Staff writer Ned D’Arcy gives you the low down on this weekend’s football matchup between our Fighting Irish and the Michigan Wolverines.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the biggest home football weekend of Notre Dame’s season is upon us. For the 40th time, the Fighting Irish will battle the Michigan Wolverines in one of college football’s greatest rivalries. Last season’s defeat in front of the largest crowd in college football history has the Irish eager to win their first game against Michigan since 2008. Led by a senior class that has yet to beat the Wolverines, the 3 and 0 Irish are sure to come out of the gate aggressively, hoping to galvanize the crowd of students and alumni that have clamored for tickets to this showdown for months.
To win, the number one priority will be to contain Denard Robinson, a task easier said than done as seen in the last two meetings of the series. This task will fall mostly on the shoulders of the Notre Dame front seven, one of the best sets of linemen and linebackers in the country. Led by senior linebacker Manti Te’o, the Irish front seven will have to have an excellent pass rush to prevent the sub-par secondary from being exploited. Given that Denard Robinson is Michigan’s best rusher as well, they will need to prevent scrambling that has proven to be a backbreaker for Notre Dame defenses of years past.
On the offensive side of the ball, redshirt freshman Everett Golson must have a better completion percentage than the 43 percent that he put up against Michigan State. Maintaining long drives will be the key to Golson and the Irish offense: the longer the Irish keep the ball, the less time that Denard Robinson is on the field, the better. The experienced offensive line led by Zach Martin will be sure to give him enough time to complete his reads, while hopefully creating running lanes for the Notre Dame backfield.
3 questions marks for the Irish
Will Notre Dame’s depleted secondary be able to stop Denard Robinson?
This past weekend, Notre Dame lost yet another starter from their secondary, seeing Safety Jamoris Slaughter go down for the season with an Achilles Tendon injury. This, combined with the loss of cornerback Lo Wood prior to the start of the season, will leave Notre Dame with a severely thin secondary going into a matchup with a quarterback who has thrown for 582 yards and 5 touchdowns in his two previous starts against the Irish.
Will the Notre Dame ground attack bounce back after two consecutive mediocre games?
Without a dominant performance since the Navy game, the running game is in desperate need of a big game. Between Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, and George Atkinson III, the Irish have plenty of weapons that bring different dynamics to the offense. This backfield talent combined with a veteran offensive line has to produce better results this weekend.
How will Tyler Eifert respond to his zero catch game against Michigan State?
Given his status as one of the best tight ends in college football, it was surprising to see Eifert end the Michigan State game with zero catches. This performance may be due to a lingering injury from earlier in the season, for there is no logical reason why one of the country’s best “quarterback security blankets” would be left with very few targets.
X factor: Prince Shembo
One of the shining stars of last weekend’s defensive clinic put on against Michigan State, junior linebacker Prince Shembo will have to be a standout player against Denard Robinson, one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Prince was a disruptive force against the Spartans offense, ending the day with a career high nine tackles and one sack. A repeat performance would surely take stress off of the secondary.
Prediction: Notre Dame 27-Michigan 23
With so much riding on this game for Notre Dame, I cannot see them losing to Michigan. It surely will not be an easy win, most likely a back and forth game, but this year, unlike the past three, the Irish will be the team celebrating a last minute score to secure victory. Notre Dame’s victory this weekend will bring balance back to what has been a fairly one-sided rivalry in recent history.
The moral of the story: watch out Wolverines, because here come the Irish, and it’s time to hunt some wolverines.