I have to admit that I am worried about this game, but not so much about the fact that the Irish might lose, but more about what it means if the Irish do lose, especially if it's ugly.
After such an outstanding performance last week, a performance that opened the eyes of many pundits and top prospects across the country, a bad loss on Saturday might derail all the positive vibes surrounding the Irish program at this time.
In my estimation, the Irish are just one more impressive victory away from getting over the hump. You know that hump….the one where everyone is wondering if last year was just a fluke, like Tyrone Willingham's 9-3 first season.
One more victory over an impressive Michigan team would remove any doubt about where this Irish program is headed. Even with a loss, the Irish can continue along the path, but a meltdown or lapse of concentration could spell doom for future of the Irish program.
With so much riding on this game, at least in my own simple mind, I think this game is very important for the future of the Notre Dame football program.
But why can't we trust this team? Why can't we trust Charlie Weis? I think they've earned it, but something just hasn't made complete believers out of all Notre Dame fans…at least not just yet. A big win on Saturday would probably tip even the remaining skeptical Irish fans over the edge. After all, nothing is sweeter than beating Michigan, well, except beating USC, of course.
Will it happen on Saturday? Will the Irish win? Will they finally make believers out of all of us?
Notre Dame will win on Saturday, but I'm not sure it will be as pretty as last week.
Yes, Mike Hart is a great back. Yes, Michigan has a pretty good front four. But I don't think either will beat Notre Dame on Saturday. In fact, I don't think Irish head coach Charlie Weis will let that happen—nor will Irish defensive coordinator Rick Minter.
The Irish will load up on the run, stop Hart and the rest of the Michigan running game and force Wolverine quarterback Chad Henne to beat them down field. Michigan has talented receivers. Henne has plenty of talent as well. But consistency is what neither has shown to this point, and that's Notre Dame's best bet to win this game….make Henne and the Wolverine receiver corps beat the Irish down field.
Normally that might scare most Irish fans, but Notre Dame's secondary has shown marked improvement this year. They'll give up a big play or two, but the key is limiting it to one or two, and I think they can.
But what about the Michigan front four on defense? The Irish have always looked best in no huddle and spreading the field. The Wolverine secondary is suspect. Michigan's linebackers are just average. I don't think either group is particularly great in pass coverage. I fully expect Weis to take advantage of that weakness on Saturday. Notre Dame's strength—a Heisman hopeful quarterback and some talented receivers versus Michigan's weakness on defense. I have to go with the Irish because they've been more consistent and have more experience.
In a game like this, it usually comes down to turnovers and special teams. I have to like Notre Dame's chances here as well. The Irish haven't turned the ball over all year, not that Michigan has been loose with the football, either. But the Irish have had some impressive special teams performances already this year—Michigan has struggled at times.
Throw in the fact that the game is at home, the Irish have won the last two games, and what I believe is an advantage in coaching and I think all signs point to an Irish victory.
Mike Frank Prediction
The Wolverines make a game of it, but Henne can't match Quinn score for score.
Notre Dame: 24 Michigan 17
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