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GAMEDAY PREVIEW: MICHIGAN AT NOTRE DAME
September 11, 2010

SCS.com Welcome back readers and Happy Saturday to you! Apologies for the later than expected preview, but sometimes that's just how it goes. Monster Saturday is upon us and as I mentioned in the weekly article, I will be headed to South Bend by the time you read this. What lies before us is a game that could define the path for two top college football programs looking for direction under relatively new head coaches. Both teams rolled surprisingly to easy wins week 1, which sets this up as a real chance to grab a national ranking and some highlights going forward for the victors. For the losers, this could be a sign of a troubling season to come. So let's jump right in to the preview.

The primary question when looking at this matchup overall is whether the offensive slugfests of the past four seasons in this series will continue, or if the strong defensive performances displayed in Week 1 will be indicative of a return to the first 110 years of this series. It may be a hard statistic to believe, but both teams cracked 30 points only one time apiece in the first 35 meetings. However, with Brian Kelly and Rich Rodriguez each bringing their version of the spread offense to this battle, the offensive explosion should continue. Whichever defense stands up again this week will likely lead to winning the game.

When Michigan has the ball, the running game is completely focused on QB Denard Robinson, who ran for 197 yards last week and is the Wolverines' leading retuning rusher as well. Robinson has become truly like Pat White, which means that he is strong and fast in the running game. Tate Forcier carved up the Irish defense a year ago by running from behind center frequently, so this is a problem that still needs addressed. Assuming Notre Dame assigns a spy lineman to always track Robinson, Michigan may be forced to find other running options. Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw each struggled a bit against a UCONN defense that seemed weak against the run. When Michigan goes to the passing game, Robinson is far more likely to rely on the short to medium passing game. WR Roy Roundtree is a tough matchup for the Irish secondary, but Roundtree is also questionable for this game. Although Purdue found some success with a similar strategy, the Irish are good at keeping everything in front of them and preventing huge gains and touchdowns. Michigan will find some success but on what appears to be a rainy day, the strong Irish defensive front should keep Michigan below 28 points.

Meanwhile, when Notre Dame has the ball, a similar battle will set up with a weak defensive backfield and a strong defensive front. QB Dayne Crist has a lot more talent at receive including Michael Floyd than UCONN had last week. Thus, the key to Michigan's success in stopping the Irish offense will be generating a good pash rush on a consistent basis. Linebacker Obi Ezeh will likely be the most important player in this attack, reading the offense from the center to determine whether to blitz or stay back in coverage. The Irish passing game will also be helped by the plethora of talented running backs led by Armando Allen and Cierre Wood. Look for Allen to run at the edges of the defensive line to keep the Wolverines from pressuring Crist all the time. Allen should find more running room agains tthe Wolverines, but he may not go over 100 yards. However, it will be key for Notre Dame to keep the ball long enough to limit Michigan's offensive possessions.

Although Michigan has replaced their kicker and their punter, Will Hagerup could be a clutch difference-maker in this game with a 51 yard punt to his name so far. On the other hand, Wolverine kicker Brendan Gibbons struggled in his debut and could be a sticking point if Michigan needs a couple of clutch field goals. Notre Dame appears to have much more stability in the kicking game with David Ruffer going 3/3 last week including a 46 yarder. Expect Rich Rodriguez to really have his troops fired up as a win in South Bend and a favorable schedule likely puts Michigan at 6-0 when Iowa comes to the Big House in the middle of October. Make no mistake about it: Rodriguez will save his job with that sort of start to the season, and with a talent like Denard Robinson, it is hard to imagine he will be denied, even against a seemingly coach genius in Brian Kelly. Kelly will certainly have Notre Dame back in the BCS picture, but maybe not in his first year because a game like this may just tilt out of his favor (unlike last year when the Bearcats got all the breaks against WVU and Pittsburgh).

On paper, this looks like a shootout. However, I believe what we saw last weekend from the defensive units in this game is promising enough to think that this game will be played in the mid to upper 20's. If the rain comes as expected, the better running game should win the day. While Armando Allen is a better overall running back, Michigan can throw multiple dimensions at a Notre Dame defensive front that is not quite as talented as the Michigan counterpart. Thus, Robinson will not reach the ludicrous numbers from a week ago, but he will lead Michigan to one too many scoring drives for the Irish in this one.

The Pick - Michigan 27, Notre Dame 21

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