Newkirk: You're absolutely right, Ryan is without question the most talented player on the Michigan defense. He tore his ACL in the spring practice and should be out until mid-October. He led the Wolverines with 88 tackles with 16 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2012. He was voted co-captain this season as junior, and his leadership and play making ability will be sorely be missed on the field this Saturday.
So with that being said, Michigan will look to senior OLB Cam Gordon to fill in for Ryan this season at SAM linebacker. He had two sacks in Michigan's win over Central Michigan, and brings good speed and size (6-foot-3, 237-pounds) as Ryan's replacement. While he's not as explosive as Ryan – and not many players are – he would start for most programs in the Big Ten and is a very serviceable replacement.
2 - Michigan's rushing output against Central Michigan probably isn't a good indication of what fans will see going forward. How has freshmen Derrick Green acclimated and has 5th-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint returned to form after breaking his leg last season?
Newkirk: First, Derrick Green is as advertised. He was Scout's No. 1 RB prospect in 2012 player rankings. And with the injury to Drake Johnson – torn ACL vs. CMU – he was named the No. 2 RB on the depth chart this week. He is 5-foot-11, 240-pounds, and brings that power back that U-M coach Brady Hoke has coveted since he took the job two years ago. In the long run, he probably should be more around 225-230-pounds, but is definitely a bruiser of a back and showcases outstanding footwork for a runner his size. He ran for a team-high 58-yards with a 11 carries and a touchdown in his first game as Wolverine last week. He was slowed earlier in camp with a ankle issue, but all indications are that Green will continue to get the ball more and continue to improve.
Toussaint is still the No. 1 RB in the Michigan offense. He is not as big as Green – 5-foot-10, 200-pounds – but is an accomplished runner at U-M. He ran for over 1,000 yards in 2011. In 2012, he broke his leg against Iowa, but looks fully recovered this season. Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said he would like to give Toussaint ideally between 20-25 touches per game. While he won't run you over, he has good vision and is outstanding in pass protection. That's an area where Green still need to improve.
3 - Michigan's secondary seems much deeper this season. Does that depth equate to Week Two effectiveness and playmaking ability? Or is the Irish passing game catching the Wolverines at the right time?
Newkirk: This questions is definitely a toss-up. The Michigan secondary has struggled with Irish QB Tommy Rees in the past, so they will be looking to make amends after their poor performance in 2011, when Rees torched them for three touchdowns and 315-yards. But he also threw two interceptions. He certainly has the Wolverines' secondary full attention this time around.
Michigan returns a lot of experience in the secondary. They will look to senior SS Thomas Gordon to replace the graduated Jordan Kovacs as the leader in the backend of the defense. Senior Courtney Avery, had minor knee surgery last week and should be ready this Saturday. He is making the switch to FS this season, after playing CB for most of his career. He if he is not able to play, sophomore Jared Wilson is a capable backup and displays good field awareness and ability to hit in the open field against Central.
At cornerback, U-M should be solid with both Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor on the edge. Look for lengthy (6-foot-2, 171-pounds) freshman Channing Stribling to come in early and often in nickel situations. Michigan will put Stribling on an island, while they move Countess to the inside at nickel back.
Newkirk: Schofield has the potential to be an All-Big Ten offensive lineman – he's that good. While he is referred to as "the other tackle" most of time, that's OK with him and he is very good complimentary tackle to the All-American Lewan.
The interior, well, that's a major concern for the Michigan offense. They have three new starters in (sophomore LG) Graham Glasgow, ( sophomore C) Jack Miller and (redshirt freshman RG) Kyle Kalis. The interior looked suspect at times against Central, and Notre Dame should be their biggest test of the season. Can Miller handle Louis Nix? All the signs point towards no. Miller is small (6-foot-2, 285-pounds) and Nix is huge. Michigan will have to double-team Nix and if they can't contain him, it could be long day for the QB Devin Gardner and the U-M offense.
5 - Where are Michigan fans confident they have a decided advantage Saturday night? Where do they see troubling vulnerability?
Newkirk: The atmosphere should electric on Saturday. It was two years ago, and should be no different this time around. Having home field advantage wil help, with U-M winning its past three contests against the Irish at home. But Michigan does have more pressure to win this game. It's been well publicized that Hoke said ND was "Chickening out" of this rivalry and this is the last game at the "Big House" for the foreseeable future. So with Michigan being the favorite and with all variables involved – this is a must win.
As far as a vulnerability, this game is all about match-ups. Can Michigan get pressure on Rees? Can its offensive line hold up? Can they establish a run game? If not, it's going to be a long day for the Wolverines. And those are three areas of concern heading into Saturday's big contest. But overall, it's looking like another classic in this rivalry.