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Posts Tagged ‘Notre Dame’

Michigan and Notre Dame to close rivalry under the lights

Thursday, February 20th, 2014


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The last meeting for the foreseeable future between college football’s top two winningest programs will take place the same way it has the past three seasons — under the lights. NBC will televise the Michigan-Notre Dame game at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 7:30 p.m.

Night games have been good to Michigan as the Wolverines have won two of the three played, but the one loss was two years ago in South Bend when Michigan was held without a touchdown and fell 13-6.

While Michigan leads the overall series 24-16-1, Michigan hasn’t had as much success at Notre Dame Stadium, trailing 8-7-1 all-time. This fall’s matchup will give the Wolverines a chance to even it up before the teams take an indefinite hiatus.

Michigan has won four of the last five in the series and six of the last eight, but that doesn’t mean the Wolverines have dominated. Last season’s 41-30 victory in Michigan Stadium was the first to be decided by more than one score since 2008. The previous four were decided by an average of less than five points. In fact, each of Michigan’s wins from 2009-11 was decided in the final two minutes.

It will be the second game of the season for both teams. Michigan opens on Aug. 30 at home against Appalachian State while Notre Dame hosts Rice.

It’s safe to say that there will be a lot of hype entering the final meeting and both teams will want to end the series as the victor. Notre Dame passed Michigan in all-time winning percentage at the end of the 2013 season, so a Michigan win on Sept. 6 would likely give the Wolverines the lead back.

Inside the Numbers: A departure from postseason custom

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013


The dictionary defines a “custom” as “a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.” The prestige of Michigan’s football program was built on custom. Look no further than its 910 all-time wins, 42 Big Ten championships or its rivalry with Ohio State, which has been U-M’s regular-season finale for all but three years since 1935. Fans have accepted this way of behavior from the Michigan football program.

Another custom Michigan fans have accepted involves a New Year’s Day ritual. After ringing in the New Year with family and friends, they awake the following morning. What each Michigan fan does when it wakes up on New Year’s Day varies from person to person. But they all know that, in a few short hours, they will be watching, whether it be in person or from their couch, the Michigan Wolverines play in a New Year’s Day bowl game.

Michigan fans have become accustomed to this New Year’s Day ritual because fans have been able to follow it most years since 1975. Before then, though, participating in any bowl game was a rarity for Michigan. This was not because the Wolverines were undeserving of a bowl bid, but because the bowl system’s structure at that time limited U-M’s opportunities to play in bowl games.

Michigan played in the first ever Rose Bowl game in 1902 (Bentley)

Michigan first appeared in a bowl game on January 1, 1902, shutting out Stanford, 49-0, in the first edition of the Rose Bowl and capping a national championship season. However, in the decades thereafter, the Big Ten prevented its members from participating in bowl games. It was not until 1946 that the Big Ten allowed its teams to play in the Rose Bowl, albeit no school could do so in consecutive years until 1971. Additionally, the Big Ten prevented its schools from playing in any other bowl game until 1975.

Accordingly, Michigan had the opportunity to play in a bowl game only five times—all Rose Bowls and all on January 1st—from 1946 to 1974. Further, from 1972 to 1974, the Wolverines won 10 games in each of those three seasons. And, yet, because of the Big Ten’s rules, U-M did not appear in a single bowl game during that stretch because the conference sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl each year instead.

Then, prior to the 1975 season, the Big Ten announced that it would allow its teams to play in more than just the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines were the first team to benefit from this rule change. After the 1975 season, the Big Ten once again sent the Buckeyes to Rose Bowl. But, because of the rule change, the Big Ten also sent Michigan to the Orange Bowl to face the Oklahoma Sooners on January 1, 1976.

This began a long-accepted custom of January bowl games, especially on New Year’s Day, for Michigan. From 1975 to 2012, there were 38 college football regular seasons. Michigan played in a bowl game in 36 of them. Of those 36 bowl games, Michigan played in 30 of them in January. Of those 30 January bowl games, U-M played in 25 of them on New Year’s Day. Thus, for the past 38 seasons, Michigan has played in a January bowl in 78.9 percent of them and in a New Year’s Day bowl in 65.8 percent of them.

Overall, Michigan has appeared in 42 bowl games and has played in 36 of those in January. Accordingly, U-M has played 85.7 percent of its bowl games in January. No other BCS team has played a higher percentage of its bowl games during the first month of the calendar year:

Highest Pct. Of January Bowl Games Among BCS Schools – Prior to 2013
Rank School No. of Bowl Games No. of Jan. Bowl Games % of Jan. Bowl Games
1 Michigan 42 36 85.7%
2 Ohio State 43 35 81.4%
3 Duke 9 7 77.8%
4 USC 49 38 77.6%
5 Oklahoma 46 34 73.9%
6 Notre Dame 32 23 71.9%
7 Nebraska 49 34 69.4%
T8 Alabama 60 40 66.7%
T8 Arkansas 39 26 66.7%
T8 Stanford 24 16 66.7%
11 Penn State 44 29 65.9%
12 Miami FL 34 22 64.7%
13 LSU 44 28 63.6%
14 Tennessee 49 31 63.3%
15 Wisconsin 24 15 62.5%
16 UConn 5 3 60.0%
17 Florida State 42 25 59.5%
18 Texas 51 30 58.8%
19 Florida 40 23 57.5%
20 Auburn 37 21 56.8%

No, Michigan does not have the most January-bowl-game appearances among BCS teams. That distinction belongs to the Alabama Crimson Tide. But, when a BCS team receives a bowl bid, no BCS team expects it to be from a bowl game played in January more than the Wolverines. This has certainly been the case recently more than ever. Since the 1996 regular season, the Maize and Blue have played in 15 bowl games. Fourteen of those were in the month of January. Thirteen of those were played on New Year’s Day.

So, on December 8, 2013, bowl executives, conference representatives, and school officials were finalizing this season’s bowl lineups. It was no surprise that many Michigan fans expected the Gator Bowl—a bowl game played on New Year’s Day—to be the Wolverines’ destination. This was tradition. This was custom. Why would it be any different this year?

Yet, that evening, ESPN announced that the Maize and Blue received a bowl bid from the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl—a bowl played on December 28, 2013—rather than the Gator Bowl. The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl had the luxury of choosing which Big Ten team it wanted to play in its game before the Gator Bowl. Even though some, including the author of this column, believed that the Buffalo Wild Wing Bowl would select Nebraska over Michigan because the Cornhuskers beat U-M in Ann Arbor and had a better record than U-M, among other reasons, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl selected the Wolverines over the Cornhuskers because “Michigan is Michigan.”

So rather than play a New Year’s Day bowl game for the 14th time in its last 16 bowl games, Michigan will play in only its seventh bowl game before the first day of the New Year. Although U-M’s overall bowl record is not stellar, the Wolverines hold only a 2-4 record in their previous six December bowl games. Here is a list of those games:

List of Michigan’s December Bowl Games
Date Bowl Opponent W/L Score
Dec. 28, 1979 Gator North Carolina L 15-17
Dec. 31, 1981 Bluebonnet UCLA W 33-14
Dec. 21, 1984 Holiday Brigham Young L 17-24
Dec. 30, 1994 Holiday Colorado State W 24-14
Dec. 28, 1995 Alamo Texas A&M L 20-22
Dec. 28, 2005 Alamo Nebraska L 28-32

This is a break from Michigan’s postseason custom. And this applies to more than just the month in which the Wolverines play their bowl game. The Buffalo Wild Wing Bowl, which is held in Tempe, Arizona, is scheduled to kick off at 10:15 p.m. ET. This is not the first late start for Michigan. U-M has started bowl games at 8:30 p.m. ET before, doing so in the 1994 Holiday Bowl versus Colorado State and the 2012 Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. Also, the Wolverines have faced Hawaii at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii, twice, but those games started no later than 9:30 p.m. ET. Therefore, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl’s 10:15 p.m. ET kick off may be the latest in U-M history.

So, to recap: Michigan is playing in a December bowl game for only the seventh time and may be participating in a game that starts later than any game in program history. Further, this is the first time the Wolverines have played in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, previously known as the Copper Bowl, and the first time the Wolverines have faced Kansas State. Nothing about Michigan’s bowl game this Saturday resembles its postseason custom.

Unfortunately, for Michigan fans, this separation from U-M’s postseason custom was bound to happen. When the four-team College Football Playoff starts next season, many of the prestigious bowl games involved with the playoff will played on New Year’s Eve rather than New Year’s Day. Yes, Michigan still will find itself playing in bowl games on New Year’s Day, but no longer will it hope to play in bowl games that occur only in January as it has under the current bowl system.

So, when Michigan fans wake up on New Year’s Day in 2014, they will have to follow a ritual different from the tradition they have become accustomed to in recent years. However, if U-M plans to compete for national championships for the next dozen years, Michigan fans were going to break away from their custom of rooting for Michigan in January bowl games, especially those on New Year’s Day. They just so happen to need to do so one year early.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Kansas State

1. If Jeremy Gallon catches at least five passes for 42 yards against Kansas State, he will be the only receiver ranked in the Top 3 for most receptions and receiving yards in a game, in a season, and in a career in Michigan history. Additionally, Gallon needs 47 yards to surpass Braylon Edwards’ single-season record mark of 1,330 receiving yards in 2004.

2. Devin Gardner’s status for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is uncertain. If Gardner plays, he can set new school records for most passing yards, most total touchdowns, and most passing touchdowns in a season with a 372-passing-yard, five-passing-touchdown performance. This seems unlikely, but, given his stat lines against Notre Dame, Indiana, and Ohio State, it is not out of the realm of possibility. Of course, Gardner must play first.

3. If Gardner does not play, Shane Morris will make his first career start at quarterback. Morris would be the fourth true freshman to start at quarterback for the Wolverines in the past decade. The other three were Tate Forcier, Ryan Mallett, and Chad Henne. Morris would have tough acts to follow as those three combined for 411 passing yards, eight passing touchdowns, and only one interception in their first starts.

Your bye week Saturday viewing guide

Friday, September 27th, 2013


Since you don’t have to worry about making the pilgrimage to the Big House or blocking off a chunk of time to watch the beloved Wolverines on TV tomorrow, there are any number of things to do. Yardwork, that home improvement project you’ve been putting off, appeasing your significant other, take the kids to a fall festival, or…maybe watching other games? Without much at stake tomorrow, you may not have paid much attention to the slate of games, but don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. Here’s your guide to tomorrow’s games that relate to Michigan.

Early games

There are no noon kickoffs that have any bearing on Michigan’s season so use this time to do any of the aforementioned tasks. Spend the morning and early afternoon with your significant other or getting stuff done around the house before you settle in for the afternoon games. There are three ranked teams in action at noon: #11 Oklahoma at West Virginia (ESPN), #12 South Carolina at UCF (ABC), and #15 Miami at South Florida (ESPNU), so perhaps you could have one of those on in the background.

Afternoon games

LSU and Georgia are potential bowl opponents to keep an eye on (Dale Zanine, US Presswire)

The first big matchup of the day that relates to Michigan is #14 Oklahoma at #22 Notre Dame (3:30pm, NBC). The Sooners are out for revenge after getting throttled by the Irish in Norman a year ago. OU has given up just 27 points in three games this season, and they have had two weeks to prepare for Notre Dame, but this will be their first road test. Quarterback Blake Bell looked good against Tulsa two weeks ago, completing 27-of-37 passes for 413 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Michigan fans will want to cheer for the Irish in this one since Michigan already beat Notre Dame. The more games ND wins the rest of the season the more it will help Michigan’s BCS chances should the Wolverines keep winning.

Also at 3:30 is a Big Ten matchup between Iowa and Minnesota (ABC/ESPN2). This certainly won’t be the best game on but it’s a chance to scout out two future opponents including next week’s. Minnesota is 4-0 so far and Iowa is 3-1, though neither has beaten a quality opponent. It will be a good early season barometer of how good both of these teams really is before they face the upper tier of the Big Ten in the coming weeks. It’s a rivalry game, played for the Floyd of Rosedale, and two of the last three meetings have been decided by three points or less.

The biggest game on at the 3:30 time slot is one that may or may not be relevant to Michigan: #6 LSU at #9 Georgia (CBS). GameDay will be in Athens in the morning, which might be worth flipping on to see Bubba Watson and Willie Robertson as the guest pickers. You may not enjoy watching SEC football, but one of these teams could very well end up being Michigan’s opponent in January, and it’s sure to be a great game.

Evening games

Wisconsin may be the best chance for Ohio State to lose before Nov. 30 (Kirk Irwin, Getty Images)

If you weren’t able to catch any of the games during the day, now is definitely the time to kick back, enjoy a cold one (or a few) and watch some football. At 8pm #4 Ohio State hosts #23 Wisconsin on ABC. While Michigan doesn’t play the Badgers this season, it may be the best chance for the Buckeyes to lose before they come to Ann Arbor on Nov. 30. Wisconsin has one of the nation’s top running games with two very good backs, both of which are on pace for well more than 1,000 yards. Melvin Gordon has 624 yards on 11.8 yards per carry through four games, while James White has 442 on 7.2 yards per carry. Even freshman Corey Clement has more yards than Michigan’s leading rusher, Fitzgerald Toussaint, does (334 on 7.6 yards per carry).

Ohio State has played four cupcakes to start the season and is coming off a 76-0 thrashing of Florida A&M. What’s more is that Braxton Miller is set to start after missing the last two games with a knee injury. He entered the season as a Heisman favorite, but his backup, Kenny Guiton has looked phenomenal the last two weeks. It will be interesting to see how Urban Meyer handles it if Miller struggles.

Two other evening games will be worth checking out similar to the LSU-Georgia game for the potential of Michigan facing them in January. Top-ranked Alabama hosts #21 Ole Miss (6:30 on ESPN) and #10 Texas A&M visits Arkansas (7:00 on ESPN2). Alabama hasn’t been as dominant to this point as it has been the past few years, and Ole Miss is in the midst of a resurgence, so it should be a good one to watch.

Overall, it’s a pretty good slate of games this weekend so enjoy a stress free weekend of football and whatever else is on your agenda.

Five-Spot Challenge: Bye week edition

Monday, September 23rd, 2013


Just because the bye week is upon us it doesn’t mean we can’t do a Five-Spot Challenge, so for the first time ever we are holding a bye week edition. This will feature questions about our rivals’ games this Saturday and you will be playing for a $10 M Den gift card. The results will count towards the overall standings, but the points earned will be halved. So if there are 20 contestants this week, the winner will get 10 points, second will get 9.5, and so on. Consider it extra credit.

Before we get to this week’s questions, we first have to congratulate last week’s winner, kaskhaav, who had an impressive week despite Michigan’s poor showing in East Hartford. He was the only contestant within 100 yards of predicting the total combined passing yards by both teams (94 away). He was also the closest to correctly predicting the longest play of the game, which was Fitz Toussaint’s 35-yard touchdown run. He predicted 45 yards. He also tied Maizenblu62 for the closest prediction of the receiving yards of the game’s leading receiver (60). Kashkaav wins a $20 M Den gift card.

Fla06GOBLUE came in second this week, 36 points behind kashkaav. His prediction of 115 yards was only five short of Fitz’s rushing yards. Bluwolf77 and GrizzlyJFB actually correctly predicted 120. JustJeepGear.com was the closest to Devin Gardner’s quarterback rating, predicting a bad performance of 67. Gardner’s rating was 65.9.

The weekly results and overall standings are updated.

No one correctly predicted the final score, though Jim Mackiewicz was the closest with his Michigan 27 – Akron 13 prediction. No one else predicted Michigan to score less than 31. The average combined score of the 18 contestants was Michigan 42 – Akron 16.

Here are this week’s “extra credit” picks.

Final Look: Notre Dame

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013


With a breather game, or as Brady Hoke calls it a “glazed donut game,” coming up, the huge win over Notre Dame is still fresh on our minds. The Irish came to Ann Arbor for the final time and in front of a record-setting Big House crowd Michigan laid it to them. So let’s take one last look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from Michigan’s 41-30 win.

Three big moments

1. Gallon’s pinball catch and run

Notre Dame won the coin toss and elected to receive, but Michigan forced the Irish to punt it away. On Michigan’s first possession, the Wolverines showed some trickery with a jet sweep and a reverse, but the drive only netted three points. The defense forced another three-and-out, and on Michigan’s next possession, Devin Gardner found Jeremy Gallon over the middle. The little bulldog bounced off a pair of defenders, one of which tried to strip the ball, got a great block from Jehu Chesson, and raced the rest of the way to the end zone for Michigan’s first touchdown of the game. It put Michigan ahead 10-0 and signaled to all involved that the Wolverines came to play.

2. Michigan’s game clinching drive

Blake Countess picked off two passes, one to set up a touchdown and one to seal the game (MGoBlue.com)

After Notre Dame pulled within four with nine minutes to play, Michigan needed an answer. The Irish had seized the momentum that Michigan had spent the first three quarters building up and Michigan’s previous two drives had resulted in a Notre Dame interception in the end zone for six points and a shanked punt that gave the Irish great field position. Two drives, six plays, five total yards leading to 10 Irish points.

If ever there was a time for a good drive it was then, and the Wolverines answered, going 75 yards in 10 plays, consuming 4:57, and pulling ahead by 11 points. The drive started with an incomplete pass, but on second down, Fitz Toussaint rushed 22 yards to the Michigan 47. Two plays later, Toussaint caught a pass out of the backfield and raced 31 yards to the Notre Dame 21 and suddenly the momentum had swung.

Gardner lobbed the ball to Gallon, but it appeared to be picked off. However, the Irish defender was flagged for pass interference. Two plays later, Gardner tried to connect with Jake Butt in the end zone, but again Notre Dame was called for pass interference, this time giving Michigan the ball on the 2-yard line. After a Gardner rush for a loss of two, he found Drew Dileo in the end zone for the touchdown. Aided by the two Irish penalties, which were the correct calls no doubt, Michigan got just the drive it needed to put the game away.

3. Blake Countess comes up big

The redshirt sophomore who missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL had his hands full with an explosive Notre Dame passing attack on Saturday. The Irish used big plays to beat Temple in Week 1 and Greg Mattison made not giving up big plays priority number one for the game.

Late in the first half, after Michigan had kicked a field goal to take a 20-13 lead, Notre Dame was trying to drive down and tie the game heading into the locker room. George Atkinson III had returned the kickoff 26 yards and then a 15-yard late hit penalty was tacked on giving Notre Dame the ball at their own 42-yard line. But on the second play, Countess stepped in front of an Irish receiver and picked it off. He then raced 30 yards to the ND 23 and the Wolverines punched it in to take a two touchdown lead into the half.

Then, after Michigan’s big fourth quarter drive to go up by 11, Notre Dame was trying to fight its way back. Rees was methodically picking apart the defense, picking up 12 yards here, seven yards there, and the Irish reached the Michigan 6-yard line. On 1st-and-goal, Rees fired a pass into the middle of the endzone, but it bounced off Raymon Taylor’s leg and Countess grabbed it for a touchback and sealed the win.

The numbers game

115,901: The official attendance, which set the all-time record for largest crowd to ever watch a football game, college or pro

400: The win was Michigan’s 400th victory in Michigan Stadium since it opened in 1927. The Wolverines are 400-120-15 in the Big House

1940: The last time #98 had been worn by a Michigan football player until Devin Gardner was given Tom Harmon’s Legends jersey

$200,000,000: The donation given to the university by Stephen M. Ross, who served as the honorary coin flip captain for the game

Sept. 16, 2006: The last time a Michigan receiver caught three touchdown passes in a game. Mario Manningham was the one to do it and Jeremy Gallon matched it on Saturday

184: Gallon’s receiving yards, which ranks as the sixth best single game performance in Michigan history

224: The number career points scored by Brendan Gibbons after making two field goals and five extra points, passing Desmond Howard in career scoring

Drive Chart
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*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Three observations

1. The defense

Despite the win there has been quite a bit of talk since Saturday night about Michigan’s inability to get a consistent – or any – pass rush on Tommy Rees. That concern is certainly understandable, but I think it’s important to remember two things.

First, the Notre Dame offensive line is very good. It is anchored by All-American left tackle Zack Martin, has a left guard who was starting his 28th straight game, a right guard who was a returning starter from last season, a right tackle who will likely take over for Martin next season, and Martin’s younger brother at center. The line gave up just 18 sacks all last season, the same number Michigan’s line allowed, and has improved the running game from 92nd to 54th to 38th nationally the past three seasons under Brian Kelly.

Secondly, Greg Mattison’s defensive game plan was to sit back, give up the short passes, and not allow the big plays. There were very few blitzes, especially from the secondary, so the rush was mostly dependent on the front four. Much of the time, Notre Dame had extra blockers in to protect Rees, so it’s understandable that the line wasn’t able to generate much pressure. If it struggles against Akron, UConn, or Minnesota in the next few weeks, then we should start to worry, but I think Mattison has enough quality bodies to rotate in that when all is said and done this will be a pretty good line and it’s only going to get better.

What Michigan’s defense has done very well overall is flying to the ball and tackling. Remember the Rich Rod days when it seemed that tackling was a lost art? Those days are gone and it was no more evident than on Saturday. Michigan’s secondary sat back and kept the ball in front of them and then made the open field tackles needed to keep the Irish from yards after catch. These guys aren’t the best defense in the country, but they are very well coached and it shows.

Drew Dileo is a proven pass catcher but who else will step up? (MGoBlue.com)

2. The offensive line

On the flip side of the previous observation, one of the main questions coming into the game was how would Michigan’s young offensive line hold up against Notre Dame’s ferocious defensive front. On paper, Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller, and Kyle Kalis going up against Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt seems like a huge mismatch, but aside from the one interception in the end zone – which is as much on Devin Gardner as it is on the line – the men in the winged helmets all but neutralized the guys in gold.

Nix III tallied four tackles (one for loss), Tuitt didn’t make a stop, Michigan ran for 4.3 yards per carry – which isn’t great but it was effective – and Gardner was sacked once. Our friends over at Her Loyal Sons charted every Michigan offensive play and found that Notre Dame blitzed on 63 percent of them. On 24 percent of Michigan’s offensive plays (roughly a fourth) Notre Dame brought at least six rushers. Gardner did a good job of getting the ball of quickly, but the line did a very good job of keeping him upright.

3. Who else will step up in the passing game?

Gardner shredded the Notre Dame pass defense to the tune of 294 yards, which is more passing yards than the Irish allowed in any game last season except for Oklahoma. But 184 of those went to Jeremy Gallon. Seven other players caught passes – one being Fitz Toussaint out of the backfield on that final, game-clinching drive. Gardner’s comfort level with Gallon is obvious, but sooner or later opponents are going to start game planning Gallon out of the offense and other receivers will need to step up.

Drew Dileo certainly capable and showed that with the game-clinching touchdown catch, running a great route and catching the ball. But where is the rest of the production going to come from? Devin Funchess has five catches through two games, Jeremy Jackson is who he is at this point, and the jury is still out on Joe Reynolds who did catch a deep pass in Week 1. Jehu Chesson still hasn’t caught a pass, and I don’t think he’s even been targeted, though he has done well blocking.

I’m not trying to be negative or picky, but I want to see others step up in the passing game. I want to see what Chesson, Reynolds, and Jackson can do, and we should get to see that in the next couple of weeks. I do think Gallon is talented enough to break 1,000 yards this season, but we can’t rely on him to have a huge night every game, so let’s see more from the other guys.

Two games in, is Michigan a national title contender?

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

When Stephon Tuitt grabbed Devin Gardner’s pass to nobody in the Michigan end zone to bring Notre Dame within one possession of the Wolverines on Saturday night, the entire season could have changed for the home team. Michigan had been up by 14 points with the ball in the fourth quarter and were well on their way to running their rivals right out of the biggest stadium in the country. Tuitt’s interception was followed by a poor punt and a Notre Dame field goal to make the score 34-30 as the game continued to get shakier for the home team.

Then Gardner turned things around for good. The 75-yard touchdown drive essentially finished the Fighting Irish and gave Michigan the 2-0 start to the season they needed to be considered a national contender.

But is Michigan a real contender?

It’s obviously much too early in the season to know which teams can really battle for the BCS National Championship, but isn’t that the fun of the pre-conference schedule? While the Wolverines remain undefeated, it’s not unreasonable to look ahead and think about what could be a magical year.

Let’s dig a little deeper into Michigan’s future.

Jeremy Gallon has become one of the top playmakers in the Big Ten (MGoBlue.com)

Based on what teams have shown so far this season, the Maize and Blue have a very realistic opportunity to be 7-0 going into East Lansing the first Saturday in November. Games against Akron, Minnesota and Indiana should be automatic victories for a team that hasn’t lost at home under Brady Hoke, and the first road test against Connecticut seems like a cupcake after the Huskies’ opening loss to FCS opponent Towson.

Penn State is the only legitimate worry for Hoke during this span, as the atmosphere in Happy Valley always proves unwelcoming for visiting teams. Penn State has won their first two games against Syracuse and Eastern Michigan, and has a freshman quarterback that has looked impressive in non-conference play. The Nittany Lions will be the first real challenge away from the Big House, but assuming Michigan takes care of business beforehand, they should be heavily favored to start 7-0.

Michigan State always provides a challenge, especially in East Lansing. From a talent standpoint, though, Michigan is far superior to their neighbors. The Spartan offense is nothing short of anemic, and has mustered just two touchdowns against extremely weak opponents. The reason this team is dangerous is the elite defense, which has not only held opponents to just 9.5 points per game so far, but also scored four touchdowns. If Michigan State can’t move the ball, Michigan should win this rivalry fairly easily, but the Spartans always seem to show up for this game so expect 8-0 to be a real battle.

Of the final four games, Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State may be the toughest three games of the season. Nebraska and Northwestern will be battling for the top of the Legends Division, and though Michigan should be favored in both contests, neither of these games will be easy. Northwestern appears to be especially dangerous, having defeated two power conference teams fairly easy thus far and owning the luxury of hosting the game in Chicago. This game should be circled on Brady Hoke’s calendar as the game that could really end the undefeated run.

Should the Wolverines get through those two games, Iowa, who has already lost to Northern Illinois, will be a victory in Kinnick Stadium.

Ultimately, if Michigan can avoid a letdown, they could go into The Game with a record of 11-0. Ohio State is obviously the best team on the schedule, and it would be a tall order to ask this Michigan team to beat them two weeks in a row.

This schedule, while difficult, is manageable for the team fans saw on Saturday night.

Defensively, Michigan gave up too many points, but looking past the bare statistics offers hope for Greg Mattison’s unit. Through two games, the relatively young defensive line has given up only 162 yards rushing, which is crucial during Big Ten play. Opposing quarterbacks have also felt some pressure, resulting in five sacks through two games in Ann Arbor.

The defense sat back and forced Tommy Rees to make plays, but will need to get more pass rush to be a contender (MGoBlue.com)

Mattison has earned the trust of fans on the defensive end, but the real reason that Michigan is 2-0 is the successful implementation of the pro-style offense. Gardner has been terrific early in the season, despite the three interceptions. He is much more comfortable in the pocket than Denard Robinson was during his tenure as starting quarterback, and uses his mobility to avoid pressure and extend plays to find receivers downfield. The redshirt junior has been accurate with his passes, and picks his spots in the running game. In fact, Gardner has shown how comfortable he is in the scrambling game, converting several third-and-longs with his legs with no other options.

Luckily, he almost always has an option with Jeremy Gallon on the field. Gallon broke out with 184 receiving yard on eight catches and three touchdowns against Notre Dame, and showed that he is one of the top playmakers in the country. Though he isn’t the biggest or fastest receiver in the conference, the senior showcased the ability to break tackles, beat defenders off the line and catch the ball in traffic against a Notre Dame defense less than a year removed from a trip to the National Championship game. The ease with which Michigan moved the ball against one of the better defensive opponents on the schedule proves that Gardner has enough help to score against any team in the country.

Gardner is also the team’s leading rusher, something that needs to change if the Wolverines are to reach their maximum potential. Fitzgerald Toussaint has been decent out of the backfield, but his 3.6 yards per carry need to improve to give the offense shorter second and third downs. Freshman Derrick Green looked strong against Central Michigan, but got only one carry in the night game. The loss of backup Drake Johnson for the season means the rest of the group will have to pick up the slack and give Borges a running threat beyond the scrambling abilities of his starting quarterback.

Michigan’s national outlook won’t change for the next several weeks unless they suffer a loss to a weak team on their schedule. If the Wolverines can take care of business, they will have a great opportunity to play in a BCS bowl in the final year before the college football playoff is introduced.

It may be too early to think about January, but after a huge win against #14 Notre Dame, it sure is fun.

Notre Dame postgame transcript: Gardner and Gallon

Monday, September 9th, 2013


(Justin Potts, M&GB)

On getting to wear Tom Harmon’s #98 jersey…
Gardner: “I appreciate that history and all the great things he did on the field, but he did a lot of great things off the field. He was a great person and a great athlete. I didn’t even know that he even played two years of varsity basketball, so that’s just the ultimate athlete and a great person. He fought for our country. For my coaches to be able to say that I’m worthy of wearing this jersey, it’s amazing that they see me as that type of person.”

On the chemistry with Jeremy Gallon and why Jeremy plays bigger than he is…
Gardner: “I mean, he’s like a little bulldog, man. We worked so hard since I got here. You guys are just now seeing it, but behind the doors we work so hard and we got the opportunity to display it in front of the biggest crowd in college football.”

On whether he has silenced doubts about not being able to win the big game…
Gardner: “Those are the games that we want, the Big Ten Championship (and) Rose Bowl games. And I feel like with the help of my teammates they helped me a lot. I made a bad turnover in our own end and the defense came out and stopped them and the offense blocked for us to get out and run the clock out. So I mean, 115,000, that’s how many people were there, but not to mention all the people that were watching on TV. It’s amazing to be able to participate in something like this, but this isn’t the big one that we really want.”

On Jeremy’s first touchdown catch…
Gallon: “It was a dig and cover-2 coverage and I was just coming down and Devin hit me. It was good to get up there and make my move and they wanted to strip the ball. I spun around and started running and I saw Jehu Chesson lay a block on somebody and I just ran in for a touchdown.”

On starting a night game in Michigan Stadium…
Gardner: “It felt great. I’ve said all week this rivalry is such a big deal, and like I said earlier to be able to play in front of so many people and to respond under adversity and under what you guys see as pressure, it was amazing for me. And my teammates believed in me the whole time, and I just want to thank all my teammates, the offensive line, the defense, and Gallon. I knew I could get the ball there when I needed to and I just want to thank my entire team for believing in me. My coaches too.”

On the interception…
Gardner:
“Coach Borges talks to us about the top three causes of interceptions and one of them is desperately avoiding sacks. That’s what I did in my own end zone which was a horrible decision, but our defense gave us a place to stand. I told them I was going to finish, ‘you give us a place to stand and we’re going to finish this football game.’ And they said they believed in me – a number of them – and that’s what happened, we finished the football game and put that behind me. I mean I’m the quarterback, I respond after adversity.”

On his injury and the chemistry beteween he and Devin…
Gallon:
“Yeah, it’s just a little hamstring deal. The chemistry between me and Devin, like he said we’ve been working with each other since he first got here and it’s been like a brotherhood and we’ll never let anything change anything. We just try to let our work off the field show on the field.”

On the potential of the offense…
Gardner:
“I feel like if I limit my mistakes we can go as far as we want. I feel like the offensive line is going to block, Fitzgerald Toussaint is going to run, and all the receivers are going to catch, and all the other backs are going to run also. I feel like if everybody does their job and if I do my job in particular we’ll be fine.”

On how he shook off the interception…
Gardner:
“I mean I just always remember that everybody’s going to look to me for confirmation that we’ll be alright. So I just tried to make sure that I stayed level. I was pretty upset with myself for the mistake – it was a horrible, horrible mistake and could have cost us the game – but like I said the defense gave us a place to stand and I went out and finished it.”

On his big game and how he will remember this night…
Gallon:
“For me, I could never imagine doing something like this. I just come out and play for my team, just play my role as a senior on this team. I mean, a good game, it’s not me, it’s the rest of my teammates, the rest of the offense and I can’t take all the credit. Those are my teammates.”

On what they will say to their kids 25 years from now about this game and the series being canceled…
Gardner:
“I don’t even know. I can’t even explain it. I’m still kind of, how I feel right now, how it felt to take that knee, I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. But we still have unfinished business in the season, so this isn’t the end, it’s only the second game of the year. We have much bigger goals as Coach Hoke always says”

On the importance of diversifying the passing game as teams start to game plan against Gallon…
Gardner:
“Jeremy had a big game but maybe seven or eight different people caught passes – big passes where we got first downs or moved the chains – so it’s not just like he had a really big game. I feel like it could happen for any of them because Gallon isn’t always on the field. Even some third downs he’s not on the field and we get the first down. So I mean, it was a collective effort. Joy Reynolds, Devin Funchess, Jake Butt had some big catches, Fitzgerald Toussaint had one at the end. So I feel like we can spread it around; he just had a big game tonight.”

On the pro style offense and was tonight an indication of what it will look like going forward…
Gardner:
“Definitely. I feel like Coach Borges is in a groove playcalling. We were in a groove as an offense. We drove the ball down with some nice drives and took a lot of time off the clock and things like that, so I feel like we performed to the level that Coach Hoke would like. I mean, obviously, we’re going to have to watch the film and there are going to be mistakes, even ones that we didn’t notice on the field, overall I feel like we fought. And that’s what we talked about all summer and all winter, is fighting and finishing, because that’s something we didn’t do last year. And today we fought and we finished.”

Notre Dame postgame transcript: Brady Hoke

Sunday, September 8th, 2013


(Justin Potts, M&GB)

“You guys ready to go home? It’s late.”

On the plan of running wide early in the game…
“Well, we thought that we had a chance to get the edge and with Mike (Schofield) and Taylor (Lewan), the two tackles, we felt that we could take over block, zone it out, and then got a couple good blocks by (Devin) Funchess. He’d motion over or be stationary there and that let Fitz (Toussaint) determine where he wants to cut and I thought Fitz made some really good runs tonight. He had some really good cuts.”

On how the offensive line was able to neutralize Notre Dame’s defensive line…
“Well, I don’t know if neutralize is the right word, but at the same time they had some success too. I thought the three interior guys, they take a lot of pride, Taylor and Mike have really taught those guys well (and) Darryl Funk has. They just, good fundamentals and really wanted to finish every block.”

On breaking two records, Gibbons’ consecutive field goals and the attendance record…
“It’s nice to see Gibby because a couple years ago, to me, he wasn’t really kicking the ball as well. To see the work ethic that he put forth and the confidence that his teammates have in him is part of it. I think having the all time attendance record, I think that’s pretty cool, and it was a great atmosphere.”

On what he was disappointed by with the defense…
“You’ve got to give Tommy Rees some credit. I think he’s a good quarterback and I think he’s proven that against us now three years in a row. He’s accurate. They have some big play receivers. We were playing mostly off until we did play man. We were going to give him some of those throws and I think what was disturbing a little bit was they ran the ball in there a couple of times when we were set up defensively well enough to where they shouldn’t, even though we played mostly a seven man front all day.”

On the defense’s ability to come up with a big play when needed at the end of the game…
“Well, that was critical. I think Greg (Mattison), especially in the second half, mixed some things up from a front standpoint to some coverage standpoint, some zone blitzes and some zero blitzes, and I thought it worked out pretty well.”

On whether he spoke to Devin Gardner after the interception…
“Every time he comes off the field we talk. Maybe we’re going to need more, like I told him tonight, we’re going to need more because we were struggling a little bit defensively. They were efficient sometimes. When he came off the field (after the interception) I didn’t have to say a word to him because he was beating himself up all the way off the field. It was one of those things that he knows better and I’ll go back to the same thing (I’ve said before), it’s a blessing and a curse when you have that ability.”

On Gardner’s athletic ability allowing him to get that pass off instead of just taking a sack…
“Yeah, there’s no question. He’s very conscientious in trying to do things that are going to help the team and stay away from those negatives.”

On how it felt to beat Notre Dame…
“Well, it’s always nice to win. It’s just such a great rivalry and to be able to be on the right side of it always feels good. It also tells you a lot (about) where you’re at when we play them early in the year, where you’re at as a program, what we need to do if we want to win the Big Ten Championship. I think we learned a lot about that because of the team we played.”

On whether the offense achieved the balance he wanted it to…
“That’s probably what we’d like to be, that 55-45, somewhere in there, run-pass. We always like to run it a little more, especially with the tailback if we’re having success. We had some tonight.”

On  Jeremy Gallon and the work he has put in to become an elite receiver…
“You know, Jeremy is, I guess I would say first of, he’s a very very tough kid. As well as he catches the ball, finds those seams and creases, he blocks. And when he blocks, he gets on people. Catching the ball is important for him, but he loves to block. And I think how he comes to work every day, because he does come to work every day, and how he competes is probably one of his strengths.”

On Gardner storming off the field…
“Well, storming off the field…I think there’s different storms that can happen. It wasn’t one that I think a whole lot of people would notice, but when good things and bad things happened during the course of the game I think he was pretty even as far as demeanor and how he looked.”

On whether Michigan took it personal this week that Notre Dame ended the rivalry…
“You know, I don’t think so. I think we were playing Notre Dame and I think they always think that – and I’m going back to the Michigan teams that I coached on when I was an assistant – and I just think that there are certain games that you get very excited about, those rivalry games. So I don’t think there was any kind of…I mean, we just…we want to win. And we want to win every week. And we want to win and improve as we win.”

On at what point he realized he needed to tell Devin we need more…
“I say that every game. You can get a feel for a game. We went three and out the first possession defensively, and I just think we always know we’re going to need more.”

On the two interceptions by Blake Countess…
“Yeah, the last one, number one, being an athlete and catching the ball that was kicked, but also being in the right place at the right time and just playing through the play. He was pursuing towards the ball and that’s what you like to see. The first one gave us great field position, a great opportunity, and it was well needed at the time.”

On where the offense is now in terms of the style he wants it to be compared to what it was with Denard Robinson at quarterback…
“Well, number one, we were fortunate to have Denard. Al (Borges) was smart enough to conform what we do with the abilities that you have on your team – and you need to do that in all, offense, defense, and kicking game. I would say this is more like what we’d like to do. We’re going to be multiple enough personnel-wise, multiple enough from a formation standpoint – two backs, three backs, whatever it takes, another offensive tackle in, a lot of different things that we like to do – but this was more like what we want to do.”

On how important was it for Devin to make plays with his legs, picking up a lot of critical first downs…
“Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. It is critical. When he doesn’t see what he wants to first and second read he does a nice job pulling the ball down and getting what he can, and we’re fortunate that he has that kind of ability.”

On what he learned about Devin in this signature game that will help for the bigger games going forward…
“I don’t know if I learned a whole lot different than I knew, because I get to see him every day. But I would say the thing that you take form it is he made some very good plays but a the same time he’s got to be more consistent once in a while.”

On the one lasting memory he will take away from tonight, the last home game against Notre Dame…
“Probably two things…three things. Probably winning for maybe the last time. 115,000 and a sea of maize. And it didn’t necessarily happen tonight, but honoring Tom Harmon and having Mark (Harmon) here. It was special. He visited with our team and it was really a special thing.”

On the injuries…
“AJ (Williams) got a little bit of an ankle. He came back in, probably could have gone, but would not have been as effective as we’d like him to be. Taylor’s fine, he got poked. Jeremy’s got a little muscle that he’s got to work through.”

On whether he brought up Brian Kelly calling it a regional rivalry this week…
“Never did.”

On what he learned about the team…
“What we learned a little bit about our team is we can be a good football team if we do a better job playing the run, if we’ll be a little more – and this is all defensive perspective to some degree to start with – be a little tighter in coverage. I think we’ll have a little more confidence to do that. I think in the kicking game, Dennis (Norfleet) had a couple of good kickoff returns. I think they were blocked decently well. Obviously, we gave up some field position, had a kickoff out of bounds, and a punt that wasn’t exactly like we’d like to punt the ball, and they had a return. So those are things that we need to work on so that they don’t happen again.”

Fried Chicken: Michigan 41 – Notre Dame 30

Sunday, September 8th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

It was a perfect script through three quarters of play. A raucous Big House that featured multiple fly-overs, a pregame ceremony honoring the greatest player to ever don the maize and blue, the largest college football crowd ever, and a halftime performance with a message from Beyonce complete with lasers and blue LED lights, it was truly a site to behold. On the field, unlike last season’s meeting in South Bend, Michigan was able to move the ball with relative ease, going up and down the field to the tune of nearly 367 yards – 68 more than the entire offensive output last season – and stretching a 14-point lead. It had all the makings of a Wolverine romp in the final Big House meeting against the hated rival who, in Brady Hoke’s words, “chickened out” of the rivalry.

And then it started to unravel.

Over the next ten minutes of game action, the crowd fell silent and the tension permeating through the Big House was so thick it could be sliced with a knife.

Final Stats
Michigan Notre Dame
Score 41 30
Record 2-0 1-1
Total Yards 460 410
Net Rushing Yards 194 108
Net Passing Yards 294 314
First Downs 25 23
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 6-50 4-33
Punts-Yards 3-94 2-80
Time of Possession 34:04 25:56
Third Down Conversions 6-of-12 8-of-15
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 1-9 1-8
Field Goals 2-for-2 3-for-3
PATs 5-for-5 3-for-3
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 3-of-5
Full Box Score

Devin Gardner, the newly crowned recipient of a Michigan Legends jersey, had avoided costly mistakes until that point and seemed in complete command of the Wolverine offense, even in the face of what will likely be the toughest defense he will face all season. But on 3rd-and-11 from his own 16, he faced a pair of Irish defenders in his face. As he had done all game, he rolled to escape them but this time their containment was too good and he found himself in his own end zone. As they made the hit, Gardner tried to throw it away, but it fell right into the hands of a diving Stephon Tuitt and suddenly Michigan’s comfortable 14-points lead was cut in half.

Needing a big response, Michigan took over once again and Gardner quickly found Jeremy Gallon for a seven-yard gain. But Gallon, who had a career game with eight receptions for 184 yard and three touchdowns, stayed down on the Michigan Stadium turf. He eventually walked off the field, but on the next play a false start negated the gain. On the ensuing play, both Devin Funchess and Taylor Lewan went down and nothing could go right. Michigan was forced to punt and Matt Wile’s boot went off the side of his foot, just 21 yards downfield and Notre Dame took over near midfield.

A touchdown would tie the game and George Atkinson III gashed the middle of the Michigan defense for 16 yards on the first play. Tommy Rees hit Chris Brown for 11 yards and suddenly the Irish were 25 yards away from the end zone. But the Michigan defense stiffened. On 3rd-and-8 James Ross III had a chance to seal the game, but wasn’t able to hold onto an interception in the middle of the field. Notre Dame settled for a field goal to pull within 34-30.

Michigan took over with 9:15 remaining in need of a long scoring drive to turn the momentum back in its favor. In the span of four plays, Gardner found Fitzgerald Toussaint for a 22-yard gain and a 31-yard gain to the Notre Dame 21. Two Irish pass interference penalties later, Michigan had 1st-and-goal at the Irish two. Gardner faked the handoff and rolled to his right, but everyone in the stadium, including ND’s defense, knew it was coming and he was stopped for a two-yard loss. On the next play, Gardner found Drew Dileo for a four-yard touchdown pass and the Michigan Stadium crowd could finally exhale.

Devin Gardner earned Tom Harmon's #98 Legends jersey (MGoBlue.com)

But there was still four minutes on the clock, and if recent history in this rivalry was any indication that was a lifetime. On Notre Dame’s first play of the drive, Brennen Beyer broke through for Michigan’s first sack of the game, a nine-yard loss. But passes of 10, 21, 12, and 11 yards later, Notre Dame was knocking on Michigan’s door once again. Two straight seven-yard completions to TJ Jones took the Irish to Michigan’s six-yard line, but Rees’ pass over the middle sailed high of his target, bounced off the knee of Raymon Taylor and right into the hands of Blake Countess for a touchback.

Michigan ran out the clock after Gardner scrambled for 14 yards and a first down, and for the first time since the third quarter Michigan fans could go wild.

Following the game, there was a sense of relief among the Michigan players, coaches, and fans alike. A joyous occasion – the second night game in Michigan Stadium history and the final home game against Notre Dame – nearly turned heartbreaking. The players spoke with a somber tone, fully aware that they had let the Irish back into it and hammering the point that they still had a lot of work to do.

Yet in the end, it was Michigan’s fourth win over the Irish in the last six meetings and sixth in the last eight. It keeps the Wolverines unbeaten and leaves a lot of excitement for the rest of the season.

Gardner finished 21-of-33 for 294 yards, four touchdowns and the one interception. He also rushed 13 times for 82 yards (96 when sacks are excluded) and another score. Toussaint took every running back carry but one, rushing 22 times for 71 yards and caught one pass for 31. Gallon led all receivers, while seven others caught passes. Defensively, Taylor led the way with 11 tackles, one for loss.

Michigan accumulated 460 yards of offense, more than any team gained against Notre Dame last season except for Alabama. The 294 passing yards were more than anyone except Oklahoma. While Michigan’s defense was content to sit back and rush three or four, Rees passed 35 times and threw two interceptions. The Michigan offense out-rushed the Irish 194-108.

Michigan hosts 0-2 Akron next Saturday, travel to 0-2 UConn after that, and then get a bye week before opening Big Ten play. The next three weeks should give the Wolverines a chance to work out some kinks from the first two games and rest up the injured players before getting into the real grind of the Big Ten season.

Stay tuned for reactions from the players and coaches, our thoughts on the game, and a look at next week’s opponent, the Akron Zips.

M&GB staff predictions: Notre Dame

Friday, September 6th, 2013


Last week, we were all pretty similar with our predictions, but Katie ended up the closest with her 48-10 pick. None of us thought Michigan would score as many points as they did or give up fewer than ten points, but if there’s ever a time to be wrong, it’s when the game goes better than expected. This week is sure to be a tougher pick with Notre Dame coming to town. Prior to last season’s offensive dumpster fire, the previous three meetings were high scoring, down-to-the-wire affairs. Will it return to that, or will we see another defensive battle?

Justin: Michigan’s offense is more balanced and harder to prepare for than it was the past few years and the defense has more depth than we’ve seen in a long time. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has probably taken a step back from last year’s improbably run to the BCS National Championship game. I think Irish fans are underestimating the impact that Te’o's departure will make. Was he the fastest linebacker? No. Was he the best? No. But he simply had a knack for being in the right place at the right time and was the heart and soul of that defense. Without him, the middle of the Irish defense is vulnerable and look for Michigan to attack it with a heavy dose of Drew Dileo and Devin Funchess.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Notre Dame
Justin 27 17
Chris 27 17
Josh 24 14
Sam 34 24
Derick 35 31
Katie 27 24
M&GB Average 29 21

The ND defensive front might be the best Michigan plays all season, but don’t expect Gardner to sit in the pocket much. A mix of a quick passing game, getting the ball to Dennis Norfleet in space, and a stretch running game with play-action off of it will be the formula to negate Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt.

On the other side, sit the safeties back to prevent the big plays that Notre Dame likes to capitalize on. Force Tommy Rees to make short and intermediate passes and the unproven running game to carry the load. Do that, and the Irish offense won’t score 20 points. Give up big plays and it will become a shootout.

Michigan 27 – Notre Dame 17

Chris: Michigan wins as long as they can limit turnovers and establish some sort of running game to have balance on offense. The offensive line will be tested by the Notre Dame defensive front, but I think Michigan wins at home.

Michigan 27 – Notre Dame 17

Josh: Refer to yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full game breakdown.

Michigan 24 – Notre Dame 14

Sam: As expected, historical powerhouse college football programs Michigan and Notre Dame easily dispatched of first week opponents Central Michigan and Temple, respectively. This weekend, however, the Wolverines and Fighting Irish will face each other in just the second night game in Michigan football history.

We all know what happened in the first Under the Lights matchup between these two squads: a back-and-forth instant classic that was capped off by a Denard Robinson touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree in the corner of the endzone for a 35-31 win after the Irish turned the ball over five times. Last year, Notre Dame got payback in the form of a 13-6 victory despite mustering only 239 yards of offense as the Maize and Blue choked the ball away six times and never found pay dirt.

What did each of these games have in common other than being played at night and being close battles? Sloppiness and eight turnovers, to be exact. Tommy Rees, who has come full circle in South Bend and is Brian Kelly’s full-time starter again, was the culprit in Ann Arbor while Denard Robinson returned the favor a year later, and turnovers will certainly play a role in the outcome again.

Michigan hopes to produce another iconic moment like Roy's game-winning catch in 2011

As usual, the quarterbacks’ play will be crucial for both teams. Devin Gardner threw two ugly interceptions last week and scrambled frequently when his receivers couldn’t get open, which could lead to some nervous fans as Michigan takes on an elite defense while Rees was sharp against the Owls, completing 16 of 23 pass attempts for 346 yards and three touchdowns.

A second key will be the play of Michigan’s young interior offensive line against Notre Dame’s behemoth defensive tackle Louis Nix III. The Wolverines were able to run the ball against Central Michigan and Gardner frequently had seemingly endless time in the pocket, but this will be a sterner challenge.

In the end, it should be another thriller that could come down to the last five minutes, but Michigan’s running attack and stout defense will be just enough to win the last game between these rivals for the foreseeable future. I like Michigan to win.

Michigan 34 – Notre Dame 24

Derick: Michigan’s rushing attack and strong defensive performance from the opening week carry over and the Wolverines beat the Irish in front of a raucous home crowd. Toussaint runs for over 100 yards and puts Notre Dame away late in the game. I think the final home game against Notre Dame will be as close as the first, with Michigan and Greg Mattison doing just enough to pull out the win.

Michigan 35 – Notre Dame 31

Katie: The matchup this weekend looks pretty even between Michigan and its perhaps soon to be distant rival Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish come in ranked number 14, just three spots ahead of Michigan, and while they ended their three year losing streak in South Bend last year, revenge for the Big House heroics in 2011 are very likely to be a palpable factor in this game.

Coming in both Notre Dame and Michigan have quarterbacks looking to prove their skills as the leaders of their respective offenses. ND’s Rees went 16-for-23 against Temple last week, and while Devin Gardner got off to a rough start, throwing an interception while backed up near his own goal line, he ended the day 10-for-15 and passing for a total of 162 yards. The pressure will be on these two to keep the everything on their side running smoothly, as last years parade of turnovers jilted both offenses and made for a lackluster 13-6 Notre Dame finish.

As for defense the Irish have Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo, and Louis Nix, all of whom could make trouble for the Michigan offense. But the Maize and Blue gain back two experienced safeties they were without in their opener, and while still missing the integral linebacker Jake Ryan, their defense should prove to be more potent.

It’s early in the season, under the lights, and a rivalry game on top of it all. I’m figuring on some first half jitters that smooth out towards half time, and as the players acclimate to the atmosphere of the Big House (meaning significant home field advantage).

Michigan takes it in a close one.

Michigan 27 – Notre Dame 24
____________________________________________________________________________

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Notre Dame game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with Ryan Ritter of the ND blog Her Loyal Sons; a look back at the man who will be honored prior to tomorrow’s game, Tom Harmon; and First Look: Notre Dame. We also returned the favor and answered some questions for HLS and participated in a blog roundtable for 247 Sports.

Also check out game previews from Maize n Blue Nation, Maize and Blue News, Maize n Brew, Touch the Banner, The Big House Report, UMGoBlog, The M Block, and MGoBlog.

On the opposing side, previews from Subway Domer.