It’s another day of firsts for the University of Michigan football team as they prepare to battle the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame tonight on ESPN (ABC has NASCAR).
Fresh off of a weather-shortened win over Western Michigan, the Wolverines hope to win their third straight game over their rivals from South Bend. The Irish were disappointing last week in a loss to South Florida, and come to Ann Arbor with a new starting quarterback and questions about the demeanor of their head coach.
Tonight (yes, tonight) will be the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium. For the first time in the 84-year history of the Big House, the Wolverines host an opponent under the lights. Well it might not be night baseball at Wrigley, the “Under the Lights” game will receive plenty of attention and fanfare.
Both Notre Dame and Michigan will be using special “legacy” uniforms to commemorate the special event. Notre Dame’s will feature old gold pants and a green shamrock on the golden helmet. Maize striping and a large block M adorn Michigan’s uniforms, as well as a number on the side of the iconic winged-helmet. While it appears that even Notre Dame and Michigan can fall victim to the Oregon induced crazy uniform frenzy, they should at least be better than Georgia’s Power Ranger duds or Maryland’s state flag pride embarrassments.
Along with all the pomp and circumstance, there will be a game as well. If it turns out anything like the most recent incarnations of the rivalry, the game should be entertaining and heart-pounding. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees will get the start for the Irish after nearly leading the team to a comeback win against South Florida. Rees should be looking to Michael Floyd early and often to get the Irish offense moving. The senior wide receiver could be a huge match-up problem for the Michigan secondary. Michigan will need to blitz to create pressure on Rees, but doing so could leave the Wolverine defensive backs on an island against Floyd, a situation that may not end well.
After a statistically average game against Western Michigan, fans are hoping to see the Denard Robinson that showed up last season against Notre Dame. Robinson accounted for 502 yards of total offense and broke off the longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history against the Irish last year. While it might be a stretch for Robinson to gain that type of yardage again, Robinson should be able to take advantage of Notre Dame’s linebackers on the outside and find some room to run.
Once again, this game has all the makings of a back-and-forth down to the wire shootout. Both teams have the capability to be explosive on offense, and both teams can be prone to mistakes on defense. The atmosphere around the Big House should be something never seen before, and both teams need a win badly. Notre Dame needs to come into Ann Arbor and stop the losing streak to the Wolverines, as well as avoid a 0-2 start that would doom their already slim BCS hopes. Michigan needs a prime-time victory to help rebuild their national reputation and continue to build momentum under Brady Hoke. Like the past two seasons, who comes out on top could depend on who has the ball last.
Here’s a look at who is better where and why:
Quarterback: Rees has been solid as a starter, but despite the new offense, Robinson remains one of the most dangerous players in football. ADVANTAGE: MICHIGAN
Runningback: Toussaint and Shaw made plays against Western Michigan, but Cierre Wood is a true everydown stud. ADVANTAGE: NOTRE DAME
Receivers: Michigan has more consistent weapons, but the Irish have Michael Floyd. ADVANTAGE: NOTRE DAME
Offensive Line: Both lines are veteran groups. Notre Dame is bigger, Michigan is more mobile. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
Defensive Line: Notre Dame’s defensive front is big, strong, and experienced. Michigan has a lot of talent with Mike Martin and Craig Roh, but they did not play the way DC Greg Mattison wanted them to against WMU. ADVANTAGE: NOTRE DAME
Linebackers: Manti Te’o is a playmaker, but he doesn’t have a lot of help on the outside. Michigan’s linebackers, namely Brandon Herron and Jake Ryan, made big plays last week, but as a whole the group is susceptible to mistakes. ADVANTAGE: NOTRE DAME
Defensive backs: Jordan Kovacs had a great game against WMU, but could struggle in deep pass defense. Troy Woolfolk is banged up and the defensive backfield is the weak link of the Wolverine defense. Notre Dame has a veteran group led by Harrison Smith. ADVANTAGE: NOTRE DAME
Special Teams: Ugh. Once again Michigan struggled in the kicking game. Having punter Will Hagerup suspended stings, and kick coverage was not good against Western Michigan. ADVANTAGE: NOTRE DAME
Coaching Visuals: Brian Kelly’s angry purple face of hate versus Brady Hoke pointing at everything. ADVANTAGE: MICHIGAN.
Notre Dame and Michigan meet tonight at 8pm ET/7pm CT on ESPN.