The two teams—and their fans--loathe each other. There really is no other word one can use to describe the feelings these two teams and sets of fans have towards each other.
Why all the hatred? We can think of a number of reasons. First, the result of this game usually means two things. The winner has a great season; the loser tends to struggle the rest of the year. Like the last time the Irish played at Michigan in 1999. Michigan finished the season ranked 5th in the country, the Irish were not ranked. Or the 97 game at Michigan Stadium when the Wolverines went on after victory to share the National Championship and the Irish finished out of the top 25. The game is always played early and has a dramatic impact on both teams usually.
Another reason is recruiting. The schools are three hours apart and compete locally and regionally for the top prospects in these areas. The winner could have the upper hand in the recruiting battles this season.
Another important reason is pride. Notre Dame ranks first in all-time collegiate winning percentage with a .750 mark. The Wolverines are second with a .746 mark. It certainly means something to say you are the all-time leader in winning percentage in college football.
This game usually comes down to turnovers. The team that has the most turnovers usually loses. Michigan had four turnovers in the Irish 25-23 win last year. The Irish also had four turnovers but the difference in the game last year was the red zone. Each team had 4 red zone opportunities. Both teams scored three times but the Irish scored 20 points and the Wolverines scored just 16.
This game will be another classic game of smash mouth football. Michigan will try to pound the ball running at the Notre Dame defense and the Irish will likely do the same. Michigan enters the game the top-ranked rushing team in the country with 367 yards per game. They are ranked second in total offense with 575 yards per game.
The Irish limped along in their first game against Washington State squeaking out a 29-26 overtime win. The Irish amassed just 312 total yards on offense against a very good Washington State defense.
Odds-makers is Las Vegas have the Wolverines favored by 10 points. Even Las Vegas should be smarter than that--six out of the last seven games have been decided by an average of 3.2 points.
The game is set up to be another classic. The Wolverines must be feeling pretty good about their rankings and the Irish are trying to earn some respect. The Washington State battle should tell any fan of college football that this Notre Dame team won't quit no matter how great the odds.
Michigan enters the game with senior John Navarre under center. Senior running back and N.C.A.A. rushing leader Chris Perry also returns. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards is considered one of the top receivers in the country by most. The Wolverines have plenty of firepower to challenge the Irish defense.
The real battle will be in the trenches in this game. The offensive and defensive lines will likely decide the outcome of this game.
Notre Dame Offense VS Michigan Defense
This match up might be the major key to the game. The Irish offense will have move the ball against the Michigan defense. They will have to score touchdowns when they have chances in the red zone and they'll have to take advantage of opportunities given to them by the defense.
It would not surprise us to see Holiday in the shotgun a bit and to see him on the move outside the pocket. We think you will see Holiday on some bootlegs and probably more three-step drops in this game. Expect to see the Irish try to mix it up a bit by throwing some passes early and balancing it in with the run. The main key will be if the Irish can run on the Michigan defense. If they can, we expect Notre Dame to win this game.
Michigan Defense VS Irish Offense
We expect the Michigan defense to try to put pressure on Carlyle Holiday and sell out to stop the run. Some suggest that Wolverines will line up in a traditional defensive set. We don't believe the Wolverines have the strength at defensive line to just line up and play Notre Dame straight up. We expect Michigan to bring pressure with blitzes and to try to confuse the young Irish offensive line—as so many will try to do this year.
Their key is to stop the Irish rushing attack and make Holiday throw the football. I doubt the Irish will ever give up trying to run the football but Michigan will undoubtedly make them try. If the Wolverine defense can shut down the Irish rushing attack, they will greatly increase their chances of winning the game.
Michigan Offense VS Irish Defense
Michigan runs the football and has for many years. They will definitely try to run the football against Notre Dame until the Irish can prove they can stop them. We just don't think we'll see many teams run effectively against the Irish front seven. Michigan will try but might have better success spreading the Irish defense out with the passing game and then running the football.
Navarre is an experienced quarterback and they have talented wide receivers. Their backs can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Still, we think Michigan will try to run the football at the beginning of the game and let their experienced offensive line and the country's leading rusher Chris Perry carry the load.
Irish Defense VS Wolverine Offense
The Irish will have to stop the run. They cannot let Perry loose and will have to concentrate on stopping the run. Expect them to commit eight men in the box and play their version of smash mouth football. We think Notre Dame can shut down their running game but what could be a problem is if the Wolverines make some plays in the passing game.
The Irish will blitz but not as often as some would like. Some of the players in the secondary are inexperienced so we don't think the Irish will gamble too much. We expect the Irish to try to play Michigan straight up for the most part with some stunts and blitzing to confuse them.
The game should end up being a close game. We think the Michigan offense is a little better than most think. The Wolverines should be able to move the ball some on the Irish defense. The key will be the red zone and if the Irish can force field goals attempts instead of touchdowns. Another key is to shut down Perry and put the ball in Navarre's hands.
We think the Wolverine defense is suspect and the Irish offense should be able to run on this defense. If they can, Holiday should have a strong game and the Irish should be able to get the offense on track. We expect Julius Jones to have a big game and to be used often.
Final Score: Notre Dame 27 Michigan 24