Manti Te’o and the Irish defense look to keep Denard Robinson under wraps this year.
The Notre Dame football team meets the Michigan Wolverines this Saturday night under the bright lights in South Bend. The Michigan Wolverines will try to defeat Notre Dame for the fourth consecutive year. In 2011, the Irish led Michigan 24-7 heading into the fourth quarter before quarterback Denard Robinson took matters into his own hands and completed a stunning comeback to beat Notre Dame 35-31. In that game, Robinson was Michigan’s entire offense. He passed for 338 yards and 4 touchdowns while also rushing 16 times for 108 yards and another touchdown. The penultimate play of that game was the 64 yard pass to receiver Jeremy Gallon that would set up the winning score on the next play.
Check out the Michigan perspective here: Game Preview: Michigan Football at Notre Dame
I expect Notre Dame’s defense is going to have “fond” memories of that implosion and are eager to shut down one of the most dynamic players in college football. The Irish D is proving that – to this point anyway- they are the foundation that this season’s success will ultimately be built upon. In three games Notre Dame is only surrendering 288.47 yards per game (tied for 18th in the nation) and giving up only 10 points, including a 20-3 victory last week against the then 10th ranked Michigan State Spartans. But neither the Spartans nor Navy or Purdue have what Michigan has – Robinson. Without a doubt, Brian Kelly is going to have to find a way to keep Robinson’s explosive running ability in check while playing with a depleted secondary that could be extremely vulnerable to the pass. Not an easy feat.
Coach Kelly is also going to have to find a way for red-shirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson to rebound from a horrid outing last week. Golson completed less than 50% of his pass attempts, and only registered 178 yards the entire game. However, that was against a Michigan State defense that is among the tops in the nation. The Wolverine’s overall defense ranks 57th. They are giving up only 157.7 passing yards per game, but that might have more to do with their horrid run defense than any real success in pass defense. Michigan is allowing 211.3 yards per game on the ground, good for 104th in the country. You might chalk a good portion of that number to the Alabama game when the Tide rolled for 232 yards, but the Wolverines also gave up 290 yards to Air Force and 112 yards to UMass. Yes, you read that right: UMass. It should leave no doubt what the Notre Dame strategy on offense should be this time.
3 Things to Watch
Denard Robinson – This season, like the past few seasons for Wolverines football, Robinson is nearly the entire offense. Stop him, and the game gets a lot easier. But stopping him is something far easier said than done, though his numbers in 2012 so far are down from this same point in 2011. Robinson is completed just over 54% of his passes. He is averaging 233 yards passing per game and has thrown for 6 touchdowns, but has also thrown 4 interceptions. Not surprisingly, he’s only been sacked once. Running the ball is where Robinson really hurts you. In 3 games he has gone for 351 yards on 40 attempts, and has scored 4 rushing touchdowns. He is by far Michigan’s biggest running threat – no other player on the team comes close to his numbers. NT Louis Nix and DEs Stephon Tuitt and Kapron-Lewis Moore will have to stay aware of where Robinson is at all times
Tyler Eifert – Name the last time in a Notre Dame game Tyler Eifert didn’t catch a pass before the Michigan State game. Stumped? You’d have to go back to October 9, 2010 against Pittsburgh. That’s quite an impressive streak to be broken. I can’t imagine Eifert was very happy about that happening against the Spartans. He’s been the most consistent target for Golson this year, but Golson has to find ways to get his play maker the ball more often. Big things can happen when he gets the chance.
Cierre Wood - I will admit that I was perhaps a little overzealous with my predictions for Wood’s performance last week. He may not have scored the two touchdowns I guessed, but he still ran for 56 yards on 10 carries against a stout Spartan defense. Wood should get a higher percentage of the carries this week, his second back from a 2-game suspension. And you can expect big things for him against Michigan’s porous run defense.
My 5 predictions
Denard Robinson – If it seems that I am focusing on Robinson quite a bit this post, it’s because I am. I fully believe that Notre Dame’s defense is capable of containing his running abilities to a reasonable extent (50-60 yards for the game). It’s their pass defense that has me worried. Robinson can chuck the rock. He proved that in the game last year. With Notre Dame down two starters in the secondary with season-ending injuries (Lo Woods and Jamoris Slaughter), the potential for a big passing game is there. Robinson throws for 260 yards and two touchdowns, and manages to get another TD in on the ground.
Notre Dame’s run game – We’ve already talked about Cierre Wood. He’s not the only capable runner that the Irish have. Atkinson only carried the ball 5 times last week, but amassed 43 yards (8.6 yards per carry). Atkinson has already had a big game against Navy where he totaled 99 yards and a touchdown. With him and Cierre likely splitting the majority of the carries, and Theo Riddick batting clean up, it could be a good night for the Irish offense. Notre Dame runs for 255 total yards and 3 rushing touchdowns.
Everett Golson – Even if the Irish play a more run-heavy offense against Michigan, Golson has got to be a more consistent play maker for them to win this game. If he has another game where he starts out 8-21 passing last last week, there’s no doubt in my mind that Brian Kelly will pull him for Tommy Rees. My best guess is that Golson is able to move the ball more with his legs than his arm, but stays in for the whole game.
The Irish Defense - Keeping Robinson in the pocket is going to be the key to winning this game for Notre Dame. Even better would be to hit him a few times, but that is near impossible. If Alabama could only sack him one time, I don’t see much reason for Notre Dame to have a better chance. But if you can keep Robinson contained and force him to throw, you’ll probably have a better shot at winning than if you let him run wild (literally).
Final Score – Despite the somewhat “misguided” predictions of my Michigan counterpart (sorry Rob), I see Notre Dame coming out on top 35-27.
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