It may seem a little over the top to consider games in week 1 and week 2 “must wins”. However, in the case of college football, which remains as the only Division I sport absent of a playoff system, every week is a must win. How many games did Alabama and Texas combine to lose last year before meeting for the national championship? 0. There are no second chances in college football, and in the case of this weeks match-up between Notre Dame and Michigan, the winner will move to 2-0 and head into week 3 as a ranked team for the first time this season. We talked about Brian Kelly’s Irish being in a must win scenario last week vs Purdue, and here they are again, playing at home as a 4 point favorite. The Wolverines are decimated by injuries to their secondary and will also be without their leading receiver, Roy Roundtree, who has internal bruises after taking a big hit lat week vs UConn. Considering the fact that Notre Dame’s next 4 games (@MSU, Stanford, @BC, Pitt) represent the toughest weeks 3-6 of any team in the nation, it is imperative that the Irish get off to a 2-0 start, keeping their confidence level sky high as they head to East Lansing.
In case you have been living on another planet for the past 5 days, you’re probably aware that Michigan QB Denard Robinson accounted for 383 yards (197 rushing, 186 passing) of total offense last week vs UConn. Needless to say, he is pretty good. However, if there is one thing we can say for certain, he will not be repeating that effort in South Bend this weekend. The Irish front 7 is too athletic and too disciplined to allow that type of performance on their home turf. Not to mention the fact that UConn didn’t even know who the starting quarterback was going to be last week, let alone how good Denard Robinson actually was. This week there will be no surprises. The Irish know who they need to stop and they know what he is capable of doing. Their entire game plan will be focused on Mr. Robinson and he will be forced to beat them through the air. Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco are fully aware that Robinson is not a very good passer and Rich Rodriguez has made it clear that he doesn’t want him to carry the ball 20 plus times. What does all of this mean for the Wolverines? They are going to need a few different players to step up on offense because it will not be a repeat of the Mr.Robinson show this Saturday in South Bend.
Notre Dame’s switch to a 3-4 defense that is focused on “assignments” vs last years 4-3 scheme that relied heavily on the blitz will be the key on Saturday. Purdue coach Danny Hope summed it up best when describing the biggest difference between this years Irish defense and last years: ”Last year they blitzed on almost every down and it created some huge holes. This year, the holes are not as big.” And if you recall last years game in Ann Arbor, these huge holes created by all the hap hazard blitzing schemes were exactly what allowed Tate Forcier to run wild on the Irish defense in leading the Wolverines to a 38-34 upset victory. Kelly breaks it down even further, “You can call (Michigan’s offense) what you want, but there’s a lot of option football here. I think we all know from the basic tenets of sound, fundamental defensive football, it’s not something where you want to blitz. You want to have assignments. You have to be assignment correct against a team that has certainly some instruments of option within its package. You wouldn’t think that blitzing would be the first call of duty when you play a team like this.”
So how do we see things shaking out in South Bend on Saturday afternoon? I think when you consider the depleted UM secondary having to deal with all the weapons on Notre Dame and the fact that Dayne Crist will be much more comfortable starting his second home game in a row, it’s going to be tough for the Wolverines to keep up. Denard Robinson isn’t surprising anyone this week, the Irish defense will be more than ready by keeping a spy on him at all times, forcing him to do what he does NOT do best, throw the football. I don’t expect this game to be as close as the 4 point spread indicates due to the fact that ND has a more experienced, much healthier defense and they are not nearly as one dimensional on offense. I’m picking the Irish to get their revenge from last year and all the blown calls that went against them (in case you forgot about the touchdown being called back on a phantom hold) and win this one 34-20. The Irish will be 2-0 heading into their prime time match-up on ABC in East Lansing next week.
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