What’s there to say that hasn’t been said? Neither team is good, both desperately needs Saturday’s win. Who has the edge?

Andy Skidmore
Freshman Ryan Mallett will quarterback the Michigan offense on Saturday. (ANGELA CESERE/Daily)

Michigan pass offense vs. Notre Dame pass defense

Is Saturday the first start for a true freshman quarterback, or the return of a weak secondary that Michigan torched last season?

Ryan Mallett is making his first career start in place of an injured Chad Henne on national television. But with Mallett comes Mario Manningham, who buried the Irish early last year with three 20-plus-yard touchdown grabs in the first half.

Whether it’s a positive or a negative, the Irish return all of their starters from last season’s secondary. A year of experience makes Notre Dame’s back four respectable – and did you know Tom Zbikowski is a boxer? – but Michigan’s weapons at the skill position are enough to give the home team a slight edge.

Edge: Michigan

Michigan rush offense vs. Notre Dame rush defense

Michigan running back Mike Hart guaranteed victory against the Irish this week. Though his teammates have all vowed to back him up, a good chunk of the responsibility to win will be left up to the senior.

There’s nobody else Wolverine fans would want to have that responsibility. Hart’s been great in his first two games, playing through injuries in both to top 300 yards and three scores on the season. If he can dodge an injury, expect him to exceed 200 yards while the Wolverines try to ease Ryan Mallett into college football with a more conservative approach.

Edge: Michigan

Notre Dame rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense

Notre Dame’s rush offense had more total yards before the season started than it does now. It doesn’t matter if the Irish are playing against a middle school front four – they won’t get the edge with negative yards rushing in the team’s first two games.

But things could be turning around. Defenses have stacked the box against Notre Dame because they anticipated Clausen wouldn’t have a greenlight to go downfield. Now, with some experience under Clausen’s belt, expect the playbook to be opened up, possibly giving Notre Dame running backs Armando Allen, James Aldridge and Travis Thomas more room to run.

But negative eight yards rushing in two games? Wow. The Wolverines’ defense has been atrocious this season, but the “strength” of their disappointing defense has been the front four. The Irish will score Saturday, but it probably won’t be picked up on the ground.

Edge: Michigan

Notre Dame pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense

It’s hard to imagine an offense the Wolverine secondary can stop right now. Oregon burned Michigan deep on several occasions last Saturday, and it wasn’t because Ducks quarterback Dennis Dixon threw darts. The wide receivers were wide open no matter what scheme defensive coordinator Ron English used. Notre Dame brings a more traditional offense, which the secondary will appreciate, but even a freshman quarterback like Clausen should be able to find holes.

Edge: Notre Dame

Special teams

Here’s Michigan kicker Jason Gingell’s line so far this season. Two field goals made. An equal number attempts blocked. And one kick that bounced off the upright. So far, Carr’s stuck by the choice, but Gingell’s going to have to find a way to be consistent if the
Wolverines even get into the red zone.

For the Fighting Irish, freshman Brandon Walker has been perfect, hitting 2-of-2. Notre Dame also has safety Tom Zbikowski returning kicks, while Carr continues to search for his returners.

Edge: Notre Dame

Intangibles

This is hard to call. Michigan’s 0-2, and so is Notre Dame. Lloyd Carr has taken consistent heat during the current winless streak, and many of the players are sick of hearing about how bad they are.

Still, some might have thought losing to Appalachian State would have been enough of a wake-up call. On the other hand, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis doesn’t want to turn into the second coming of Tyrone Willingham.

Edge: push

Michigan 17, Notre Dame 10.

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