Michigan-Notre Dame: Five Key Matchups Between the Bitter Rivals

Adam BoutonCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 05:  Tate Forcier #5 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates with Denard Robinson #16 after Robinson ran for a long first quarter touchdown against the Western Michigan Broncos on September 5, 2009 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

As Michigan piled up 31 points before halftime last Saturday against Western Michigan, something was apparent in Ann Arbor.

The swagger was back.

After losing to a Mid-American Conference opponent last year, UM didn't let that happen again in the first game of 2009. Instead, Michigan ran over the Broncos 31-7 in collecting some winning, positive mojo to open the season.

The Wolverines (1-0) will look to use that swagger and mojo against rival Notre Dame (1-0) in their second game of the season.

The Fighting Irish are also coming off a big victory in front of their home crowd. Notre Dame thumped Nevada 35-0 in its home opener.

There is no doubt that this contest will be as big as any between the two college football powerhouses. Both teams are looking to reclaim lost glory from years past, and that's why this year's matchup is important.

So, without further ado, here are five matchups between the two squads that I believe to be important this Saturday.

Notre Dame's quarterback Jimmy Clausen vs. Michigan secondary

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Clausen strolls into the Big House coming off just about a perfect outing. The junior threw for 315 yards on 15-of-18 passing and tallied four touchdowns through the air. He found good rhythm with sophomore wideout Michael Floyd, who hauled in three of his touchdown strikes.

Michigan is coming off a fine day as well, as its defense made WMU senior quarterback Tim Hiller look uncomfortable all afternoon. The unit forced Hiller to throw into tight coverage and also throw two interceptions.

Cornerback Boubacar Cissoko was one of the two Michigan players to come away with an interception.

The Wolverines forced Clausen to throw two interceptions in the meeting between the two teams last season in South Bend, but I find it hard to see Clausen repeating that mediocre performance after such a great outing last weekend.

Part of the reason Michigan was able to get turnovers against WMU was because of the pressure from the front seven.

Look for Notre Dame to do a better job of blocking and for Clausen to get the ball away quickly. Michigan's defense seemed to have some swagger against a talented quarterback in Hiller, but Clausen will have better numbers this weekend and should throw for a couple of scores.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Michigan's offensive line vs. Notre Dame's defensive line

Michigan didn't allow a sack last week against Western Michigan and gave freshman Tate Forcier and others all day in the backfield. Don't expect a repeat this week, as Notre Dame had four sacks against Nevada in its opener.

Michigan also was able to open up some gaping holes for Michael Shaw, Carlos Brown, Forcier, and Denard Robinson as the team ran up over 200 yards of rushing offense.

I expect Michigan to use multiple weapons again, as they should get Brandon Minor back, and be able to run the ball effectively again behind their big line.

Should Michigan get the ball rolling early, the offensive line could find cruise control and be able to effectively handle the blitzes and stunts the Fighting Irish defense throws at them.

Notre Dame has a much improved defense, however, which likes to bring blitzes and different packages all the time, so this could be a tough assignment for the offensive line.

Advantage: Push

Michigan's quarterback Tate Forcier vs. Notre Dame's defense

Forcier looked very effective in his first start as a Wolverine.

He had nice touch to his passes and put the ball right on the money on several of his throws. Forcier was facing a young and inexperienced WMU secondary, but even so, he looked polished and poised in his first game in Maize and Blue.

Notre Dame's defense forced three turnovers in keeping Nevada off the scoreboard throughout the game. The Fighting Irish held Nevada to 2-for-11 on third downs and allowed only 154 passing yards. It should be noted that Nevada nearly had more rushing yards than passing yards (154-153).

Forcier probably won't be asked to do everything by himself again, as he could see relief from Robinson.

This will be the real first test for Forcier. He looked solid in his first outing, but Notre Dame is nationally ranked and will do everything it can to make the young quarterback uncomfortable.

My hunch is that head coach Rich Rodriguez plays more conservative with Forcier and runs the ball a little more, allowing his freshman quarterback to get a little more acclimated against a much tougher opponent.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's running back Armando Allen vs. Michigan's front seven

Allen had 78 yards and a touchdown in the blowout against Nevada. He also had three catches for 25 yards. He played in the game against the Wolverines just a year ago but had only four yards on two carries.

Michigan's front seven looked like the solid, experienced unit they are as they limited WMU to just 38 yards on the ground in the season opener.

Allen is useful out of the backfield as a receiver and has speed to burn, so Michigan needs to be careful about who they attack. Should they leave him in single coverage, he could get by defenders and to the end zone.

I expect Michigan to use the experience of Brandon Graham, Mike Martin, Obi Ezeh, Jonas Mouton, and Stevie Brown to its advantage. Allen reminds me a little of WMU's Brandon West, who they just faced, and they seemed to shut him down fairly well.

Advantage: Michigan

Michigan's wide receivers against Notre Dame's secondary

Michigan saw some great production out of its wide receivers in the first game against the Broncos.

Junior Hemingway, especially, saw his stock rise as he hauled in two touchdown passes from Forcier in the first half. His 28-yard and 44-yard grabs for scores showed his ability deep and were a nice surprise for the Wolverines. He had five catches for 102 yards overall in the game.

While Hemingway had a great first game, Martavious Odoms (one catch) and Greg Mathews (two catches) saw few throws. There is no need to worry, however, as both Mathews and Odoms are talented and healthy and will see increased production as Forcier continues to develop in the pocket.

The Fighting Irish secondary had a hand in both interceptions last weekend against Nevada. Senior Kyle McCarthy is a very dependable safety for the Irish and proves a threat on the deep ball.

Cornerback Robert Blanton, who had an interception in the first game, is a rising talent in South Bend and should be covering one of the top Michigan wideouts.

There is talent on both sides this coming weekend. While Notre Dame has depth and talent in the secondary, I think Michigan has the edge here because of the varied and useful talents of the wide receivers.

Advantage: Michigan

Michigan and Notre Dame split with two votes each and one tie when it comes to my five key matchups. This runs with my believing this will be a close contest. I don't expect a lopsided victory by either team.

I'll have a score prediction of the Michigan game later this week.