Who can forget Denard Robinson bringing the Wolverines back from a 24-7 deficit in the fourth quarter last year against the Fighting Irish for the most unlikely of wins?
It was the game that broke the heart of the Irish and they have waited a year for a chance at revenge. After their 3-0 start they will surely be confident they can do it.
As Coach Brian Kelly says "He's a superior football player. He is a difference maker, We have to find a way to limit big chunk plays, just like we have the first few weeks. It's about our defense not giving up those big, chunk plays. We gave them up in the running game in year one and we gave them up in the passing game in year two."
So the stage is set. No.11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0) welcome the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (2-1) to their home at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, September 22nd at 7:30 pm. The game will be broadcast on NBC.
The Fighting Irish cemented themselves as a top national team downing the Michigan State Spartans last week 20-3. The Wolverines also found themselves in the win column against a weak UMass team 63-13.
In a game that came down to the wire last year in Ann Arbor the maize and blue pulled one out against the blue and gold on a pass thrown by Denard Robinson to Roy Roundtree with two seconds left. RB Cierre Wood (134 yards, 1 TD) ran roughshod on the Wolverines in the stunning loss in a game that also saw QB Tommy Reese put up 315 yards passing and three touchdowns.
The ranked squads facing each other for the 40th time in a rivalry dating back to 1887. In that inaugural matchup The Wolverines dominated the Fighting Irish 8-0 in the first football game in Notre Dame history. The teams have played consistently since 1978 and have extended the yearly rivalry to 2031. The Wolverines hold the all-time series 23-15-1 lead, winning three straight. Michigan is one of four schools to have a winning record against Notre Dame (Florida State, Ohio, Nebraska)
Here’s how the teams matchup for the College Football Game of the week:
Notre Dame Offense
QB Everett Golson (611 yards, 3 TD, 1 rushing TD, ) has ended the Notre Dame quarterback controversy with his domineering play this year. The running and passing dual threat will be asked to produce more under more pressure in perhaps the most important game for the Fighting Irish in several years. Golson proved especially proficient in the red zone against Michigan State capitalizing on both opportunities improving upon the weak red zone play against Michigan last year (2 interceptions).
He has very capable receivers in All-American TE Tyler Eifert (120 yards, 1 TD) and WR TJ Jones (130 yards, 1 TD). The squad is very deep. Eight receivers have at least one reception of 20 yards or more.
Last week also saw the welcome return of a productive Cierre Wood who will look for a repeat performance of last year in Ann Arbor and will join backs Theo Riddick (198 rushing yards, 2 TDs) and George Atkinson III (144 yards, 2 TDs) against a Michigan run defense that yielded 232 yards to Alabama in week one.
The Fighting Irish are also flourishing thanks to sublime Special Teams play. Punter Ben Turk was honored last week as FBS Independent Special Teams player of the week averaging 42.3 yards on eight punts, with four of his boots downed inside the 20 yard line.
Notre Dame Defense
The Fighting Irish defense has been punishing. Its 30 total points allowed over three games is its lowest total since the team’s championship winning season in 1988. The stout squad has not allowed one rushing TD. Their 866 total yards against is the lowest since 2002. This surge is partly due to the outstanding play of LB Manti T’eo (30 tackles). The All-American was selected as FBS defensive player of the week with 12 tackles, a game high, two pass break ups and an 8-yard fourth quarter fumble return against Michigan State. S Zeke Motta (19 tackles) and LBDan Fox (16 tackles) play strong supporting roles on defense.
The Notre Dame defensive line is anchored by defensive tackle Louis Nix III who will look to contain Michigan’s running attack, especially the scrambling of dangerous quarterback Denard Robinson. His work in the middle will free up DE Stephon Tuitt (2nd in the nation with 5 sacks) and Prince Shembo (9 tackles and a sack against MSU) to wreak havoc on Robinson and the Wolverine offense.
Denard Robinson is just as dangerous in the air as on the ground. His threat to run forces backfields to play conservative opening them up for big plays like the killer throw from Robinson to Roy Roundtree last year. The Fighting Irish backfield will have their hands full especially with the season-ending injury to S Jamoris Slaughter.
Two words. Denard Robinson. Coming off a game totaling of 397 total yards against UMASS, the athletic Michigan QB has been a thorn in Notre Dame’s side each year since his 2010 500 total yard (258 rushing, 244 passing) effort for the ages. In last year’s victory Robinson went off in the 4th quarter for 28 points leading the blue and maize back from being down 24-7 on four touchdown drives. Coach Kelly understands the importance of stopping this Wolverine dynamo who already has notched 351 yards and four touchdowns this season. Denard’s Achilles heel is interceptions. He surrended two in a crushing loss to top team Alabama.
Denard has capable weapons in WR Devin Gardner (155 yards, 3 TDs), TE Devin Funchess (140 yards, 2 TDs).
RB Fitz Touissant adds a second running threat for the Notre Dame offense. Against UMASS last week he totaled 85 yards and an 11 yard touchdown.
The defense is led by Safety Jordan Kovacs and his 23 tackles. A key to the defense’s success is the play of LB Kenny Demens. He is Mr. Consistent having started 41 straight games at the position with 12 tackles on the season, He will be called upon to have a big game against the Blue and Gold. The 6’5” DT William Campbell is a beast in the middle. Prediction Notre Dame 30 Michigan 14