This Saturday, the clash between two of college football’s oldest and most successful programs will take place in Notre Dame stadium.
In week one, both schools were able to come away with pretty substantial wins. Michigan defeated Appalachian State 52-14, and the 16th ranked Fighting Irish took down the Rice Owls 48-17.
According to ESPN, the Irish are favored to win the final game in the foreseeable future in the long-time rivalry between the two schools. But before we can go ahead and start to make predictions, let’s take a look at what Notre Dame has to deal with.
While Michigan was able to score 52 points, let’s not forget it was against an Appalachian State team that just recently moved into the FBS’s Sun Belt Conference. Regardless, Michigan has some firepower that could hurt Notre Dame Saturday.
Starting with the Wolverines’ offensive line, we have to recognize that the left tackle position is a concern for Michigan. Taylor Lewan, who started at left tackle last season for Michigan, was one of the best lineman in the country, and without him there this season, there’s no doubt Notre Dame will be testing true-freshman Mason Cole, who started at left tackle for Michigan on Saturday. Aside from that one glaring spot, Michigan’s offensive line is still tough. Against Appalachian State, they helped push the Wolverines to 350 yards rushing, which is pretty darn good.
Speaking of Michigan’s running game, the Wolverines don’t really have a running back designated to carry the majority of the rushing responsibilities like they did last year with Fitzgerald Toussaint. Based on Saturday’s game, Michigan is leaning on distributing their carries to sophomores Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, who combined for 285 yards and three scores on the ground. It’s hard to really evaluate their abilities based on the fact that they played Appalachian State in their first game as featured backs, but they could very well end up playing as great as they did Saturday against much better defenses. So Notre Dame’s defense should expect nothing but Michigan’s best out of their running backs.
Just like their running game, Michigan’s receiving corp is full of uncertainties. The one clear-cut fact about them is that junior wide receiver Devin Funchess will be quarterback Devin Gardner’s number one target throughout the season. Funchess was second on the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns last season. Now that last season’s leading receiver Jeremy Gallon is gone, there’s no doubt Gardner will be looking to Funchess as his security blanket. Against Appalachian State, he recorded 95 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Aside from Funchess, the rest of the receiving corp have combined for a total of 28 receptions throughout their college football careers. Notre Dame should be looking to shut down Funchess from the start of the game in order to force Michigan’s other young receivers to step up and make plays.
The focal point of Michigan’s offense lies in the hands of senior graduate quarterback Devin Gardner. Last season, Gardner torched the Irish defense throwing 294 yards and four scores along with 82 yards and a touchdown on the ground. If Notre Dame wants to have any chance of winning this game, they can’t allow Gardner to have that much success in both passing and running the ball. In his win against Appalachian State, Gardner didn’t have to do too much work passing for just 173 yards and three touchdowns while completing 13 of his 14 passes.
Michigan’s offense isn’t the easiest offense to evaluate thus far, but based on last season’s game against the Irish, there’s a good chance they’ll play to their highest potential Saturday. The Fighting Irish will have to turn their defensive focus on containing Gardner and maintaining tight coverage on their receivers, forcing Gardner to make as many mistakes as possible. If that can be accomplished, Notre Dame will go into the Shamrock Series against Purdue 2-0.