Jordan Hall’s Notre Dame vs. Michigan preview

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Brady Hoke and the Wolverines square off against Brady Hoke and the Fighting Irish Sept. 10 at the Big House. (photo by Getty Images, US Presswire)

One week ago, hope sprung eternal. Notre Dame had answers aplenty and the questions were seemingly few. They had a bona fide starting quarterback. The talent level was higher than any Irish team in recent memory; there were talented playmakers all over the field. My, how one week can change things.

165 miles northeast of South Bend, things were far less certain. A new coaching staff, a new system, and plenty of fresh faces had left a lot of uncertainty for Big Blue and their followers. One rain shortened victory over Western Michigan has proven little for Michigan, but it is a 1-0 start. While Notre Dame has been forced to push the panic button already, this Saturday's game should be one for the ages. The first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium will afford these two storied programs a nostalgic night. Vegas has made the Fighting Irish the three point favorites despite their 0-1 start and Michigan is looking for their first big time victory under new head coach Brady Hoke. Something has got to give. The first key to this game will be the handling of distractions. This game, though exciting, will not be like any other. We can say that they are trained athletes who can perform under any circumstances but the truth is that this will be an environment that few of these players have ever experienced before. The lights will be bright and the camera will be focused. The team that deals with these factors the best will have an undeniable advantage. Notre Dame is used to life under the microscope yet things have been chaotic recently. I think that both teams will be able to compose themselves early, the fourth quarter though, may be a different story. The play calling distribution for Michigan will be a major factor in this game. Last year Denard Robinson ran wild against a helpless Irish defense, however his number was called with far less frequency last week. While the game was rain shortened and against a MAC team, two great reasons to limit the hits that Robinson will take, I think the limited carries will become a trend. If Robinson does not carry the ball 20 plus times on Saturday, the Wolverines will not win. He was the difference in the game last year. Notre Dame has stout linebackers, they can stifle a rushing attack from the running backs; it is their defense of Robinson that has been the issue. If Denard Robinson cannot, or is not allowed to, expose their weakness, Michigan stands little chance. As Greg Mattison has taken over the Michigan Wolverines, there have definitely been growing pains. There are many familiar faces back on the defensive side of the ball, but the system is brand new. He has transitioned them from a speed, Big East, Rich Rod, defense to a rugged, Big 10 ready defense. As Mattison did in Baltimore last year, he has established a culture of in your face pressure. Stalwarts such as Michael Martin and Jordan Kovacs have made the transition easier, but there were definitely struggles last week against Western Michigan. Alex Carder led the Broncos on several impressive drives. With that being said, the defense may look a little different this week. One advantage of all the rain delays last Saturday, was that it allowed the coaching staff to have plenty of in-game time to make corrections. It was almost as if the staff had three halftimes to sit down and make adjustments and teach the young defense. They made far more progress last week than you would normally expect in one game. Specific keys for the Wolverines defense will be their coverage of Michael Floyd and blitzing of Tommy Rees. Floyd may be the best receiver in the nation and new quarterback Tommy Rees loves to look his way. The Wolverines will have to mix and match defensively to confuse him. If they are able to keep him at bay, there will be a strong chance that they will have an opportunity to win the game in the 4th. Along with Michigan's coverage of Floyd, the pressure that they provide on Rees will be vital. Rees loves to get rid of the ball quickly. He reads the defense and delivers the ball. It's going to be difficult for the Wolverines to blitz him, but it is part of their identity and you can assume that Greg Mattison will come up with something new to throw at the youngster. The two huge keys in this game for the Irish are obvious. They will be limiting turnovers and taking care of business on special teams. Special teams were a bloodbath last week for the Irish. Two muffed punts and a missed chip shot field goal ultimately doomed the Irish against South Florida. They consistently lost field position as the punting was awful as well. I would expect the Irish to correct these issues and turn in a much better performance this week. Turnovers added to the Irish woes last week as well. It is pretty close to impossible to win when you turn the ball over five times, as the Irish did against the Bulls. With some slight adjustments, Notre Dame will likely put up a much better fight against the Wolverines. At the end of the day, it’s all going to come down to execution. Notre Dame appears to be the favorite on paper but they struggled executing last week. Michigan is hungry and looking for their first signature win under the new staff. This game is going to be close. I would expect a tie game going into the fourth. Notre Dame’s ability to keep Denard Robinson under wraps down the stretch will be the key in the game. If they can keep him under control, they will win. If he runs loose, Michigan will triumph. I think that Denard Robinson will put the team on his back and carry them to the promised-land. I think it will be a 41-38 Michigan victory, sending the Irish further into panic mode.
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