Notre Dame vs. Michigan: the Brutally Honest Game Preview

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Here we go #1 vs. #2…not in the national polls mind you, as both of these teams are unranked. However, Michigan is number one all time in winning percentage (.737) and Notre Dame is second (.734).

In all-time wins, the Wolverines are first with 877, ND is third with 838. This match-up clearly doesn’t have the same sizzle as years past, but it does feature two decent programs in the rebuilding process. And we’ll learn who’s taken a step further in their development on Saturday.

And if you’re like me, someone who’s borderline sexually aroused by games with a lot of passing yards (ok, that’s bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea) then you’ll love this contest. Two fast, athletic and talented wide receiving corps squaring off against two mediocre-on-a-good-day secondaries.

There will be so much aerial combat, it’s time to cue up “Highway…..to….THE DANGER ZONE,” Kenny Loggins’ theme from “Top Gun.” This will be a better show than what Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez saw last week.

Throughout the season, I’ll be bringing you these informative yet blunt game previews of every contest I cover (and a second game that week that interests me); with a heavy focus on my three “home teams” Northwestern, Illinois, Notre Dame, and the Big Ten in general.

By Paul M. Banks

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Notre Dame synopsis: Brian Kelly is a brilliant tactician. He didn’t throw it downfield all that much last week because he didn’t have to. In facing the 94th ranked rushing defense of Purdue, senior Armando Allen and sophomore Cierre Wood ran wild.

The “pass-first” spread-option attack opened up plenty of running lanes, and Coach Kelly was able to keep much of his playbook close to the vest. This week, he should open things up and exploit Michigan’s biggest weaknesses in defending the pass. Look for TE Kyle Rudolph early and often underneath, and in the intermediate routes, then WR Michael Floyd in the deep routes. Expect converted running back Theo Riddick and freshman wideout T.J. Jones, who had his first career start/TD reception last week, to get involved too.

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Michigan synopsis: The Wolverines lit up a pretty good UConn defense last week, as Denard Robinson set school records with 383 yards of total offense and 197 rushing yards by a quarterback to lead the Wolverines to victory. He became just the second QB in Big Ten history to accrue 180+ yards rushing and receiving in the same game. For Michigan’s sake, let’s hope he doesn’t pull a Tate Forcier, where he starts hot (as does the team) only to flub later in the season.

I’m not sold on the Michigan defense, especially the secondary. Donovan Warren, last year’s best DB, left early for the NFL, and that decision is right up there with anything you’ve agreed to do at 4 a.m. over text message. Then they lost their best returning DB Troy Woolfolk for the season in camp. And their most disruptive pass-rusher from last year, Brandon Graham, is gone too.

If I’m ND Offensive Coordinator Charley Molnar (and one day, God willing I will be) I’m thinking “bombs away.”

LB Obi Ezeh is a gamer, last week he recorded a team-high nine tackles (six solo) and recovered a Connecticut
fumble near the goal line in third quarter. He’ll need to be huge in order for the Wolverines to spring the mild upset.

Guys you’ll see Saturday eventually playing on Sundays: Floyd could be a first rounder, Te’o looks like a 2012 first rounder, and ND tight ends Kyle Rudolph, and to a lesser extent Mike Ragone should also be in “the shield” one day. DE Kapron Lewis-Moore and NG Ian Williams have potential too. On the Michigan side, Steve Schilling could follow in the footsteps of Jake Long, Ezeh will get some looks and Troy Woolfolk had some promise before the season ending injury.

Prediction to be taken with a grain of salt (actually make that a whole truckload of salt)

ND 37, UM 30 (Banks’ season picks record 2-0)

Written by Paul M. Banks, president and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest-focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru

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