Notre Dame Football: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Big Ten predictions: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
9:00
AM ET
Three weeks in and we're all square in the season standings. Get ready for a tightly contested race most of the way.

The Week 4 slate isn't nearly as appetizing as its predecessor, although there are a few sneaky good games on the docket. Big Ten play officially begins at Camp Randall Stadium and 11 league squads are in action (Illinois is off).

Let's begin …

SAN JOSE STATE at MINNESOTA

Brian Bennett: Mitch Leidner could start at quarterback for the Gophers as Philip Nelson is questionable with a hamstring injury. That's not good news against a San Jose State team led by a future NFL draft pick in David Fales. The Spartans are the best team Minnesota has played, and I say they pull off the road upset. … San Jose State 24, Minnesota 20


Adam Rittenberg: A tough one here as the Gophers haven't been tested and San Jose State's Fales could stress a secondary already down one starter (Briean Boddy-Calhoun). There's some uncertainty on offense at quarterback, but I like the fact the Gophers have a full stable of running backs. Minnesota racks up 200 rush yards and three touchdowns to survive with a win. … Minnesota 27, San Jose State 24

FLORIDA A&M at OHIO STATE

Adam Rittenberg: The scoreboard operator will be busy as Buckeyes backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde combine for six touchdowns. The quarterbacks don't have to do much in this one as Ohio State rolls on to 4-0. … Ohio State 59, Florida A&M 7

Brian Bennett: This is a ludicrous matchup. Buckeyes can name their score. … Ohio State 63, Florida A&M 10


WESTERN MICHIGAN at IOWA

Brian Bennett: Oh boy. We get to watch Western Michigan take on a Big Ten team for the third time in four weeks. The first two times didn't go well for the Broncos, and Mark Weisman will add to their misery with 150 yards rushing. … Iowa 35, Western Michigan 7


Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern ran roughshod on Western Michigan and Iowa will do the same. Coach Kirk Ferentz gives Weisman a bit of a breather and spreads the ball around, as both Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri reach the end zone. Iowa pulls away in the third quarter. … Iowa 31, Western Michigan 10

MAINE at NORTHWESTERN

Adam Rittenberg: Expect another vanilla offensive game plan from Northwestern as the coaches save the goods for Week 6 against Ohio State. Five different Wildcats rush for touchdowns, including true freshman Warren Long, in the team's final tune-up before Big Ten play. … Northwestern 48, Maine 13

Brian Bennett: Please don't feed the Black Bears! Ibraheim Campbell makes it six games in a row with a pick as the Wildcats roll. … Northwestern 45, Maine 17


MICHIGAN STATE at NOTRE DAME

Brian Bennett: The Spartans finally have a bit of confidence and stability at quarterback, but Connor Cook still has a ways to go and this is a tough road spot. The Irish jump out early on a special-teams touchdown and manage to hold on in a defensive struggle. … Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 10


Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State's renewed offense comes in with confidence and scores early. But reality begins to set in on the road, and the Spartans stall midway through the second quarter. The defense keeps it close as always, but Notre Dame rallies late behind Tommy Rees and his receivers. … Notre Dame 19, Michigan State 16

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE at NEBRASKA

Adam Rittenberg: The Huskers rest top quarterback Taylor Martinez (toe), and backups Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong both play and combine for three pass touchdowns. Imani Cross sparks the rushing attack in the second quarter and Nebraska fans can smile a little after a brutal eight-day stretch. … Nebraska 59, South Dakota State 14

Brian Bennett: The Jackrabbits are just what Nebraska needs right now. The Huskers get off to a sluggish start without a healthy Martinez, but Randy Gregory forces a fumble for a defensive score and the running game is too much for SDSU to handle. … Nebraska 38, South Dakota State 10


KENT STATE at PENN STATE

Brian Bennett: I think the Penn State defense comes out mad after last week's performance, and Kent State has had a tough time scoring so far this season. Zach Zwinak scores twice and the defense comes up with three turnovers. … Penn State 28, Kent State 10


Adam Rittenberg: Unless Blake Bortles secretly suits up for the Golden Flashes, Penn State should be OK in this one and takes control in the second quarter. Chalk up two more touchdown passes from Christian Hackenberg to Allen Robinson, and defensive end Deion Barnes finally shows up for the Lions. … Penn State 31, Kent State 20

PURDUE at WISCONSIN

Adam Rittenberg: No officiating blunders in this one as Wisconsin starts a bit slowly before getting Melvin Gordon and the run game going in the second half. Gordon records his first 20-carry performance and racks up 180 yards and two touchdowns. Purdue jumps out to an early lead but once again struggles in the fourth quarter. … Wisconsin 34, Purdue 21

Brian Bennett: Purdue hasn't been able to stop the Wisconsin running game the past couple of years, and it's no different in this one. Gordon and James White each eclipse 100 yards and the Badgers take out some frustration on the Boilermakers. ... … Wisconsin 42, Purdue 14


MICHIGAN at CONNECTICUT

Brian Bennett: The Wolverines haven't been quite the same team on the road as they have been at home for Brady Hoke, but Rentschler Field ain't exactly the Horseshoe. UConn doesn't have enough offensive talent to do much damage, and Devin Gardner bounces back with four total touchdowns and just one turnover. … Michigan 38, Connecticut 9


Adam Rittenberg: Last week's near disaster against Akron will heighten Michigan's focus. So, too, will a road game under the lights (even if it feels more like a home game). Gardner delivers a turnover-free performance, and Fitz Toussaint has a big game on the ground (130 rush yards, 2 TDs). … Michigan 35, Connecticut 17

MISSOURI at INDIANA

Adam Rittenberg: This should be the most entertaining game of the day, as both offenses will put up points. Maybe I'm buying into Indiana too much after last week's impressive performance, but I like what I saw from the defense, which does just enough against Mizzou and records a game-ending takeaway. Expect another balanced offensive performance as Tevin Coleman rushes for two more touchdowns. … Indiana 41, Missouri 37

Brian Bennett: I expect a wild shootout where the punters can probably chill out on the sidelines. Ultimately, I don't have enough faith in the Hoosiers’ defense and think James Franklin and Henry Josey will be too much to overcome. But take heart, Indiana fans: I've been wrong on your team each of the past two weeks. … Missouri 48, Indiana 42


You've heard from us. Now it's time to see what this week's guest picker has cooked up. As a reminder, throughout the season we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

We felt a little sorry for this guy after what happened last week in Tempe, Ariz. Garret Olsen from Madison, Wis., the floor is yours:
I am a born-and-raised Wisconsin fan and 2010 University of Wisconsin Grad in complete shock this week. I'm in need of a win. I attended my first Badger football game with my grandparents when I was 5 years old and have attended many more Badger games over the years with them. I never missed a home game during my time as an undergrad and traveled to many of the B1G stadiums and followed the Badgers to Indy and Pasadena. Each week my former Mifflin Street college roommate and I have a friendly pick-off between us and I can proudly report that I have beaten him the last two years. The blog is a daily read for me and I would be honored to pick alongside you and Adam and I promise not to botch any last-second pick situations.

Here are Garret's Week 4 selections:

San Jose State 35, Minnesota 34
Ohio State 45, Florida A&M 7
Iowa 28, Western Michigan 14
Northwestern 55, Maine 10
Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 10
Nebraska 42, South Dakota State 21
Penn State 33, Kent State 24
Wisconsin 49, Purdue 17
Michigan 34, Connecticut 13
Missouri 42, Indiana 38

SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 31-5
Brian Bennett: 31-5
Guest pickers: 27-9

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- If there’s anything this game has taught us recently it’s that it’s not over until the clock reads zeros. No. 17 Michigan held a 14-point advantage over No. 14 Notre Dame heading in to the fourth quarter but fate wouldn’t let that stand. How could it when the Wolverines would need to one-up the fourth quarter from two years ago under the lights?

But even with some really poor decisions and a few clutch plays made on offense and defense, Michigan was able to pull off the win over Notre Dame, 41-30. The victory keeps Michigan coach Brady Hoke undefeated in Michigan Stadium in his third year at the helm of the Wolverines.

It was over when: In most instances, an 11-point lead with less than five minutes remaining would feel pretty safe. But nothing really felt safe for the Wolverines -- especially against this Notre Dame team -- until Blake Countess intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone with 1:29 remaining in the game.

Game ball goes to: Jeremy Gallon. The wide receiver made catch after catch that he was seemingly too short or too covered to make. His three touchdowns on eight receptions, however, led the Wolverines, and his 184 yards were a career high. With quarterback Devin Gardner at the helm of this Michigan offense, it is allowing playmakers like Gallon to really come in to their own, and the senior's performance against the Irish showed just that.

Stat of the game: Louis Nix III recorded just four tackles and two of them (including the one for a loss) came when the game was already out of hand. Not once did Notre Dame’s stud defensive lineman -- who was going up against three interior offensive linemen from Michigan who all saw their first starts just a week ago -- get to Gardner.

Unsung hero: Fitzgerald Toussaint. Because of the nature of Gallon’s big performance, Toussaint’s 71 yards on 22 carries will largely go unnoticed. However, it is because of his ability to get short yardage and hit holes that the passing lanes were open for guys like Gallon, Drew Dileo and Devin Funchess. Offensive coordinator Al Borges has always said he wants a featured back in his offense and 22 carries is within their desired range.

Second-guessing: A safety isn’t the worst possible thing. And no, it’s not ideal either. But the only thing worse would be exactly what Gardner did -- incidentally throwing it to the other team as three Irish defenders closed in on him. It was a huge dent on a game that was relatively empty of errors on the quarterback’s part. But that play completely shifted the momentum of the game and what could’ve been a small dent in the game turned this game into the dogfight that it became.

Dig of the game: Michigan Stadium played “The Chicken Dance” following the win, which is a reference back to last May when Hoke said that Notre Dame was chickening out of the rivalry.
Who ya got?

When Notre Dame has the ball: The Irish had plenty of success running the football in their last trip to Ann Arbor, averaging six yards per rush by repeatedly pounding it up the middle. They should try to do that again early with an experienced offensive line, and with enough running back depth to keep everyone fresh. The Wolverines return just three starters from their front-seven last season, too. Tommy Rees has to continue to make smart decisions, and TJ Jones has to get in space to create the way he did in the opener against Temple.

When Michigan has the ball: Devin Gardner isn't as athletic as Denard Robinson, but he's a better passer. And he has arguably the top left tackle in the country protecting him in Taylor Lewan. The Lewan matchup with Stephon Tuitt will be one to keep an eye on throughout the night. Fitzgerald Toussaint is a threat in the backfield, and the Wolverines will likely try to stretch the field with Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess in the passing game.

Intangible: Michigan is hosting its second-ever night game, which could make for another record crowd like last time. This is also the last scheduled meeting between these schools in the Big House, and the Wolverines will have a bit of a chip on their shoulders after the Irish opted out of the series, and after Brian Kelly tried to downplay the rivalry earlier in the week. On Notre Dame's end, Rees was 30 seconds away from becoming the toast of the town in the 2011 game. He's only better now, and we've all seen his poise in big environments.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Notre Dame 20. The past four meetings have been decided in the fourth quarter, so why should this one be any different? The Irish will have trouble turning yards into points, and the Wolverines will make just enough plays down the stretch to pull out the win.
Week 4: Sept. 22 vs. Michigan (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Series: Michigan leads all-time, 23-15-1
2011 record: 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten; second place, Legends Division)
Head coach: Brady Hoke (11-2, one year)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Denard Robinson, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Roy Roundtree, WR Jeremy Gallon, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DE Craig Roh, LB Jake Ryan, LB Kenny Demens, LB Desmond Morgan, CB J.T. Floyd, CB Blake Countess, S Thomas Gordon, S Jordan Kovacs

Key losses

WR Junior Hemingway, WR Darryl Stonum, WR/KR Martavious Odoms, TE Kevin Koger, C David Molk, RT Mark Huyge, DT Mike Martin, DE/DT Ryan Van Bergen, DT Will Heininger

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Denard Robinson* (1,176 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson* (2,173 yards)

Receiving: Junior Hemingway (699 yards)

Tackles: Kenny Demens* (94)

Sacks: Ryan Van Bergen (5.5)

Interceptions: Courtney Avery* and J.T. Floyd* (2)

Three questions for ... WolverineNation reporter Michael Rothstein:

Brady Hoke has been a hit through one year at Michigan, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. What do you think has led to so much success so soon, and what makes you think this is sustainable?

Michael Rothstein: Multiple factors. One of the underlying things is the experience Michigan's players had the past two seasons under Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines had an experienced defensive line, a secondary which had played a lot but been picked apart and a quarterback entering his second season as a starter. Combine that with a superior coaching staff -- especially at the coordinator spots with Al Borges on offense and Greg Mattison on defense -- and the chance to improve was there. The schedule, with Ohio State, Nebraska and Notre Dame at home last season, also helped.

As far as recruiting goes, Hoke knows the Midwest. He could sell playing time at certain positions and is turning into a dynamic closer. Plus, Mattison is one of the best recruiters in college football, period. He is the one who helped reel Tim Tebow in at Florida after a coaching transition. The staff is usually up front and genuine, which also helps. They've done a great job of evaluating talent early.

The Wolverines' defense returns plenty of talent, save for its defensive line. What can be expected from Greg Mattison's crew, and can this unit get to the quarterback on a consistent basis?

MR: So much of that is dependent on the defensive line. If the line can't pressure the quarterback at a good pace, it'll hamper what Mattison can call and force some of the more exotic packages he has to the shelf for a while. His back seven -- particularly the once-maligned secondary -- is going to be good. Michigan could have the best secondary in the Big Ten this season and the depth is growing. While it is unlikely he'll start, freshman Jarrod Wilson impressed coaches this spring. He could contend for playing time and give Mattison the chance to rotate the secondary somewhat similarly to the defensive line to keep players fresh throughout the season.

Three games. Three instant classics. Three Michigan wins. Why should Notre Dame fans feel like the fourth time will be the charm against Michigan?

MR: As the Notre Dame basketball coach, Mike Brey, used to like to say, Law of Averages, baby. The Irish defense should be good this season and Brian Kelly's staff is certainly going to try everything possible to neutralize Robinson. The main concern with Notre Dame is what will happen at quarterback. If the Irish haven't figured that out by week 4, it'll be four straight Michigan wins for sure. The one thing I will tell you, that I'm sure our bosses might not like, I plan to write very few words before the last 10 seconds of the game. Have scrapped most of it the past three years anyway.

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