If Notre Dame loses this game but plays well, it will not hurt the future of Notre Dame football. If they win this game, every person who follows college football is going to take notice, Note Dame is clawing back to the top of college football. To play well means this team can compete and is not far off from being an elite team in college football. To win means that they are closer than anyone imagined.
Why is this important? Every high school senior that is interested in playing for Notre Dame is going to be paying close attention to this game. They want to see Notre Dame competiting against the top teams in the country. They want to see that Notre Dame has a fighting chance in these games and that maybe they can be the difference in winning or losing this game in the future. They want to see leadership and they want to see a team that is building something special. These players will most certainly be watching this game.
Nobody knows the importance of this game more than Willingham. He knows that he must have athletes to compete. He knows that this game will be a measuring stick for many of these high school seniors. The 7th ranked team in the country should beat the 20th ranked team in the country. Losing this game will not hurt this program as long as they play well. Winning this game could have a major affect on this program.
This game has had so many stars and big plays in the past. Who can forget the Rocket's two returns for touchdowns? I personally will never forget seeing Desmond Howard dominate the game as he did. This game has always been a platform for stars to emerge. The best players tend to rise to the occasion and make the plays that will be the difference in this game. Who is going to be that player now?
How can Notre Dame beat Michigan? Of one thing I am certain, both teams almost always rise to the occassion. I cannot remember a game in recent memory when neither team did not show up to play. I expect both teams to look better than they have all year. Which team can make the most improvement this week?
The ND/Michigan rivalry is almost always a game of momentum. The key is to gain the momentum and good things will happen. If your team doesn't have momentum, you had better find a way to get it back. This game is college athletics at it's best. Two teams, two rivals, nothing else matters. The record does not matter, the previous years' record does not matter and the rankings rarely matter. This game always boils down to momentum, turnovers and big plays. Which team will make the big plays?
Both teams have very good defenses. Michigan has an excellent defensive line, although I see the rest of their defense as average. Notre Dame has an excellent back 7 and an average defensive line. Michigan will certainly try to stop the ND rushing attack. If they can force Notre Dame into second and third and long situations, it will be a long day for the Notre Dame offense.
Notre Dame MUST find a way to get 5 yards on first down. They have be able to run the football effectively on first down and mix in some passing to stop Michigan from putting 8-9 men in the box. Notre Dame is going to have to stretch the field and make Michigan defend all areas. The offensive line and backs need to give Carlyle Holiday time to find his receivers in crossing routes and deep. If Notre Dame can get some big plays early in the passing game to loosen up the Michigan defense, they should be able to score their first touchdown of the year.
On defense, Notre Dame must stop the run. Michigan will try to take the fight out of the Notre Dame defense with a healthy dose of tailbacks. I expect them to try to establish the run and then hit Notre Dame over the top when they are looking for the run. I have not been impressed with the Michigan offense up to this point but I do expect them to step up their level of play. Notre Dame is going to have to be a sure tackling team and play tough, disciplined football to beat Michigan.
The X-factor once again is special teams,as they have decided the outcome of this game so many times in the past. Michigan has a kicker who struggled against Washington. His confidence had to be helped by kicking the game-winning field goal against Washington. Nicholas Setta had his bad game against Purdue. I expect he will be money in the bank from here on out. He has never lacked confidence.
Notre Dame must protect the football. If they can limit or eliminate turnovers on offense, they will be in this game until the end. The good news is the Notre Dame defense has been very opportunistic in creating turnovers and keeping the ND team in the game. The offense is going to have to score at least two touchdowns to win this game. They cannot expect the defense to do all the scoring. It's guy-check time for the ND offense. Will they step up to the challenge?
Notre Dame can win this game. I actually think the Michigan State game in East Lansing will be a more difficult game for them. I have not been impressed with the Michigan offense but I certainly haven't been impressed with the Notre Dame offense. The team that can get their offense going and capture the momentum will win this game. Keep the momentum will be key to the victor. Turnovers and special teams always play a factor but this game has been built on big plays and momentum. Who will step for Notre Dame? Notre Dame 28 Michigan 24.