Fans on both sides of the rivalry know what is it at stake when Michigan rolls into South Bend on Saturday night. Not only will a win keep each team in the College Football Playoff conversation, but potentially indefinite bragging rights adding closure to this bitter series.
Taking a look at the Wolverine defense, the Irish will need to win every position battle for any hope of consistently moving the ball.
Michigan runs different sets under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, with a lot of plays from a nickel package. The unit creates pressure and containment with four down-lineman, with speed on the outside to make plays.
Inside the trenches expect a slug fest. Senior defensive end Frank Clark and 2013 ESPN.com All-Big Ten Freshman Team defensive tackle, Willie Henry will be leading the way. In 2013 Clark was All-Big Ten second team, voted by the coaches, accounting for 43 tackles, 12 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. This will clearly be a test for the youthful Irish offensive line.
Moving to the second layer of the defense, Jake Ryan is coming off his first start at middle linebacker and both he and Joe Bolden came away from the Appalachian State contest still looking for answers. The undersized Mountaineers ran for 153 yards on 36 carries which could be an advantage for the impressive depth among Notre Dame running backs.
In the defensive backfield true freshman Jabrill Peppers will be looking to make his first impact on the college football landscape. The 2013 All-USA Defensive Player of the Year by USA TODAY, sat out the second half of the Appalachian State game, although head coach Brady Hoke said Monday he expects Peppers to suit up against the Irish.
Notre Dame needs to be sound in every facet of their offense. This will require making big plays without turning the ball over. Upfront, the offensive line will need to bully Michigan’s front-four to open lanes for the backs. A game plan built around the running game will help on time of possession and will work to physically wear out the Wolverine defenders.