No. 18 Michigan at No. 11 Notre Dame
Saturday, 8:00 p.m. NBC
Line: Notre Dame -6
(It's never too early to look ahead to next weekend's game, so with it, we here at Crystal Ball Run are breaking out a new feature called "Early Analysis. That's right, in the build-up to Saturday we'll be giving you quick previews all week, of all the games you need to watch up for.)
First up? Michigan's visit to Notre Dame)
When Notre Dame and Michigan get together this Saturday night in South Bend, two very conflicting emotions will be in place for Irish fans.
On the one hand, there is joy; Notre Dame is 3-0 for the first time in a decade (Yes, you read that correctly. For the first time since 2002, the Irish have won their first three games of the season). However, there’s also got to be concern; for whatever success the Irish have had in years past, Michigan has beaten the Irish in five of their last meetings.
As a matter of fact, if you want to know how bad things have been for Notre Dame over that time, think about it like this: In his three dismal years at Michigan, Rich Rodriguez finished just 15-22 overall. Yet even he had a winning record (2-1) against the Irish.
So what should you watch out for when these two get together under the lights this Saturday? Let’s take a look.
For Notre Dame to Win: They must keep Denard Robinson in the pocket, and keep him in check.
It’s no secret that Robinson was the difference in last year’s game and the star of their epic 28-point fourth quarter. Robinson finished the evening with 338 yards through the air and another 108 on the ground, meaning that of Michigan’s 452 yards of total offense last season, Robinson had a direct hand in 446 of them. Yikes!
At the same time, this is a different Irish defense too, as they are allowing just 96 yards rushing a game in 2012, after allowing 138 a game last season. That number ranks them 23rd in college football, and is even more impressive when you remember that two of their three victories have come against highly-regarded rushing attacks of Navy and Michigan State.
For Michigan to Win: It only seems obvious that Michigan needs to establish the run, but also do it with someone besides Denard Robinson.
On paper that’ll be tougher than it initially appears, as outside of Robinson the running game has been nothing short of abysmal so far in 2012. Through three games, Robinson has accounted for 60 percent of Michigan’s rushing total, a number that is misleading if you take out last Saturday’s 63-13 beat down of UMass. Do that, and you’ll see that Robinson actually accounts for 86 percent of their rushing offense, accumulating an incredible 245 of the Wolverines 283 yards on the ground.
Key Player, Notre Dame: Everett Golson, who, despite the average numbers he puts up, continues to get better each game. He was at his best last Saturday, finding the perfect balance between run and pass, throwing and running for a touchdown each.
If Golson can continue to evolve, and continue to force defensive coordinators to defend both his arm and legs, it makes Notre Dame’s offense that much tougher to defend.
Key Player, Michigan: Given the statistics mentioned above, it’s got to be Fitz Toussaint at running back, right? The running game was essentially a non-factor without him in Week 1 and he wasn’t much better in his return against Air Force, before finally breaking out last week with 85 yards and a touchdown score against UMass.
Now granted, no one expects Toussaint to put up the same numbers he did against UMass versus a much better Irish run defense. But if he can’t come close, well, it could be a long day for the Michigan offense.
Key Stat: In just 18 short months, Brady Hoke is an impressive 13-3 to begin his reign at Michigan, but he’s also taken advantage of a very favorable schedule.
Under Hoke, the Wolverines are 10-0 at the Big House, but just 3-3 on neutral fields or in true road games. In true road games the Wolverines are just 2-2, and the Wolverines lost the only road game they played to a ranked team in that stretch, last year against Michigan State.
Now obviously that’s a small sample-size.
But with this game being played in South Bend, could it give the Irish the edge they need?
For all his opinion, analysis and insight, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.