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Breakdown: Michigan vs. Notre Dame

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By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 5, 2013

One more time we go, into the dark, looking out on the lights, the Victors and the Irish. Michigan and Notre Dame.

The ghosts come out at night, under the stadium glow. Raghib returns and Desmond dives. Denard runs and Te’o chases. The legend of Tate Forcier is born and disappears again. Mike Hart takes a stand. Rick Leach makes his speech.

Ghosts of Rockne and Yost. This rivalry, and that’s what it is, started with hate. Fielding Yost blocked Notre Dame from the Big Ten. Fritz Crisler feared Michigan’s Catholic students would cheer for the Irish. Notre Dame didn’t forget.

The Irish laughed last in 2012. Michigan didn’t forget.

The ghosts won’t come back until… we don’t know when. So turn on the lights and hold your breath. It’s Michigan and Notre Dame. Magic happens in this stadium at night.

Michigan pass offense vs. Notre Dame pass defense

To say the secondary is the weak spot of the Irish defense isn’t exactly fair. Remember last year?

Last year, it seemed as if Michigan could punish Notre Dame through the air. The inexperienced secondary seemed vulnerable.

But constant pressure took care of that. The secondary proved itself worthy last year and should be improved in 2013 with three returning starters.

Cornerback Bennett Jackson is one of four Irish players on the Bednarik Award watch list for the best defensive player in the nation. His battle with senior receiver Jeremy Gallon is important. But pass protection will be more important.

Notre Dame’s defensive line is back, and it’s just as terrifying. Fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan should contain All-American end Stephon Tuitt. Expect him to attack the other side of the line often.

Devin Gardner can elude rushers. He’ll need to. He’ll also need to improve on his blitz recognition or more bad decisions and crippling turnovers await.

Players to Watch: CB Bennett Jackson, DE Stephon Tuitt

Edge: Notre Dame

Michigan rush offense vs. Notre Dame rush defense

Notre Dame’s front seven led the team last year. The unit was one of the best in the nation and returns five starters.

Manti Te’o has graduated — a good thing for Michigan. In 2012, Te’o harassed the Wolverines all over the field. We’ll skip the fake-girlfriend joke because we’re better than that.

Michigan probably won’t play against an end this year better than Tuitt, who was an All-American as a sophomore. He’ll draw two blockers. Likewise, Louis Nix III is the size of two people (he’s 6-foot-2, 342 pounds), and redshirt sophomore center Jack Miller will also likely need additional help. That will allow the athletic linebackers to run more freely.

Michigan’s line is inexperienced but has potential. It’s got lots of depth at running back. Both will be tested.

Players to Watch: Tuitt, NT Louis Nix III, LB Prince Shembo

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense

No Tyler Eifert. No Michael Floyd. No Golden Tate.

That’s good news for Michigan. Notre Dame’s top two targets, T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels, have flown under the radar. Both are dangerous. Last week against Temple, Jones hauled in six catches for 138 yards. McDaniels had three for 69 yards and two touchdowns before sitting out the second half.

But the Wolverines’ deep secondary has seen stiffer challenges from the Irish in the past.

Quarterback Tommy Rees has a reputation for being turnover prone, but he’s shown improvement since the game two years ago, when his mistakes gave Michigan the victory. He’s nothing to laugh at. Against Temple last week, he was 16-for-23 for 346 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers. Yes, Temple was picked near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference and had numerous breakdowns in the secondary. Still, those numbers command respect.

But senior safety Courtney Avery should be back. Michigan just has more talent here.

Players to Watch: WR T.J. Jones, WR DeVaris Daniels

Edge: Michigan

Notre Dame rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense

Notre Dame’s linemen have a combined 81 starts, including a second-team All-American left tackle, Zack Martin.

Still, there are holes. A new center. A new right tackle. New running backs. And Michigan’s constantly rotating front seven should stay fresh.

George Atkinson III is the No. 1 back, and they could look to get him downhill in the pistol formation. Like Michigan, they’re deep at the position. Look out for Amir Carlisle. He sat out last year with a broken ankle but opened the game with a 45-yard rush last week.

Players to Watch: RB George Atkinson III, RB Amir Carlisle, RB Cam McDaniel LT Zack Martin

Edge: Michigan

Special Teams

Notre Dame will be praying for the end zone, because field goals could be an adventure. Brian Kelly is deciding between Nick Tausch and Kyle Brindza at place kicker. Both missed their only attempts in Week 1.

A rare Brendan Gibbons missed field goal crippled the Wolverines in last year’s game. But he has been reliable. Returner Dennis Norfleet has the capability for a big return every kick. A call by special teams coach Dann Ferrigno created a blocked punt and a score against Central Michigan.

Michigan owns the better special teams. And in a close game, that could be the difference.

Players to Watch: PR Jones, KR Atkinson III

Edge: Michigan

Intangibles

If you were at Michigan Stadium two years ago, you know. If not, you’ll find out soon.

Edge: Michigan

FINAL SCORE: Michigan 27, Notre Dame 21


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