For the second time in four weeks, both Notre Dame and Michigan will be stepping onto the field for a prime time match up that the nation will be watching. It is one of college football's most storied rivalries. Notre Dame and Michigan carry so much tradition on their backs, it's hard not to get goose bumps at the just the thought of the game.
Of course, last season's game ended up being one of the most exciting in the history of these two programs getting together. It was the first night game in the Big House. It was 28 points in the 4th quarter. It was Denard Robinson to Roy Roundtree with 2 seconds left. It was beautiful chaos.
But for this meeting, Notre Dame seems to have already hit that curve and propelled forward into something called relativity. It will be exciting to see if they can continue their early season success against a Wolverine team that has won 3 meetings in a row.
Here are my top keys for each team.
The Wolverines had a nice tune up game against the Minutemen of UMass last week, but unlike in years past, Michigan has been well-tested heading into Notre Dame week. This time around, it's the offensive and defensive lines that have a lot to prove against the Irish.
1. Get Pressure On Golson
Everett Golson is quickly turning into a weapon to be feared. As a sophomore, he is seeing his first action for the Irish, and one thing is becoming clear: he can make plays. I had a chance to watch him against Michigan State, and he almost reminded me of Denard Robinson because of his play-making ability.
Golson hasn't been the most efficient through the air, but he has proven his ability to make plays when it counts. Also, he has some good mobility and can throw on the run, something that could really harm the Wolverine defense.
In order to minimize the damage Golson has in this game, it will be very important for the Michigan front line to get pressure on him early and often. Making a young quarterback move around more than he is used to in a high stakes game like this could really rattle his cage and lead to some mistakes. At the very least, it could prevent the Irish from moving the chains.
Odds are: Golson will make a couple of great plays on Saturday even when Michigan does force him to move around, but that's the role of a play maker. He can't hurt this defense every time like that. So pressuring Golson could end up being the difference between a 4th straight win and a loss.
2. Let Denard Be Denard
Denard Robinson has to have this Notre Dame date circles in his calender will a heart around it because he has done nothing but victimize the Irish with his electric play making skills for the last two years. In 2010, Robinson accounted for 502 total yards. In 2011, 446 total yards. That's a lot of damage put up on one team.
In any other game of the magnitude, I would try to express the importance of not becoming one dimensional and giving the defense multiple looks to cover. However, this is Denard Robinson versus Notre Dame. The Irish know who they have to cover, and the Wolverines know who they are depending on. When the two collide: Denard- 2 Notre Dame- 0. It's that simple.
Something needed to be added to this though: the offensive line did a great job against UMass with opening holes for Fitz Toussaint to run through. The Irish have a much stronger line, but it wouldn't be a bad idea at all to see what they can get on the ground using Toussaint, too.
Notre Dame is looking for its first 4-0 start since the 2002 season, when they started 8-0, and they are also trying to avoid a 4th straight loss at the hands of Michigan.
1. Don't Fix What Isn't Broken
Look, if this were Michigan with the young gun behind center, I would say there needs to be some sort of outlet in such a high volume game. But the Irish don't have much to fall back on after Everett Golson, and the good news for the Irish is: they haven't needed anyone else to fall back on.
Golson has been nothing short of spectacular so far this season, and this isn't his first prime time game against a big opponent. Remember, he went up against Michigan State last week in East Lansing.
Talk about getting your feet wet.
Brian Kelley tossed his youngster into the game and basically told him to make it happen. That he did. Golson shocked the Spartans with his ability to lead the Irish offense and led them to the upset. And unfortunately for Michigan, Brian Kelley is not dumb enough to try to fix what isn't broken.
2. Get To Denard
The Notre Dame defense has one shot at containing Denard Robinson and not allowing him to dig their grave again this year. That's to get in the backfield and disrupt him as much as possible. Again, as it goes with Golson, getting in the backfield with Denard Robinson won't always spell success for the defense. You will get hurt every now and then. But it's much better than sitting back and letting "Shoelace" make the first move.
The big advantage the Irish could have right here is that Robinson has not been known to make the best decisions when under pressure, as far as throwing the ball is concerned. He tends to fall back on some of those old habits, and that has resulted in some turnovers early in the season.
It also helps reduce the risk of giving up the big play, which is what Robinson and the Wolverines have been living off of when they play Notre Dame. Obviously, the sooner you can begin to disrupt Robinson, the less time there is for a big play to develop.
I hate to say it, but I think this is finally the year Notre Dame ends their losing streak to Michigan. Before, we would hear the "Notre Dame relativity" talk and think nothing of it. This time, it's hard not to buy into it because of what they've been able to do in the early season.