Even with as much as its been talked about leading up to this game, its still hard to believe that this weekend’s matchup between Notre Dame and Michigan will be the last one for the foreseeable future. Notre Dame has played Michigan almost every single year that I have been alive to watch Irish football and while they are not our BIGGEST rival (that is Southern Cal and if you don’t think so you may want your head examined) I always views them as a big rival and a big time game. But here we are, the last game in the series upon us and per usual it is a big game for both teams. Fresh off their demolishment of Rice last Saturday, the Irish welcome the hated Michigan Wolverines (who I will refer to as Skunkbears from here on out) into Notre Dame Stadium for a early season, marquee matchup that will shape the outcome of the entire season for the Irish. While Brian Kelly has been very successful at Notre Dame since his arrival in 2010, he is only 1-3 against Michigan with his only win coming in the 2012 season. This is the last crack at the Skunkbears for Brian Kelly and while he may not publicly come out and say it, you can tell my his body language and rhetoric this week that beating Michigan in the final meeting is very important to him and the Notre Dame Football program.
The Skunkbears come into this game fresh off their own season opening thrashing of Appalachian State. Devin Gardner looked pretty good passing the ball and their running attack was gaining yards by the handful. But lets be honest. It was Appalachian State, a program that is in its first year in FBS and has nowhere near the amount of talent of the 2007 squad that pulled off the historic upset that we all remember so clearly. Bottom line is that Appalachian State is not a very good team and is going to really struggle this season to win three or four games. Now I can hear Notre Dame and for that matter Michigan fans screaming, “But Notre Dame played Rice! Its the same thing as playing Appalachian State!”. My response is this. NO ITS NOT. It really isn’t anything alike. The only thing similar between the two teams was that they were both supposed to get blown out in their first game of the season (which they did). Other than that they could not be more different. Rice was the Conference USA Champion last season and while they did lost a lot of starters, they still had talented players on the roster and will be in the mix to repeat in Conference USA this year. Appalachian State on the other hand is a brand new FBS program that will be lucky to win a few games this year. But hey don’t tell Skunkbear fans that. They are convinced that they will beat Notre Dame this weekend handily. Let them think that. It will just make all the Skunkbear tears taste that much sweeter this weekend. The bottom line is that Notre Dame has superior talent at the key positions and, baring a complete collapse, should win this game.
Everett Golson looked fantastic last week in his return to the field for the Irish. Actually the entire offense looked fantastic last week as it was clicking on all cylinders. While the Skunkbears defense will be a more formidable unit than the one that the Irish faced last week against Rice, I don’t think it is anything to be scared about either. Over the last few years the Skunkbear defense has been nothing to write home about and that could spell trouble to Brady Hoke this season. Golson will be one of the best quarterbacks that the Skunkbear defense will face all season. As we all saw last weekend, the receiving corps is loaded down with speed. Hot, nasty speed. It was glorious to watch. However part of the reason why the Irish receivers were able to get down the field so quickly was due to Rice’s odd game plan of playing off of the Irish wideouts. I fully believe that the Skunkbears will not make this mistake and play tight and physical on the line of scrimmage. A huge key to this game is going to be if the Irish receivers can break the press coverage. If they can its going to be a long day for the Skunkbear defense as there are so many weapons in the Irish passing attack. The Irish running game also had a big game last week and all three backs played well. However Greg Bryant really stood out to me as a type of back that is truly a game changer. I expect him to get a few more touches this week and I fully expect him to take advantage of them. Bottom line about the offense is that if they continue to play clean and mistake free football like they did last week, than they should be able to drop a lot of points on the Skunkbear defense.
While there were a few instances of miscommunication in the secondary last week, the defense as a whole played really well in their first game in a completely new defensive scheme. Add in the fact that the unit was missing some key defensive starters due to the ongoing academic investigation (Russell and Williams) and another to injury (Austin Collinsworth) only makes the effort even more impressive. Brian Kelly’s game plan was not to really to rush the passer but to keep him in the pocket and to make him throw. The defensive line played pretty well and were able to get some pressure throughout the game. However this week the defensive line is going to really need to step up and take advantage of a Skunkbear offensive line that is full of new faces and that also is missing some depth. Devin Gardner has never played well or made good decisions with the football when he is under pressure and I don’t see that changing in this game or even this entire season. He is an average quarterback at best who really only has one true offensive weapon to throw to, Devin Funchess. Its going to be up to the secondary to contain Funchess Saturday. Looking back at last week, the Skunkbears seemed to really like the “just toss it up to Funchess” strategy in the passing game. The key is for the front seven to put pressure on Gardner and force him to make bad throws. Its really hard to judge the Skunkbear rushing attack because of just how bad the defensive line was that they played against last week. They were literally pushing back the defensive line 5-10 yards on almost every play. However the Skunkbears will not have the same fortune this week against an Irish D-line that while young, is very talented and showed some promise last week.
Notre Dame is favored in this game and they should be. They have the better quarterback, better receiving corps, and more talented backfield. The Irish also have the best defender between both teams in Jaylon Smith. In the past the game with the Skunkbears has always had funny bounces and the Irish have been unlucky. That will not be the case this season. Notre Dame is flat out more talented than the Skunkbears and it will show on the field on Saturday night. Notre Dame 34 Skunkbears 21
Other Games This Weekend:
7 Michigan State at 3 Oregon- A lot of people think that Sparty has a good shot in this game since they play a similar brand of football that Stanford plays and Stanford has had success against Oregon in recent years. However I am not one of those people. Oregon is dangerous on offense and the Michigan State defense lost some key players from last years team. Michigan State is going to need to score points and they wont score nearly enough. Oregon 38 Michigan State 17
14 USC at 13 Stanford- Speaking of Stanford, they continue to play the brand of football that they have become known for in the last decade. They take on a USC team that beat up on Fresno State last week. While it may have looked pretty on TV the Trojans are up for a much tougher challenge as Stanford is going to be way more physical on both sides of the ball. The lack of depth will end up being the killer for USC Stanford 31 USC 24