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Michigan must not turn the ball over. In addition, the special teams must not hurt the team…meaning Rivas has to hit his kicks and the coverage teams need to prevent big returns in what should be a close game. Bottom line…the Wolverines have to limit their mistakes if they want to win.
Michigan - 24
Notre Dame - 24
(EDT note… Yes, TJB gave a tie score on purpose even though that's impossible!
For the first time this year, the Wolverines will have to be balanced offensively. Through two games, the Irish are allowing 138.50 yards rushing per game. That is good for 73rd in the country. While it's unlikely Michigan will be able to match the gaudy 249 yards per game they've averaged on the ground over their first two contests, they should still find success running the football. That will force the Domers to react by walking their safeties into the box. When they do, it will be up to the previously quiet passing attack to make Notre Dame pay. Play-action passing can be huge in this game for the Wolverines. If the offensive line can protect (and that's a big IF when it comes to the right side), not only should Henne be able to find his tight ends running in open spaces, he should be able to find his receivers doing so as well. The Wolverines may not have a #1 receiver, but they have a speed advantage on the flanks and they must use that to threaten deep. Using the short passing game exclusively would only embolden the Domer secondary and linebacking corps against the run.
On defense, Ron English must protect whoever the cornerback is opposite Leon Hall. Expect that player to play off his man most of the day. The key to the gameplan will be putting the heat on Brady Quinn. A LOT of heat! The front four should be able to generate a rush without any help, but expect English to force the issue by sending an extra man more frequently than he has thus far this year. He will attempt to force Quinn to get rid of the ball quickly. If/when that happens, the Michigan defenders must be punishing tacklers. Even with the best laid plans, this Irish offense is too talented not to hit any big plays. Expect the Domers to deliver a few fireworks. The question is, will that force Michigan to change its aggressive approach? For once, I'm betting that it won't.
And finally…stating the obvious…penalties and turnovers must be avoided. In addition, the kick coverage teams must be far better.
The Wolverines will finally get one in South Bend.
Michigan - 24
Notre Dame - 20
The Wolverines must stay balanced. Up to this point, they have been able to run the ball well but need to have more rhythm in the passing game. If Mike Hart and the offensive line can keep the ground game, the Wolverines should have a chance offensively.
The defense has to keep up their tempo and production. Up to this point, the Wolverine defense has had excellent pursuit and pressure and they will need that against the Irish. Notre Dame will work from a wide array of packages and defensively must be ready for anything. Charlie Weis usually focuses on one certain formation that he has maybe used a couple of times in the previous games and I expect him to do so again this week. Against Penn State, Weis ran a lot of four and five wide packages and threw from them practically every time.
Do the little things right. If the Wolverines can take care of the football, improve on special teams and don’t mental errors… they should be able to keep themselves in the game. Notre Dame is very beatable but you cannot turn the ball over and make mistakes on the road to victory.
It’s a road opener and we haven’t won in South Bend since 1994. Wolverines will need the luck of the Irish to beat them.
(EDT note… Josh was too chicken to give one!)
Why to watch: One way or the other, a flock will be converted. There are still some doubters out there about Notre Dame even after a 41-17 whupping of Penn State and disrespected, tough 14-10 win over Georgia Tech. Maybe the Nittany Lions aren't any good? Didn't the Yellow Jackets sort of beat themselves with their conservative play calling? Has this defense really faced a talented, balanced offense? While the trip to East Lansing to face a thorn-in-the-side Michigan State team will be a tough test, this week's battle with Michigan probably represents the last real shot for a possible Notre Dame loss until the regular-season ender at USC. For Michigan, this is as much a must-win game for Lloyd Carr as any against Ohio State. While recent Big Ten titles are great, a large segment of the Maize and Blue fan base is getting a little itchy waiting for Michigan to once again be a player in the national title race. Under Carr, the Wolverines have been out of the hunt before the leaves have turned losing their opening road game in each of the last six seasons and in seven of the last eight years. Losing three of the last four to the South Benders hasn't helped. A win would propel Michigan into a BCS race and generate a major buzz going into the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin. With Penn State appearing to be average and the toughest Big Ten games at home until the season-ending showdown at Ohio State, a win might mean clear sailing until late November.
Why Michigan might win: Penn State's Tony Hunt and Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice are decent backs, but neither will make any All-America lists. Even so. the Notre Dame defense has been average against the run allowing 277 yards in the first two games. Michigan's Mike Hart is healthy and on a roll rushing for 116 yards and three touchdowns in a limited role against Central Michigan and 146 yards against Vanderbilt. This is a different team when Hart is pounding the ball, and now he finally gets a chance to see what he can do against the Irish after getting knocked out early in last year's game. The better Michigan is at controlling the clock with Hart, the long Brady Quinn and the Irish attack will hang out on the sidelines.
Why Notre Dame might win: Where's the go-to Michigan receiver? Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, and others have failed to adequately step up and replace the Jason Avant's lost production putting more and more pressure on the ground game to produce. Michigan QB Chad Henne is good enough to win a game like this as long as his receivers are giving him a little bit of help, but that could be a problem. The Notre Dame secondary did as good a job as humanly possible against Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson, and it all but erased Derrick Williams and the Penn State receivers. The main reason for the production in the Irish secondary is because ...
Who to watch: ... safeties Chinedum Ndukwe and Tom Zbikowski are flat-out crushing and killing everything in their path. With a combined 26 tackles and enough teeth-rattling hits to fill a highlight reel, these two have quickly become the nation's most intimidating safety tandem. Are the Michigan receivers tough enough to go over the middle on a consistent basis? We'll quickly find out. On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame's offensive line still has to prove that it can keep Quinn upright. Michigan's pass rush, led by Lamarr Woodley and Rondell Biggs, have to be effective at hurrying Quinn while knocking him around a little bit. Georgia Tech beat Quinn up, and the Irish offensive sputtered. The Wolverine pass rushers must provide some pop from the moment they step on the field
What will happen: Never screw with a streak. This is a new Michigan team with several new coaches and a leaner, meaner attitude, but it's still Michigan in a road opener. Notre Dame will know it's been in a fight.
CFN Prediction: Notre Dame 23 ... Michigan 20 ... Line: Notre Dame -7
Must See Rating: (5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Dancing with the Stars) ... 5