The non-conference matchup between Michigan and Notre Dame features two of college football’s most-storied programs and has been played consecutively since 2002. But after Saturday’s game, this series is on hiatus, as the schools do not have a matchup scheduled for the future. Of course, that will likely change in a couple of years, but for now (or perhaps 5-10 years), this is it between the Wolverines and Fighting Irish.
While the future of this series has been discussed at length, this year’s game also provides plenty of intrigue. Michigan is hoping to rebound off a disappointing 7-6 season and had an impressive showing in the opener against Appalachian State. The Fighting Irish lost a couple of key players due to academic issues prior to the first game but looked sharp in a 48-17 victory over Rice.
Notre Dame vs. Michigan
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Notre Dame -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Michigan’s OL vs. Notre Dame’s DL
Michigan’s offensive line was criticized throughout last season for lackluster play. Despite having a first-round pick on the left side in Taylor Lewan, the Wolverines managed only 125.7 rushing yards per game and allowed 36 sacks. Level of competition is certainly a factor, but the early returns on Michigan’s revamped offensive line were promising against Appalachian State. Can this unit continue its growth against Notre Dame? The Fighting Irish has shifted to a 4-3 scheme under new coordinator Brian VanGorder and allowed 5.6 yards per play in the opener to Rice. Despite the high yards per play allowed, Notre Dame held the Owls to just two drives over 40 yards in the first half. The Fighting Irish is going through a transition up front, replacing standouts Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt.
2. The Quarterbacks
All eyes are always on the quarterbacks, but Saturday night’s matchup between Everett Golson and Devin Gardner is intriguing. Golson sat out all of last season due to a suspension but turned in a sharp performance against Rice in Week 1. The junior accounted for 336 yards and five scores against the Owls and completed 14 of 22 passes. Gardner also had a standout performance last Saturday, throwing for 173 yards and three scores on 14 completions. Both quarterbacks need to be at their best in Week 2. Sure, 300 passing yards would be nice but efficiency and limiting mistakes is a bigger priority for both players, especially with a tight game expected.
3. Which team can establish the run?
Both teams entered 2014 looking for more out of their rushing attack. So far, so good. Notre Dame rushed for 281 yards in the opener against Rice, averaging 6.7 yards per attempt. Michigan recorded 350 yards versus Appalachian State and averaged a whopping 9.7 yards per attempt. Derrick Green struggled in his freshman season, but he sparked the ground game by recording 170 yards on 15 attempts last week. Which team will be able to find enough balance on Saturday night? Can Green continue the momentum from the opener? Or will Notre Dame’s three-back attack perform better? Expect the Fighting Irish to use Cam McDaniel, Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston on the ground to keep the Michigan defense from keying too much on Golson.
This one is a tossup. Both teams are relatively even, and it’s tough to glean much from last week’s games. Michigan found a good fit in new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and the former Alabama play-caller has Gardner and Green on the right track. For Notre Dame, Golson was impressive against Rice, and the junior’s re-emergence into the lineup is a boost for a team that has uncertainty on defense and in the receiving corps. Expect an entertaining game in South Bend, with the home team finding a way to squeeze out a three-point victory.