Michigan-Notre Dame preview

BY foxsports • September 21, 2012

Everywhere you look, Notre Dame has plastered a "125" on their football program. That's because this season marks the 125th anniversary of their first game an 8-0 loss to Michigan. That would be the school with "Team 133" all over the place.

College football doesn't get any more storied than Michigan and Notre Dame. The Wolverines are the all-time leaders in FBS wins and winning percentage, while the Irish are second in winning percentage and third in wins.

But no player has ever impacted the rivalry as much as Denard Robinson.

In each of the last two years, he has put up video-game numbers while leading Michigan to a last-minute victory. If he can do it a third time, it would launch him right back into Heisman Trophy contention and cement his place in Michigan history.

It isn't going to be easy.

MICHIGAN OFFENSE vs. NOTRE DAME DEFENSE


Even after beating UMass 63-13 last Saturday, the Wolverines know they are far from having their offense in top gear.

The offensive line has improved slowly after a terrible performance against Alabama, but they haven't been able to get the running game working. Robinson has done well, but most of his long runs have come because of his improvisational skills and world-class speed — two things that no Michigan running back possesses.

Things aren't going to be any easier against Notre Dame's front seven — easily the best Michigan will face since Alabama.

Last week, the Irish held Michigan State and Le'Veon Bell to just 50 yards rushing in a 20-3 victory. Before that game, it was Bell that was being discussed as a Heisman candidate, but he couldn't get anything going, allowing Notre Dame to pressure quarterback Andrew Maxwell.

The task will be different against Michigan, though. While the Irish will want to stop Fitzgerald Toussaint, the last thing they want to do is chase Robinson and give him a chance to run. They will have to take a page out of Nick Saban's playbook and focus on keeping Robinson in the pocket, turning him into a drop-back passer. He was terrible in that role against Alabama, and has never looked comfortable doing it in his Michigan career.

That will probably have to change for Michigan to win, though, because Notre Dame's secondary is their biggest weakness.

Already inexperienced, things got much worse when safety Jamoris Slaughter tore his Achilles' tendon. Slaughter, like Michigan's Jordan Kovacs, was the unquestioned leader of the secondary, and the Irish are now down to one experienced defensive back — Zeke Motta. He will have to rally his troops to make sure Robinson doesn't get into a rare passing rhythm.

MICHIGAN DEFENSE vs. NOTRE DAME OFFENSE

With the defense having only allowed 30 points in three games, the Notre Dame offense doesn't have to be explosive to win. That's good, because they aren't. Theo Riddick leads the running backs with 190 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while George Atkinson III is a speed runner averaging almost 10 yards a carry in limited action.

The key to the attack is quarterback Everett Golson — a fun-house mirror reflection of Robinson. He's very mobile, but doesn't have Robinson's speed — no one does — and looks to scramble in order to throw the ball instead of taking off with it. Still, Notre Dame worked with an option package for him in the spring, even though they haven't used it in a game.

Instead, Golson is going to be looking to escape Michigan's pass rush and take advantage of the absence of Blake Countess.

Courtney Avery and Raymon Taylor have struggled to replace Countess since his season-ending knee injury, but they will both be needed with Golson's wide variety of passing options. Twelve players have caught passes in the first three games, and there's no single receiver that Michigan can focus on to take the pressure off Avery and Taylor.

PREDICTION

This is the year that Notre Dame should beat Michigan. The Irish are 3-0, knocked off Michigan State with ease, and appear ready to move into the BCS picture for the first time in six years. The problem is Robinson. After his incredible performances against the Irish in the last two seasons, he has taken up full-time residence in the head of everyone involved in the Notre Dame football program.

If Robinson has to stay in the pocket, as he did against Alabama, Michigan is in trouble. If he gets room to run, things could get ugly for Notre Dame in a hurry. A lot of that depends on Michigan's offensive line and Toussaint. He needs to get the running game going to free up Robinson. So far, that hasn't happened, but it seems to be getting closer.

It's not going to be pretty, but Robinson pulls one more rabbit out of his hat, and the defense keeps Golson in check.

Michigan 17, Notre Dame 14.


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