(Editor's note… Herring slipped this note to me before he left for a night of debauchery. No intro neccessary)
5. ESPN Waxes Poetic On Temporary End of ND/Michigan – Quite a few fine articles have been written this week by Irish leaning columnists who arm themselves with things like facts and history pertaining to the series. In the meantime – not one, but TWO, high profile ESPN yakking bloviators claimed to have fond memories of sitting by their dad's knee, where he tussled their hair before turning on their black and white rabbit eared TV sets to enjoy a yearly tradition as a family that centered around watching the Notre Dame versus Michigan game. The problem? Both Mark May and Skip Bayless were grown men when their respective lifetimes featured a live Irish/Wolverine battle on the gridiron. Their comments have been a tease to an entire week of ESPN promoting "the final one in Ann Arbor between bitter rivals" because ESPN is good at making money and most people could care less about the factors playing into what is most likely a another temporary hiatus from a game that, in fact, I DO look forward to each fall.
4. Devin Gardner: Turnover Machine? – Tommy Rees gets "Turnover" attached to his moniker but it is the Michigan quarterback who has struggled to limit the interceptions lately. Maybe you know Gardner threw 2 picks last week against Central Michigan. Maybe you didn't know – since taking over the starting duties against Minnesota last November, Gardner has thrown an interception in every single game. Gardner sits with 7 interceptions in 6 starts over 141 attempts. Get ready for the math – he's averaging an interception every 20 pass attempts as a starter. The 1/20 ratio is the same as Tommy Rees during his 2010 freshman season. In six career starts Gardner is 1-2 against quality, ranked opponents (2012: Northwestern, Ohio State & South Carolina) and has completed just 53% of his passes. If Tommy Rees proves the better quarterback on Saturday, it could be Gardner's, not Tommy's, problems with the football racing to a headline near you.
3. The Remarkable Tommy Rees v. Michigan Saga Concludes – Notre Dame's senior quarterback will take his final snap against Michigan at some point Saturday night. Easy to forget his first career college snap came against the Wolverines back in 2010. It was an interception and led to the last extended playing time of Nate Montana's career and the emergence of Denard Robinson's legacy. His 2011 performance in the Big House is the one you remember. Until last week against Temple, it was the last time he'd thrown for 300+ yards and his image may have been forever altered if not for Denard Robinson's arm punts. Rees took the ball down by 4 at his own 39 yard line with 1:12 left on the clock. Four plays and 61 yards later, Theo Riddick was standing in the end zone celebrating what should have been THE Rees signature moment. It wasn't to be. I was in attendance last September when Rees entered the Michigan game to a collective stadium groan and trolled us all by scoring the game-winning RUSHING touchdown. In less heralded updates – he went 8/11 passing and didn't hand the ball over in a match-up most remembered for the the Irish's suffocating defense of Robinson and lei's twirling rapidly throughout Notre Dame Stadium in honor on Manti Te'o's fallen loved one(s).
What can Rees do for an encore? Something he's never done – enter and exit the game with a win as the starting quarterback.
2. Too Much Of A Good Thing? – If the Temple offensive showed us anything, it's that Notre Dame's skill players are a diverse, extremely deep bunch. I mentioned it in the Rapid Reaction, but this is as good a collective group as we've ever seen. With TE & WR starters sprinkled around the NFL – it's a testament to the recruiting labors under Brian Kelly. With 3 consecutive Big 10 games ahead, we're on course toward a better idea of how and who Chuck Martin trusts on the biggest stages. It starts with the health of the groin on Davaris Daniels. The junior did his best Michael Floyd impression versus the Owls before pulling up lame on what should have been his third TD catch of the day. If Daniels is limited, is Corey Robinson in line for increased snaps and deep passes?
Possibly slipping under the radar due to Pistol formation snaps is the limited exposure to Irish running backs lining up for pass routes closer to the line of scrimmage. I expect to see more of this on Saturday with Carlisle being featured in the slot and targeted on rocket/swing passes to slow down the Michigan front. Against Temple we didn't see freshmen Greg Bryant or Tarean Folston until the game was in hand. Is there a role for the freshmen during a tight game against a formidable opponent? It remains to be seen.
1. Stephon Tuitt v. Taylor Lewan – The story on both sides of the line could rule the day on this list but the premiere battle taking place when these two go at it is the headliner. Last time the Irish were in the Big House, 2011 freshman Stephon Tuitt didn't take a snap. Saturday he'll lock horns with the 2012 1st Team All-American Taylor Lewan in what is the country's best head-to-head player match-up. I've never been as impressed with Lewan as others, including draft experts who rank him the #1 OL prospect for 2014, and I believe Tuitt is the more dominant player. Maybe it's Lewan's unit as a whole, but I can only remember Denard Robinson needing his speed and athletic ability to make up for the struggles in front of him. The Irish front seven harassed Robinson all night a year ago and while ND returns many of the same players, Michigan is bringing in new starters at both guards and the center position. This is going to be fun to watch.
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