The latter, Irish senior and force-of-nature Michael Floyd?
Less than 100 receiving yards, a touchdown or two, and 7-8 timely receptions would serve the Irish and their followers well, because when Floyd explodes on a football Saturday, the Irish fan base generally implodes Sunday morning.
Floyd has exceeded 100 receiving yards in 10 games over the last two years. Notre Dame has won three of those contests.
Floyd has recorded double digit receptions in a single contest on five occasions, a program record. Notre Dame has prevailed once in that span. In fact, the Irish are 2-6 over the last three seasons when any receiver grabs 10-plus passes, Golden Tate and Theo Riddick included.
The Irish have piled up 717 passing yards over their last two losses to the Wolverines. A robust 147 in their last win (2008).
Notre Dame won't win Saturday with 147 through the air, but with at least that number of rushing yards, plus a tie or advantage in the game's turnover ratio would easily offset the 100 largely cosmetic passing yards that accompany most Irish defeats.
Broken RecordI've typed related statistics and their ensuing results to the point it's become preachy, but in short: Notre Dame wins when it runs more than passes, or at least achieves relative balance therein.
It wins when it rushes for more yards than its opponent (not mandatory Saturday, though the disparity can't be great). It loses when it throws too often, and loses nearly without fail when the total pass attempts push over 40 (3 wins vs. 13 losses in the last three seasons including 1-4 last year).
The Irish will throw the football Saturday, just as they did in each of their four road games last fall (172 total attempts at Michigan State, Boston College, Navy, and USC 2010); and Kelly's crew enjoyed great success through the air vs. both the Spartans and Eagles (a loss and a win).
The forward pass, however, contributed to the lack of offense in the loss to the Midshipmen; it nearly did them in with three four Rees-related turnovers in the Los Angeles upset victory as well.
A balancing act is necessary, and Kelly need look no further than his last loss of 2010 for further proof.
Cierre's Day Off?As a necessary aside: Can a starting running back be granted Tuesday as a day of additional rest during the college football season?
Because if the Irish are to win Saturday night, junior running back Cierre Wood might need some extra time in the ice tub next week: necessary recovery and reprieve from a heroic 60 minutes of pounding pads and churning legs.
Considering the dearth of proven players behind him, Wood might be forced with time-and-a-half Saturday night. 20 carries is a minimum number allowed. Can the eight-game starter be effective at 25? Can he avoid fumbles or mental errors if that total approaches 30, or 30 total touches (rushes/receptions)?
The latter might be asking too much of a player who's hit the 15-carry mark just three times in his 14-game career. Enter Jonas Gray: he of the five fumbles in 86 touches. The senior without a score. The home-state hero with speed, power, dedication, and a host of family and friends in attendance Saturday night.
The Irish must consistently feed the pair the football: right, left, delays, short-yardage, read options, the occasional swing pass. Get them both involved early, often, throughout…
A breakout performance (10 carries, 50 yards would suffice) from Gray would relieve the pressure on Wood. Anything better would be the lead headline for every Irish outlet that included Gray's contribution for the wrong reason last Saturday night.
The 2010 Michigan Wolverines suffered through a historically bad defensive season. Why grant them the favor of a predictable aerial assault?
For those familiar with the ugly 2010 rankings, it's true the Wolverine's pass defense finished 112th out of 120 teams last fall. Do you know who finished 120th, last in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision?
Notre Dame subsequently attacked the Golden Hurricanes for 334 passing yards and four touchdowns. And lost.
The modern game may be the era of the passing attack, but at Notre Dame, a school that annually faces 9, 10, or 11 of the nation's top 10 through top 65 college teams – it's the error of the pass that has plagued the program.
Which way will they go?Brian Kelly's opening statement this week serves as portent for Saturday's contest.
"It's all about us. It's all about how we play. We're going to prepare the right way, do all the things necessary to prepare our football team, and then they've got to go play Saturday and they've got to play the right way.
With the head coach's words in mind, I'll offer the following divergent predictions:
Scenario No. 1: Like November 2010, balance reigns as Rees fires 35 passes, completing 23 for an economical 285 yards and a requisite interception. Wood churns for a career-best 121 while Floyd and Eifert account for a combined 13 chain-moving, secondary stressing grabs en route to a picture perfect, old school conquest of the team formerly known as the Champions of the West.
In that case: Notre Dame 34 Michigan 23
Scenario No. 2: Like most who fall prey to the Siren's Song of the forward pass, the Irish can't help themselves, asking for 45 throws from Rees in an exhilarating, high-octane, multiple turnover, 350-yard passing, how-did-they-lose-that game? showcase defeat.
In that case: Michigan 31 Notre Dame 30.
And officially, I'm afraid they can't help themselves…
Note: With the exception of Notre Dame's 2004 upset of the Wolverines in South Bend, the winning team has won the turnover battle in each of the last 10 meetings. Notre Dame suffered four turnovers while forcing three in a 28-20 win over then-No. 8 Michigan.
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