No. 14 Notre Dame at No. 17 Michigan
Saturday, 8 PM, ESPN
Line: Michigan -3
Sometimes, the ones we care about the most are the ones that are hardest to let go. Michigan and Notre Dame, while not annual rivals during much of their history, do share a lot of things in common:
1) Color schemes in the general family of yellow and blue. (Yes, I am being intentional in saying “general families.” I lived near Ann Arbor for a year and I was raised Roman Catholic and my son’s baseball coach is a huge Notre Dame fan; I know what the team’s colors are.)
2) The states share a border, and both border Ohio.
3) They tussle back and forth annually for the program with the highest winning percentage of all time in college football history.
They also share a longstanding on again/off again relationship dating back to 1887. The series will end in 2014, with the two teams unable to come to terms on an extension. This will be last visit to the Big House for the Fighting Irish, and the second time that the game will be played under the lights in Ann Arbor.
Both teams cruised to victories last week. But now it is on.
For Michigan to win: Control the line of scrimmage. Michigan replaced three of their five starters on the offensive line this season, and while they were not really tested last week against Central Michigan, Notre Dame is not going to be a pushover. Michigan’s new interior line will have to get a push up front if they want to come close to matching last week’s 242 yards on the ground. Jack Miller, Graham Glasgow and Kyle Kalis will have to play big for the Wolverines to stay in the game.
For Notre Dame to win: Don’t turn the ball over. The last time that Tommy Rees was the starting quarterback for Notre Dame in this game, he committed two costly red zone turnovers in Michigan’s come from behind 35-31 victory. Ball security will be critical in this game, and Rees’s ability to maintain possession of the football will go an extremely long way in helping the Fighting Irish win this game.
Key Player, Michigan: Fitzgerald Toussaint, running back. The man with one of the best names in college football needs to deliver a signature game for the Wolverines. Last week he did not show that much, although he did score two touchdowns in the 59-9 shellacking of Central Michigan. He rushed only 14 times for 57 yards, and one of those runs was for 20 yards. The big play doesn’t have to happen often, but Michigan will need more than 14 carries from their senior running back—especially with number two running back Drake Johnson out with a torn ACL.
Key Player, Notre Dame: Tommy Rees, quarterback. It was touched on earlier in this preview, but Rees will be the central figure for the Fighting Irish if they’re going to win this game. Rees played well two years ago, but those turnovers wound up getting to the Irish in the end. Two years later, and coming off of a very good game against Temple (16 of 23 for 346 yards and three touchdowns), can Rees avenge that loss? If he plays like he did against Temple, there is a very good chance it will happen.
Key Stat: 114,804. That was size of the crowd at the last game that these two played in Ann Arbor in 2011. It was the largest crowd to see a college football game since 1927 and set a record for attendance at an NCAA football game. It will be interesting to see what the announced crowd is for the game on Saturday night, especially given that it is the next to last game in the series for the foreseeable future.