
Notre Dame: Stephon Tuitt, Sophomore Defensive End
Stephon Tuitt has been an absolute monster for the Fighting Irish. The sophomore defensive lineman has terrorized opposing quarterbacks this season, recording five sacks in just three games.
Tuitt is a terrific athlete with outstanding speed and quickness for his size (just watch him return a fumble for a touchdown here).
Notre Dame offensive lineman Chris Watt recently talked to CSNChicago.com's JJ Stankevitz about Tuitt's speed, saying:
“In practice one time, Tuitt dropped back in pass coverage and was covering a wide receiver man-to-man and doing it pretty well. We were watching it on film during camp and it was pretty ridiculous."
It will be Tuitt's job to pressure Denard Robinson and cut off the explosive quarterback's running lanes. If he can get into the backfield, he'll make it very difficult for Michigan to do anything offensively.
George Atkinson III, Sophomore Running Back
Notre Dame's backfield is becoming a bit crowded with the return of Cierre Wood.
Wood was suspended for the first two games of the season for violating team rules. He looked solid in his return last week, rushing for 56 yards on 10 carries.
Even though Wood is back with the team, Atkinson should still get his fair share of opportunities. He's shown too much talent to be kept off the field.
Atkinson has rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries this season. He's an explosive runner and has ripped off gains of 56 and 32 yards against Navy and Michigan State, respectively.
Michigan has given up over 210 rushing yards per game and Notre Dame will be looking to run the ball frequently. Atkinson is sure to get at least a few touches, and judging from his play so far, he'll make the most of those opportunities.
Everett Golson, Sophomore Quarterback
The Wolverines are going to do everything in their power to stop the run, which means that Everett Golson is going to have to make some big plays this weekend.
Last week, against the vaunted Michigan State defense, Golson threw for 178 yards and a touchdown pass. His completion percentage (43.8) wasn't great, but the stats don't tell the whole story in this case.
Golson looked confident the entire game. He was unafraid to take shots downfield and made solid decisions.
Coach Brian Kelly told Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press:
“Michigan State is a great team with a great defense, but we were able to get some big plays in the run game and you could see what Everett can do. He has a great demeanor. He keeps his eyes downfield and he as the ability to do those kinds of things. He’s only going to get better”
Golson will need a repeat performance against the Wolverines. Michigan is going to stack the line and force him to make plays for the Irish. It will be interesting to see how he builds on last week's performance.
Michigan: Devin Funchess, Freshman Tight End
Freshman tight end Devin Funchess has quickly become one of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson's favorite targets.
Funchess didn't play in the season opener against Alabama, but he's been eye-opening for the Wolverines in the last two games, recording six catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
His ability to spread the field will be key in this game.
Robinson's legs are feared far more than his arm, but he's done a number on Notre Dame through the air. The Wolverines quarterback threw for 244 yards in 2010 and 338 yards in 2011 against the Irish.
Notre Dame will be keying in on Robinson's ability to run, which will open up holes in the secondary for Funchess. At 6'5”, Funchess has the size to beat defensive backs deep and the speed to outrun linebackers. He'll have the opportunity to make some big plays against the Fighting Irish this weekend.
Joe Bolden, Freshman Linebacker
According to Kyle Meinke of Mlive.com, veteran linebacker Kenny Demens will get the start against Notre Dame. That doesn't mean that Bolden won't also play.
Bolden has looked great in his time on the field, recording 12 tackles, including a tackle for loss.
He looked particularly good against Air Force, against whom he played the entire second half and recorded 10 tackles in a tightly contested game.
Despite being a freshman, Bolden has looked solid against the run this year. He'll be asked to chip in quite a bit against Notre Dame, who will look to run the ball frequently.
Bolden is quick and has a nose for the ball-carrier. He'll be one to watch this weekend.
Dennis Norfleet, Freshman Running Back
Norfleet hasn't been asked to contribute much to Michigan's offense thus far in the year, but he has taken on the kick return duties for the Wolverines.
Norfleet has racked up 298 yards off of kick returns, with his best return going 36 yards.
He hasn't taken one to the house yet, but with his speed, he definitely will at some point.
Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson, who has been with the Wolverines for 21 years, told Kyle Meinke of AnnArbor.com:
“Norfleet is as quick as any kid at Michigan since I've been here. I haven’t seen a guy that quick."
Norfleet's speed always makes him a threat to take a kick all the way, and he'll be given a few opportunities to do just that against the Irish.