Chicago Colleges: Stephen Hopkins

It's game day at Notre Dame Stadium

September, 22, 2012
9/22/12
5:51
PM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- I'm back at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 2007, gearing up for No. 18 Michigan (2-1) against the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish (3-0).

In case you've been in a cave, this series has been just a bit entertaining in recent years, thanks mostly to one man: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who celebrates his 22nd birthday today (on Sept. 22, eerie!). The Wolverines senior has been Notre Dame's nightmare the past two seasons, rallying Michigan for wins and setting numerous records in the process. The Wolverines-Irish game takes place under the lights for the second consecutive year after last year's unbelievable finish at the Big House.

Michigan has won its past three meetings with Notre Dame -- all by four points -- and aims for its first four-game win streak in the series since 1898-1908. Although Notre Dame comes off of a big win at Michigan State, the Irish players should be locked in for this one. Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick said this week the three-game slide to Michigan is "basically tatted on us."

Robinson obviously is a huge key for Michigan, but he'll also need help from his receivers to pull off the mini upset tonight. Notre Dame's secondary is the weakness on a mostly stellar defense, and the Irish will be without starting safety Jamoris Slaughter, who suffered a season-ending ruptured Achilles' at Michigan State. The Spartans receivers simply couldn't attack Notre Dame; Michigan's core -- Devin Gardner, Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Gallon, Devin Funchess -- must create separation. It's also a big night for Michigan's lines, which struggled mightily in the season opener against Alabama and will be tested by Notre Dame's fronts on both sides of the ball.

The Wolverines are relatively healthy for the game. Linebacker Desmond Morgan and running back Stephen Hopkins both should return from injuries this week.

I picked Notre Dame 27-20, while Bennett forecasts another Michigan win (28-24).

Stay tuned for more coverage throughout the night.

Rushing 'D' faces major test in Air Force

October, 3, 2011
10/03/11
3:00
PM CT
Brian Kelly was asked Sunday about the growth of his defense since Notre Dame's loss last season to Navy, which utilized the triple-option offense to run for four touchdowns and 367 yards -- including 210 from Alexander Teich -- in a 35-17 rout by the Midshipmen.

"You know, I think the Navy game was schematic more than it was kids not understanding how to play the right kind of defense," Kelly said. "So if you look at that as not about our players, I think we've showed steady improvement since last year. I think it's continuously been better and better defensive play leading up to where we are right now.

[+] EnlargeAsher Clark
AP Photo/Luis M. AlvarezAsher Clark is averaging 9.3 yards per carry for Air Force this season.
"We still have a ways to go. But I will tell you this, that it's tough to run the ball on us, and that's where you wanna start. So our starting point was, be difficult to run the ball on, and then let's continue to improve in the back end."

After that loss last Oct. 23, the Fighting Irish did not allow another 100-yard rusher over their last five games and gave up just one touchdown run, a 1-yard sneak by USC quarterback Mitch Mustain. Over their last four games, Notre Dame did not allow so much as a 50-yard rusher.

Only one player has rushed for more than 100 yards against the Irish since their loss to Navy, and that was Denard Robinson in Week 2 of this season. Robinson's 16-carry, 108-yard effort on the ground Sept. 10 is just as notable for another number Shoelace put up that night: One, as in the number of rushing touchdowns he scored. As in the only rushing touchdown Notre Dame has allowed this season.

And even that could be considered a fluke, as Robinson simply scooped up the ball and took it in for a 1-yard score after Irish safety Harrison Smith jarred it from Michigan running back Stephen Hopkins.

In allowing just one score on the ground this year, Notre Dame is tied for the nation lead with four other schools. The Irish have allowed just 91.2 yards per game on the ground this season, good for 19th nationally.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this Saturday's contest against Air Force and its triple-option offense should be a fascinating test of execution on each side of the ball.

The Falcons' 364.5 rushing yards per game are good for third in the nation. Only seven teams have scored more than Air Force's 15 rushing touchdowns, but six of them have played five games to the Falcons' four.

The challenge could be all the more difficult if defensive end Ethan Johnson cannot play. Johnson, a two-year starter, suffered a right ankle sprain in Saturday's 38-10 win at Purdue, and Kelly would only say that there's a chance he could return this weekend.

"We'll immobilize him for the next few days and then get him moving and see," the second-year coach said. "It's one of those things where it's such an individual case-by-case situation when it comes to ankles, so he'll be immobilized.

"Last night he was in a boot. He'll stay in that until probably mid-week and then we'll start moving him and see what he looks like."

If Johnson can't go, Aaron Lynch will likely get the start. Known for his ability to rush the passer, Lynch saw more action Saturday after fellow freshman Stephon Tuitt did not make the trip to West Lafayette, Ind., because of a violation of Kelly's missed-class policy.

Kelly said after the game he expected Tuitt back, but neither Tuitt nor Lynch played Week 2 at Michigan because of the complex offense the Wolverines and, more specifically, Robinson, ran.

In any event, it makes this week's contest all the more important, one that can't be overlooked with a bye week and USC looming afterward.

Michigan strikes back in unconventional fashion

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
9:53
PM CT
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Just when Notre Dame thought it had some breathing room, Denard Robinson showed what all the hype is about. And he's keeping Michigan in the game.

Robinson hit Junior Hemingway on a short pass in the open field that went for 77 yards to the Irish 6 and faced a third-and-goal from the 1 at the start of the fourth quarter. Notre Dame, victim of so many red zone troubles so far, finally got its payback, knocking the ball loose from Stephen Hopkins.

Of course, Robinson was right there to pick it up and walk in for the score.

It's 24-14 Irish with 14:54 to go, plenty of time for a few more unconventional clutch plays from a Michigan quarterback. Notre Dame fans have seen this before, and the Irish will look to flip the script this time around.

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