Two of college football's storied programs meet Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, but the only thing historic about these teams are their helmets. Two spread offenses and two coaches known for their offensive creativity match wits. Both Michigan and Notre Dame recorded critical wins in their season openers, and bloggers Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg take a closer look at this week's matchup.
Adam Rittenberg: So, Bennett, we meet again. Good starts for both the Irish and the Wolverines on Saturday, and it should be a great one in South Bend. Let's talk offense. What do you think Knute Rockne and Fielding Yost would say about these two systems matching up?
Brian Bennett: I think both coaches would have spit in a leather helmet in disgust. What's the over/under on total number of snaps under center on Saturday? Five?
Yet, for all the talk of the spread offense, Notre Dame stuck to an old staple to beat Purdue: the running game. Running backs Armando Allen and Cierre Wood together averaged better than six yards per carry, and the Irish were happy to hand off and stick to the short passing game as the Boilermakers defense played Cover 2 and protected against the deep ball. I don't think Michigan will attack Notre Dame the same way, and the bubble wrap will have to come off quarterback Dayne Crist in Week 2.
As for the Wolverines, Denard Robinson was incredible. But I didn't see a whole lot out of the backs and receivers, and now it looks like Roy Roundtree won't play. Is Michigan a one-man offense, and can it win on Saturday that way?
AR: Good point about the Irish run game, and I think the matchup between Michigan's defensive line and Notre Dame's offensive front could decide the game. Despite the loss of Brandon Graham, Michigan boasts good experience and talent up front with Mike Martin, Greg Banks, Ryan Van Bergan and dynamic sophomore Craig Roh. They'll try to take advantage of a young Notre Dame line that, despite all the talk about weight room progress, remains unproven in my eyes.
Robinson was ridiculous against Connecticut, and you can't expect him to duplicate the performance in South Bend. Then again, the guy only needs about a foot of daylight to break through the line, and then, good luck trying to bring him down. Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw both scored touchdowns in the opener, but they'll need to be more effective out of the backfield against the Irish. Roundtree would be a big loss, but wideouts Darryl Stonum and Kelvin Grady, and tight end Kevin Koger all are good targets for Robinson, who also hooked up with Terrence Robinson for a 43-yard gain.
In many ways, Michigan won the UConn game at the line of scrimmage. How do you see the two groups matching up on Saturday?
BB: The Irish played well in the trenches against Purdue, but Michigan presents a tougher challenge. With the way Brian Kelly runs the spread, the ball is out of the quarterback's hand quickly, so that neutralizes the pass rush to some degree. The key in my mind is whether the Notre Dame line can open running lanes when the Wolverines drop men into coverage.
Defensively, the front three for Notre Dame proved stout against Purdue, and surprisingly the backups gave them a solid rotation. Ian Williams looks like a perfect fit as nose tackle in a 3-4, and Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson can make plays off the edge. I think the pressure is on the Irish linebackers to make plays in this game. Manti Te'o should be a stud and the perfect antidote to Robinson, but he missed a lot of tackles in Week 1. Darius Fleming is their hybrid guy, and he was stuck on the sidelines with cramps for most of the Purdue game. Once Robinson gets through the first line of defense, can the Irish contain him in the open field?
AR: Totally agree about Connecticut missing some major opportunities to attack downfield, especially in the first two and a half quarters. Michigan is extremely young in the secondary and likely will be down another starter, as linebacker-safety Carvin Johnson sprained his knee in the opener. Michael Floyd absolutely shredded this defense a year ago, so you can bet Notre Dame will try to get him the ball a lot on Saturday. We'll likely see a lot of Floyd vs. Floyd, as Michigan's J.T. Floyd as emerged as the team's top cornerback and forced a big fumble against UConn. Cue the Pink Floyd music.
I'm interested to see how Michigan approaches Rudolph, a matchup problem for pretty much any team he faces. Linebackers Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh played well in the opener, but they'll certainly be tested by No. 9. Roh brought a ton of heat against UConn, but he might have to drop back more in this game.
OK, Bennett, you're on the spot. Your Michigan-UConn pick didn't work out so great, and some of my new friends in Ann Arbor were calling you nasty names Friday night. Who wins Saturday and what's the biggest key to the game?
BB: Well, I'm happy to play the villain in Ann Arbor as long as they still let me in the bars there. I have little doubt this will be a close game, possibly as exciting as last year's shootout. Notre Dame will have its hands full with Robinson, but I think the Irish have a more well-rounded offensive attack. And they will take advantage of that young secondary while making just enough plays of their own defensively. A special-teams play might be the difference. Brian Kelly gets his first big win as the Irish squeak by.
Now tell me why I'm wrong.
AR: You're always welcome in Ann Arbor. Just tell them you know me.
It'll definitely be a close game, and like last year, we should have a dramatic finish. Michigan's young secondary concerns me, and Crist will make plays downfield to both Floyd and Rudolph. But I also have my doubts about Notre Dame's line play and the overall toughness of that team. Robinson is certainly the X-factor here, and while Michigan can't run him 29 times again, he'll make some big plays. If special teams makes the difference, Michigan could be in trouble. Notre Dame jumps ahead, but D-Rob leads the Wolverines back in the fourth quarter for a narrow win and continues to grow his legend in Ann Arbor.