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  • Michigan to Test Rejuvenated Irish

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame completes the Big-10 portion of its schedule on Saturday with a home game against the University of Michigan. The 3-0 Irish and the 2-1 Wolverines are idle next week, and both want to declare September a success by ending on a positive note against a traditional rival. The game will be played at night, starting at 7:30 PM Eastern time and will be nationally televised by NBC.

    Michigan has won the last three games in this series, and each contest was decided in the final minute. Last year’s giveaway loss was particularly egregious for the Notre Dame community, and payback is certainly on the minds of the coaches and players despite public denials that they are looking backward in time. This season’s early successes have reenergized the Irish program, and the limited remaining space on the bandwagon could quickly disappear with a victory this week.

    Coach Brian Kelly knows how difficult it has been to defeat Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson, so he developed his own version of the elusive senior in Everett Golson. The youngster is still learning to read defenses and locate his receivers, but his calm demeanor, lightning quickness and slingshot arm are God-given traits that were not acquired at the Hesburgh Library or in film study at the Gug.

    Equal praise must also be given to Notre Dame’s defense. The unit enjoyed a breakthrough performance last week in a 20-3 win over Michigan State after a decade of being maligned as slow, plodding and lacking in athleticism. The front line dominated their Spartan counterparts while linebacker Manti Te’o flashed from sideline to sideline like a jet-propelled tackling machine. Even the Irish special teams broke out of a season-long funk to make a positive difference in the outcome.

    Meanwhile, Michigan has looked very ordinary to date on both sides of the ball. The lone exception has been Robinson, whose ability to improvise with his legs under pressure and somehow find receivers with an improbable array of fluttering passes makes him a dangerous opponent.

    Neither team is injury free. Notre Dame lost its second starter from the defensive backfield for the season when safety Jamoris Slaughter went down in the third quarter last week. Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore is also nursing an injured leg and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels is recovering from an ankle sprain. Both will play on Saturday. The Wolverines had already lost starting cornerback Blake Countess for the year, and key contributors such as linebacker Desmond Morgan, defensive end Brennen Beyer, tight end Brandon Moore and fullback Stephen Hopkins are questionable for this game.

    NOTRE DAME’S OFFENSE VS. MICHIGAN’S DEFENSE

    With running back Cierre Wood back in the lineup and Daniels healthy enough to contribute at wide receiver, Kelly and Golson have a full complement of weapons to throw at Greg Mattison’s defense. The matchup to watch in the trenches is the right side of the Irish offensive line with Mike Golic and Christian Lombard against Michigan’s front four led by seniors Craig Roh and William Campbell. Mattison is sure to employ stunts and blitzes to attack Notre Dame’s relative inexperience as both Golic and Lombard have struggled at times.

    The Wolverines have had trouble stopping the run, and that problem is not just confined to Alabama’s dominance in the season opener. They are ranked #100 in rush defense and the front seven is relatively nondescript as compared to traditionally well-stocked Michigan squads. The two starting safeties lead the team in tackles, prompting Hoke to remark, “I’ll always tell you we need to get more from our linebackers…but some of it is by design, depending on what coverages you’re playing and then some of it, obviously we like to see the second level guys and the guys up front get off blocks and make some plays.”

    Hoke and Mattison have rotated linebackers in practice and in games in search of improved results. The best of the group is Jake Ryan, who starts on the strong side. If Morgan is not ready to go on the weak side, freshman James Ross will be inserted into the lineup. Veteran cornerback J.T. Floyd is the team’s best cover man, while both Raymon Taylor and Courtney Avery have tried to replace Countess on the other side with mixed results to date. Safeties Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon are solid players, but the Wolverines have not intercepted a pass this season.

    Balance and unpredictability are again paramount for Kelly and the Irish. The team must improve its third down conversion rate and will struggle to do so if Mattison’s defense can force too many obvious passing downs. The running game should be productive as Notre Dame’s rugged tight ends should be able to block Michigan’s second level players. Golson will attempt to loosen up the safeties with a few deep balls to Daniels and freshman Chris Brown. These plays just missed last week but it’s only a matter of time before the Irish hit one or two for long gains.

    MICHIGAN’S OFFENSE VS. NOTRE DAME’S DEFENSE

    The Wolverines have relied heavily on Robinson to generate offense both on the ground and through the air. Fitz Toussaint, the starting tailback, has failed to get untracked after missing the opener against Alabama due to a suspension. He is backed up by Vincent Smith, a small, quick player, and Thomas Rawls, a more compact and powerful runner. Robinson has accounted for 60% of the team’s rushing yards, averaging more than 100 yards per game and almost nine yards per carry. Many of these runs are improvised rather than scripted. Notre Dame must gear up to contain him, but Bob Diaco’s defense paid the ultimate price last year when they left Michigan receivers in single coverage to counter Robinson’s scrambling ability.

    The offensive line has been a source of concern for Hoke despite the presence of three fifth year seniors at center and guard, along with huge tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. This group is adequate in pass protection but will have trouble moving the formidable Irish. Lewan acknowledged the line’s struggles when discussing their early season performance, saying, ”You have to play angry, a little nasty,” he said Monday. ”I think our offensive line needs to do that a little bit more.”

    Despite the recent painful outcomes orchestrated by Robinson against Notre Dame, conventional wisdom still suggests that the Irish should challenge Robinson, who does not possess great arm strength or pass with exceptional accuracy, to beat them through the air. The Wolverines have a few quality wideouts in converted quarterback Devin Gardner, Drew Dileo, and pint-sized Jeremy Gallon. Each has a knack for getting behind the secondary for long plays, especially when Robinson buys time in the pocket and coverage breaks down. Roy Roundtree is a capable possession receiver and Moore is expected to return to the lineup at tight end. In his two-game absence, freshman Devin Funchess distinguished himself by catching six passes and scoring two touchdowns.

    Notre Dame’s depleted secondary played extremely well last week at Michigan State, but the Wolverine receivers present a more difficult challenge. This matchup is critical to the outcome, and the absence of free safety Slaughter at the back end of the defense is bound to be felt at some point in the game. A strong pass rush will help Notre Dame, but the downside of all-out pursuit is to leave running lanes that enable Robinson to pull the ball down and break into the open field. The Irish must answer these excursions with sure, hard tackling. Robinson also likes to throw short, crisp passes of five to eight yards on first down to create manageable second and third down situations. If Michigan is successful in this area it will relieve pressure on its offensive line and lead to more scoring chances.

    SPECIAL TEAMS

    The Irish kicked and punted the ball very effectively last week, but the return game still has not produced the type of results that can make a difference in the outcome. The Wolverines have been relatively weak in punt and kick coverage this season, so there is an opportunity for DaVonte Neal or George Atkinson to break off a long gainer.

    Strong-legged kicker Kyle Brindza has been a pleasant surprise for Notre Dame in the field goal department in place of the injured Nick Tausch, while Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons has attempted only one three-pointer this year and was successful. Gallon handles the punts for the Wolverines while the kickoff return duties are shared by Vincent Smith and freshman Dennis Norfleet. The overall production from this group has been unremarkable to date.

    SUMMARY

    The Irish appear to have an advantage in the trenches that should translate to the scoreboard, but Robinson’s ability to create positive plays at crucial moments is a great equalizer. The key for Notre Dame’s defense is to extract a physical toll on Robinson for his forays out of the pocket and prevent his receivers from shaking loose downfield for backbreaking big plays.

    The chess match between Kelly and Mattison will be an interesting element in this game, but the Irish offensive line can make this more of a non-factor by playing aggressively and establishing the run in any down and distance situation. In the passing game, the return of Daniels and the ability of Tyler Eifert to bounce back after being shut out last week are critical for Notre Dame.

    Here are a few questions that will shed light on the outcome:

    Can Notre Dame continue to protect the football in exemplary fashion?

    Will Robinson be able to generate enough big plays of more than 20 yards to tilt the outcome?

    Can Notre Dame’s special teams secure favorable field position?

    Will the young Irish secondary hold up against Michigan’s receivers?

    Can the Wolverines get their running game going against Notre Dame’s massive front?

    Will Notre Dame’s defense be able to put Michigan in third and long situations?

    Can the Irish control the time of possession and limit Robinson’s scoring chances?

    PREDICTION

    In each of the past three years, Notre Dame has been the better overall team on paper but has managed to lose in gut-wrenching fashion due to a few plays that can be considered miraculous or catastrophic depending on one’s perspective. This season, an Irish offense that has avoided costly turnovers will line up against a Michigan defense that would be hard pressed to take away a purse from a ninety year old, ninety-five pound grandmother.  If recent history holds on Saturday, however, something strange and mind-boggling will happen to Notre Dame. You know it, and I know it. That said, this game marks a critical juncture in Kelly’s endeavor to restore the Irish program, and failure is not an option. Last season, his team came out flat in a much-anticipated night game and was pushed around by its other main rival, Southern California. Yet another inexplicable gaffe resulted in a 14-point swing in that affair, and Notre Dame fans were brought back to earth with a resounding thud.

    Well, enough already. Robinson will be up to his usual tricks and make this a close game, but the Irish simply need it more than the Wolverines.

    NOTRE DAME 27  MICHIGAN 24

    37 Responses to “Michigan to Test Rejuvenated Irish”

    1. Its hard not to be jittery given the absurd bounces of the last 2 years. But we simply are better, and if Chris Brown catches one, and GAIII breaks one, it could be a laugher. Michigan almost gave up against Bama. Lets do it to them again. 28-17. (Note my prediction last week was 20-10)

    2. Hope you are right…The program needs this game very badly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    3. Golson : ICBA Inter-Continental Ballistic Arm!

    4. tc69 I couldn’t agree more!!!! This is a big weekend for the team, program, recruits and the school!!!!
      GO IRISH!!!!!!

    5. AND….FOR GOD-SAKES ITS MICHIGAN!!!!!!!

    6. This prediction is coming out a few days early – does that mean JVan will be in the House?

      • John Vannie says:

        I’m going to the Miami game, but I would have dragged myself out there this weekend too despite the 2000 mile commute if I knew a month ago that we would start 3-0.

        • I swore off all live games this year after suffering through last year’s USC debacle (I have the same commute) and Stanford. Oh well, the Irish pub will have to suffice this year.

    7. The Irish D and the offensive skilled players will wreck havoc on the Wolverines. BK called last week a “signature win” but this is even bigger. It’s always difficult to come back from an inspiring and emotional win the following week (aka BC loss in 1993). Not this time. Irish win big 34-13.

    8. BK’s plan is Coming together. It’s good to see our boys playing with a little swagger.

    9. Coach Irish says:

      I tend to agree that this one will not be as close as anticipated. ND 31-13,
      Some random thoughts:
      -I want more talk of Manti Teo for the Heisman (but more importantly, I want him to be a Bear next year)…
      -ND’s strength is their run-stuffing defense (wow, it felt good to type that!).
      -Cierre Wood looked faster than ever on Saturday.
      -The misdirection with GAIII was just plain sexy.
      -I am happy with Golson’s low completion percentage as long as he’s not forcing things when he doesn’t have to (and with a good defense and solid punter, you rarely have to)
      -I expect this game to have a pleasant impact on the recruiting front (both this coming year, and next).

      Go Irish, Lads!

    10. Of you think it’s going to be a laughable game you might be in for a long night. Michigan’s the best team you’ve player all year. Msu’s overrated from the start. Msu’s qb isn’t good and recipe vets can’t catch and defense look slow. Michigan lets not forget has won the last three in a row. Last year denard threw..threw not ran for four Tds in the 4th quarter. Let’s not forget as you call or d bad it held your offense to only 1 second half td. And that was with Floyd on your team. It’s going to be a nail biter. Michigan’s qb can throw and or receivers can catch unlike MSU last week. Your front is good and Tao is an animal but your secondary isn’t very good. Gonna be a great game

      • Dan,
        No one said its going to be a laughable game, but the fact is ND is superior in the trenches, that doesn’t always mean an easy win, but if they take care of the football and run the ball effectively on a mediocre Michigan run D, then it could become an easy win for ND. Also if you watched any of our last two games you would not say our secondary “isn’t very good”, they are young but extremely athletic and have been making great plays on the ball. The only reason Michigan passed effectively last year was because Gary Gray couldn’t turn his head to look for Denard’s jump balls. ND will keep Denard in the pocket and make him beat them with his arm. Football is won in the trenches, you may be more explosive on offense than MSU, but their lines are much better than Michigan’s lines, Enjoy losing to Sparty again this year. And FYI, most of those drops that the Sparty receivers had, were the result of poor throws caused by all the defensive pressure in Maxwell’s face. Go IRISH!

      • Who said the game was going to be “laughable”? Also, when I read your writing it’s like I’m watching an old western when the Indians were trying to speak English. “Me not trust the white man. Me must fight for land.”

    11. Great to see a top 20 Michigan and Notre Dame playing. Feels like the good old days. GO IRISH

    12. I think we’re going to be able to move the ball at will vs. Michigan. I don’t see a tight game at all. scUM damn near lost to Air Force.

      ND 31 Michigan 10

    13. Dan, you have to be kidding me… Last years game was just that…last year. Or team will finish it’s business Saturday night unlike the recent years you speak of. ND 31 – UM 17

    14. Thomas Wilson says:

      Dan, you might be right we will see, but you use last years results to prove your point and if that is the case then MSU is the best team that ND will have played because they manhandles UM last year.

    15. I think we need to jamb their receivers at the line to prevent quick hit passes and that would also enable us to have more of our defense close to the line to help contain, sack Robinson should he decide to bolt. If their receivers are allowed to roam at will, and we can’t get to Robinson quick enough, he will once again get lucky with his blooper, underthrown crap passes. I don’t want to see a repeat Michigan SCUMBACK like last year. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO IRISH

    16. irishhawk50 says:

      I think this game will test the poise and development of the Irish. As you say, on paper the Irish look better but if we only went on the betting line they wouldn’t have to play the game. I worry about Golson’s passing game. A few big plays have bailed the Irish out of a terrible third down conversion rate and MSU dropped a couple game changing balls that should have been intercepted. I think Michigan will also try to load the box and try to force Golson to beat them with his arm. Clearly this is a team that is getting better each week and I think can and will beat Michigan. Go Irish!

    17. I see some scUM fans put a flag at the stadium. Is that to put over the box they are going to carry shoelace out of the stadium in?

    18. I was annoyed to see on ncaafootball.com Michigan is predicted to win by 4. How often would a #18 team on the road at a #11 team be projected to win? Not very. I’m getting tired of the Irish being under respected. I’m also getting even more tired of hearing about Robinson. Is he a skilled athlete? Yes. Is he one of the best QB’s in college football? No. Sure he can scramble and make some big plays but he throws a lof of INTs and his decision making at QB is often questionable. ND wins by a comfortable margin. ND 27-MICH 16. Go Irish! No mercy!

    19. SubwayAlum_2012 says:

      To take a paraphrase from “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli, the end will justify the means. If Notre Dame wins by one at the last second, I will rejoice. If Notre Dame wins by 30 and rushes for 350, I will rejoice. Style points be damned this week, all I want is a 4-0 Irish team. Hell, I could take a Trent Dilfer 2000 Ravens performance from Golson if it meant we got a Ray Lewis 2000 Ravens performance out of Te’o, a Saragusa performance from Nix, and an Ed Reed performance from Motta. On the converse, I can abide a Chubby Charlie outscore-for-4-quarters approach as well. Just as long as ND wins. GO IRISH, BEAT MICHIGAN!

      Michigan: x (x being any number), Notre Dame: y (such that y>x)

    20. Cant wait till Sat. night. I think we finally stick it to them good. Michigan sucks this year. They have been gettin lucky. Breakthrough butt whoopin to silence all the haters for good. 35-10

    21. Anytime we play scUM it’s a nerve racking debacle for several hours, not to mention the several days leading up to the game but as always i’ll will be watching RUDY Saturday morning and getting hyped for the game, I would love to see ND open a can on these guys but as long as we get the W and ride high into Chicago i’ll be cool, i think ND wins 30-17, we protect the ball limit TO’s and C. Wood runs like a wild man back onto the college football scene!!! Would love to see #19 Neal have a breakout game both returning and recieving…..GO IRISH…….F MICHIGAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    22. I dont care if Michigan is a 4 point favorite. Should give the Irish more incentive. No respect at home. It is time to make Notre Dame Stadium a bad experience for the opposing team again. It may as well start this week. As Lou used to tell his guys, “It doesnt have to be close!”

    23. I am not on the bandwagon yet and still see an 8-4 season. Mich wins 27-25.
      If ND wins this game then things just might start to get very interesting in South Bend.

    24. Fooball guy says:

      Jimbo should have duct tape marked across his whole mouth. He is giving the Irish no credit and is a bad fan. The Irish are going to kick Michigans butt just like Alabama did. Jimbo will see the truth soon. The truth will enlighten him.

    25. I think ND will handle Michigan just like they have the past 3 seasons. Except this time ND will dominate in all 4 quarters. ND wins 34-10. Easy win for ND. D Rob is the only weapon Micigan has. And yes D rob is a great play maker ND simply has too much beef up front this year. ND is licking their chops at getting ahold of D rob

    26. The question is not whether ND is better than Michigan. We all know they are. The question is, “How does ND stack up against Alabama?” Just how much of a hurt can the Irish put on Michigan?

      • Seems like you have no doubt drank the kool-aide. ND is nowhere near the class and talent and coaching of Bama. Let’s try to at least be honest in our posting.

    27. Correct me if i am wrong but nd is about 50/50 each season when it comes to playing mi teams in the last 10 years. Hopefully nd can break out of that stat other one and the from the last three seasons.
      After that note the mediator was dead on with the comment about the trenches. Our lines are dominant. It is our inexperience at other positions that is the x factor. Minus a few exceptions. Mi st matched up very well against our offense and defense but we controlled the line of scrimmage. Having said that, michigan brings a different offense this week that is arguably the best passing game that we have faced yet.(d rob isnt a great passer but neither is purdue). Watch our secondary grow up before your eyes and pick two balls only if we get pressure on d rob.
      Nd wins a closer game 24 to 20. The game will not be that close on the field.
      8-4 season depending on how Everett golsen matures. 9-3 if he is excels.

    28. Older Domer says:

      To quote Ricky Ricardo: “Let me splane this to you Lucy.” Every so often magic hits at Notre Dame. It has been a lot longer than we are used to. It looks close. The heart is there, the ability is there, now those crazy intangibles have to fall our way.

      I like the fact that our fourth or fifith defensive lineman, Tony Springarm, appears to be bigger than anyone, including Tuitt on the team, and he needs to lose the baby fat. Give UM all the props in the world, and then Beat Them!

    29. As much as I would love a comfortable win, this game is going to be close. EG is going to have a multi-interception game. Watch the msu game again and see all the balls that could have been picked off if the corners were better (including the TD to goodman). EG is going to be in heisman conversation before he’s done but if those picks happen early in the game I don’t know if he has the poise right now to overcome and it could be a frustrating night watching our offense. I hope I’m wrong but I think Michigan is ahead at the half and we lose another close one.

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