There's a lot riding on this game for both Michigan and Notre Dame. A win means the national media will finally get off the backs of the victorious team. A win is bragging rights for fans. A victory is a feather in the cap of the winning team on the recruiting trail. A win finally lets you feel good about yourself. So who wins on Saturday?
That's a tough question.
Does anyone even care?
Only if their team wins.
On paper I'd say the advantage definitely goes to Michigan. Michigan has a solid running game….something Jimmy Clausen wishes he had going into this game. They have a good running game as long as Mike Hart can stay healthy. Will he stay in the game on Saturday?
Michigan also has the home field advantage, if there is such a thing in Michigan Stadium (sorry, someone has to talk some smack). The Wolverines are the more veteran team. They also have more proven skill players at this point.
The Irish, well they can't score. They can't score, and they eventually break down on defense because the Irish offense can't score.
The funny thing is, Michigan seems to be in the same boat as the Irish. Seven points against Oregon? I know Oregon is a pretty good team, but they're not LSU on defense.
Teams are completing almost 70 percent of their passes against the Michigan defense for an average of 15.3 yards per catch. In two games opponents have rushed for 5.2 yards per carry and 245 yards on the ground against the Wolverine defense.
And Notre Dame? Dead last in rushing. Dead last in total offense. Dead last in sacks allowed. Almost dead last in scoring (No. 117, I was surprised there were two teams who have scored less). Something has to give…..
Notre Dame should be able to move the ball better against this Michigan defense, but can they score? Michigan's troubles on defense have come from being spread out and trying to keep up with the speed of the opposition on the perimeter. Does ND have anyone fast enough to test the slower Michigan defense? Oregon spread Michigan out and then pounded them inside running the football. Will Michigan respect Notre Dame's receivers enough and not load up the box to stop the run? Not likely.
For Notre Dame to have any success in this game, I believe they're going to have to throw down field, and they're going to have to have some success early doing it. If they can do that, I believe that will open up the running game for Notre Dame. I think the Irish can run on Michigan if they get some help from the passing game. If they don't, it's going to be another long day in Ann Arbor.
This is where the real battle will be in my opinion….first-time starter Ryan Mallett versus the Irish defense. How well Mallett plays will probably determine the outcome of the game. Michigan has some talent at wide receiver in Manningham and Arrington, and I'm still not sold the Irish have solved their problems in the secondary when it comes to speed receivers. Look for Michigan to go up top to Manningham early to see if Notre Dame can cover the All-American candidate.
I worry about Notre Dame stopping Mike Hart. The Irish have struggled at outside linebacker stopping the run, and I fully expect to see Michigan run Hart right behind Jake Long all day and attack the outside of the Irish defense. If Notre Dame can shut this down early, and force Mallett to beat them, they'll have a chance to win the game.
Sorry guys, I just don't see it this week. I do think ND will play better on Saturday. I also think you'll see signs of an actual offense start to emerge. Michigan can protect Mallett with a good running game—I'm not sure the Irish can do the same for Clausen. The Wolverine defense is struggling, but I'm not sure the Irish will have enough playmakers, and give Clausen enough time, to take advantage of the holes in the Michigan defense.
I just see Michigan having the more veteran team with more established playmakers at this point.
Michigan: 21 Notre Dame: 13