#14 Notre Dame v. #17 Michigan
The Big House – Ann Arbor, MI – 8:00 PM EST on ESPN
First things – Check out my weekly list of Five Things To Watch in the Saturday's game. Luckily I've been too busy to pore over all the nonsense filtering out about "the tragic demise of this great historical rivalry" of which I've seen quite a bit on my Twitter feed. If we're being honest then I'll admit that I'm sad to see the rivalry go on what may be an extended break. I'm a sports fan by nature and the angst and frustration I feel towards Michigan Football makes this win so much sweeter when we get it. Their fans are arrogant and bountiful in numbers – a great combination for year-long gloating. I expect that the current Athletic Directors or their successors will ultimately find a place for this rivalry again in the future. In the mean time – let's get a head start on planning Fall trips to beautiful South & North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and the other Atlantic Coast Conference locales where the brand of football might just be better and without question the scenery will be too.
Don't miss a fine preview of the Michigan game with ESPN's Matt Fortuna & John Walters
We could talk about Devin Gardner & Tommy Rees ad nauseam but we'll know plenty about the type of game we have from the early play in the trenches. Michigan brings three new starters on the interior offensive line at both guard and the center position. If Michigan plans on double teaming Louis Nix most of the night, look for Diaco to dial up pressure to get Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo into favorable match-ups all over the line of scrimmage. I do need to detour here to share with you a comment regarding Stephon Tuitt by ESPN.com's Michigan beat writer. I had ESPN's Notre Dame writer, Matt Fortuna, on the podcast and I was reviewing his posts this week. He joined a "Notre Dame-Michigan Writers Roundtable" with their Big 10 blogger, Brian Bennett, and a gal on the Michigan beat named Chantel Jennings. The group was asked this question,
Question: "Which MISMATCH between these two teams are you most intrigued to watch?"
Her response, without editing:
Jennings: Left tackle Taylor Lewan on whomever or whatever Notre Dame tries to throw at him. He’s so crucial to Michigan’s offense, and I really don’t see him not dominating any matchup this season. Lewan came back for games like this and matchups like what he’ll have against Tuitt.
So the biggest "mismatch" features two preseason All-Americans standing toe-to-toe? This makes sense how? Did Taylor Lewan become Anthony Munoz this offseason? Is he grading out better than any offensive tackle draft prospect ever? Does she know Tuitt is injured and we don't? How many better answers to this question exist? My response would have been "Michigan's skill players getting in space against Notre Dame's inside linebackers … or Tommy Rees against a defensive line that can get pressure with four rushers … or Ben Koyack and the Irish backs picking up Michigan blitzes … or maybe Louis Nix against young offensive linemen in their second career starts. I get she needed to provide some Michigan slant but calling one of the the entire 2013 College Football season's preeminent horn lockings a "mismatch" discredits this young writer quite a bit. Here's hoping this is posted in an Irish locker room somewhere. Or everywhere.
Matt Fortuna mentioned on the podcast that he was leaning toward picking the Wolverines because they have "more to play for" in this game. I respect Matt a lot and his work continues to get better each week, but I'm not buying this angle. For some teams – success leads to complacency. For others – success drives the need for more success. I can only fantasize what life on campus in South Bend resembles when you're a player on an undefeated team late in the season. I think the 2013 Irish squad is filled with guys who like that feeling and are willing to work hard to get it back. For the players on this team like Rees, Nix, Shembo, Martin, Watt, Niklas and so on who watched Denard sloppily sling Michigan to victory two Septembers past – they don't still have something to play for? Maybe it's the fan in me, but I'd like to believe the fire burning from the last game under the Big House lights needs 1,000 beat downs of Michigan to be quenched.
#17 Michigan (1-0)
Notre Dame likes to ply its wares on the difficult schedule they annually attack, but it must be noted that the veterans on this Wolverine team have seen the best college football has to offer over the past 13 months. Brady Hoke's bunch faced the nation's top thee teams in 2012 – Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. They played two of the three close and each of those games was away from Ann Arbor. Mix in a great recruiting class in 2013 and this team is much better than Irish fans are going to give them credit for. That feeling must be in part due to the now departed Denard Robinson and the relief knowing he'll never complete 6 Hail Mary's in a game or slash through an Irish defense at will for hours on end. We're going to be a hard bunch to sell that Devin Gardner is a more "dangerous" quarterback than one who came into South Bend and racked up 500+ yards in a single day. Peyton Manning's 7 TD passes Thursday night still don't touch that performance. Expect the Wolverines to be hungry and prepared for Notre Dame but they know the QB across the field has stared down the Big House's best and didn't blink once before. We all have the right to be excited about this one.
Predicting The Game & What We'll See
Over the course of this game, Notre Dame's far superior play along both lines will prove to be the difference. The days of the Irish folding when down or in a tight road battle have gone to rest … at least a few more seasons. I expect Michigan to grab an early lead and hold it for much of the game's first three quarters before the wear on winged helmet defenders and interior linemen is too much to handle. In spite of Temple QB Connor Reilly's ability to break contain last week, I think Saturday shows Bob Diaco wasn't quite ready to reveal his plan for mobile triggermen in the season opener. Ishaq Williams or Jaylon Smith sitting into roving spies and blitzed for different kind of pressures will be seen earlier as the unit tries to disrupt Gardner's timing and footwork. It burns the Irish early but not late.
Converse to last week, I expect Michigan to get out to the fast start and score first. Devin Gardner leads a long TD drive early in the 1st quarter that ends with a short rushing score on a designed QB draw. The rest of the first half is mostly a stalemate and Irish fans start to lose their cool when another make able field goal goes awry. Kyle Brindza makes up for it later with a 40+ yarder to send the teams to break at 7-3. In the second half Notre Dame begins to grind away on the ground with multiple backs and forces Michigan Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison to bring the safeties in a little tighter. Rees, who found few open receivers early on starts to get things going to Davaris Daniels and TJ Jones and the third quarter ends with the Irish up 17-7. What looks like a backbreaking turnover by Devin Gardner leads to a third second half touchdown, this one by Cam McDaniel, and the Irish take a commanding 24-7 lead. Then the game becomes Notre Dame-Michigan and Devin Gardner leads a frenzied attack with two quick scores around a frustrating three and out for the Irish offense. The score sits at 24-21 and the Wolverines kicking off with over three minutes to play. On 3rd & medium, Rees hits Troy Niklas for a 12 yard gain allowing Notre Dame to run out the clock and escape with the win in Ann Arbor for the last time in a long time.
Notre Dame (+4)
Herring Bone Says Take Notre Dame & The Under
#14 Notre Dame 24, #17 Michigan 21 – FINAL
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