Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Entering week 4, Michigan has yet another tough contest against Notre Dame. Notre Dame is looking for it's first 4-0 record since 2002, and Michigan is after a 3-1 start before the conference schedule begins. Notre Dame has only allowed 30 points thus far in the season, including a great defensive performance against Michigan State in which they won 20-3. ND is also ranked 8th in the nation in points allowed, but are in the middle of the pecking order when it comes to the other major stats: passing yards, rushing yards, and points scored. That all boils down to how stingy their defense is and how Michigan can score on them. Right now, Michigan is ranked 33rd in points scored, and will need to score on every opportunity come Saturday in South Bend. Michigan has won 5 out of the last 6 meetings, with the last 3 being decided by a touchdown in the waning minutes of the game. This year figures to be no different, but Michigan has a much tougher task than usual. Here are a few players Michigan needs to keep contained:

1. Manti Te'o--Since this season there has been such an emphasis on defense for the Fighting Irish, then their defense begins with Te'o. A consensus first team preseason All-American,  Te'o has recorded 28 tackles so far this season, with one interception, one forced fumble and fumble return, and one tackle for loss. That might not sound like much to some people, but that is only over a span of 3 games so far. He is a stud inside linebacker that will probably go in the first round of the NFL draft. A 2011 finalist for the Butkus and Lott awards, he will roam all over the defense as Ray Lewis does for the Ravens. Michigan will need to run a no-huddle offense at times to wear him out and keep him from blitzing against the pass. It will be a difficult task for Michigan to contain him. Denard Robinson will not only need to not telegraph his passing reads, but also stay mobile enough out of the pocket to avoid him.

2. Everett Golson--As of right now, Golson is the entrenched starter. He began the season in a battle with Tommy Rees, and due to Rees' suspension, he took over the starting job. His numbers aren't staggering: 3 TDs, 1 INT, with a total of 611 yards and a 58.0% passer rating. He is more of a pocket passer than some might have thought, including me, because his rushing stats are mediocre at best, Yes, he was pulled at the end of the Purdue game because of an injury when Tommy Rees came in and controlled the game winning drive, but Golson is the main man now in South Bend, and for the foreseeable future. Will he be able to expose Michigan's defense? It's possible. Can he also trip up the defensive line of Michigan, which has been unspectacular to say the least?  Certainly possible as well.

3. Theo Riddick--Riddick is just one of a few game breakers for Notre Dame, and most of them are doing it on the ground. Notre Dame has scored 7 TDs on the ground so far this season. Riddick has carried the ball 46 times for 192 yards and 2 TDs. Throw in George Atkinson III (a demon on special teams as well) and Cierre Wood (no longer suspended and original starter to the season) and Notre Dame's rushing game will be going against Michigan's defensive line and linebackers all day. Don't be surprised if Riddick and Co. make their way through the first set of tackles into the Michigan secondary, so a lot of pressure will be on Michigan's safeties. Jordan Kovacs will need to be on point throughout every play, and hopefully there will not be any glaring missed tackles. If there is, then the Michigan defense will be in trouble for all four quarters.

4. Tyler Eifert--Yes, there is a 4th guy to watch out for this week. The receiving core for Notre Dame does just enough to keep the running game honest, but if anyone can break it open, it'll be Eifert. Notre Dame has become Tight End U with such former stars as Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson, and Eifert is right behind them. He's only caught 8 passes this season for 120 yards and a TD, but that still works out to be a 15.0 ypc average. Eifert is also a first team All-American and was a finalist for the John Mackey Award last season (best college football tight end). Everyone who is familiar with how football works know that the tight end is a quarterbacks best friend and security blanket. Golson could use Eifert to further penetrate Michigan's defense and the weak secondary.

I know 18th-ranked Michigan will find it hard to take on 11th-ranked Notre Dame. Especially since it's in South Bend, and it's another "Under The Lights" kind of game. Under year 2 of the Brady Hoke era, Michigan is already becoming re-accustomed to playing in big games, and Michigan needs to win this to get on track for Big Ten season and a potential BCS bowl.

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