Sep 21, 2012, 2:35 AM EDT
There’s no doubt about it. This is a defining Saturday for Notre Dame football. A victory over No. 18 Michigan should propel the No. 11 Fighting Irish into the top 10, thrust right into the middle of BCS bedlam as they enjoy a bye week and take a deep breath before starting another harrowing portion of the schedule.
But more importantly, it’ll be another significant data point that Brian Kelly‘s restoration plan is working. Following a process he and athletic director Jack Swarbrick laid out, Kelly has the chance to run the Irish record to 4-0 for the first time in a decade, propelled by a dominant defensive front, a physical football team, and a young offense built around a group of young skill players.
But to do that, they need to beat Michigan. A school that’s taken wonderful pleasure in gutting the Irish even when things were hardly going the Wolverines’ way. Under Rich Rodriguez, Michigan sunk the Irish twice. Add in the dagger Denard Robinson put in Irish fans’ hearts during the improbable 2011 comeback, and even if the Irish aren’t saying it, vengeance is on the mind.
With a primetime audience on NBC and the hype meter already spiked after dominating Michigan State last Saturday night, this is the game that either propels the Irish onward or pokes a pin into one of the more exciting Septembers in recent memory.
As No. 11 Notre Dame prepares to battle No. 18 Michigan on Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. ET here on NBC, here are six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers, or miscellaneous musings to get you prepped.
The tale of the tape might end up telling the story.
On paper, you can almost get a feel for how this game could turn out. Of course, when these two teams play it’s hardly worth the exercise, but we’ll go through it anyway. Offense vs. Offense, the Wolverines match-up favorably with the Irish under Everett Golson‘s direction. A quick glance at a few major offensive categories shows a slight edge going to Michigan.
Red Zone TD Efficiency:
Where the story really starts to be told is with the defensive stats. Put quite simply, Michigan’s numbers are pretty ugly.
First Downs Allowed:
That the Wolverines are giving up 211 yards a game on the ground is a fairly staggering number, and one that makes you believe Cierre Wood (we’ll get to him later), Theo Riddick and George Atkinson will make quite a difference on Saturday. You also need to wonder how Greg Mattison will dial up pressure on Golson, with Michigan only getting three sacks so far this season.
He played well last year, but expect Cierre Wood to make his presence felt against the Wolverines on Saturday.
It was an afterthought, but Cierre Wood put together a strong game against Michigan, running for 134 yards and a touchdown last year in the loss. But after missing the season’s opening two games after being suspended for violating team rules, expect the senior running back to try and make up for lost time.
Made available for the first time this season to the media, Wood talked about how tough it was to sit at home and watch his teammates play in Dublin.
“It was terrible,” Wood told CSNChicago.com. “I was cheering on my teammates, being a great team player, and stuff like that. But just not playing was terrible. You practice all summer, put in so much work and so much time, and to not play those first two games was heartbreaking, especially for me. But I remain positive, my teammates kept me up and I just cheered them on from afar.”
Worked slowly back into the rotation, it was Wood who carried the ball for the Irish down the stretch, icing the victory against Michigan State with some clutch carries. Wood talked about the benefits of having three top-shelf runners after forming a pretty dynamic duo with senior Jonas Gray last season.
“The way we come in and come out, it’s basically fresh legs on the field at all times, so it’s like nobody never really came out as far as the running backs go,” Wood said. “All three of us have a great amount of talent, so them putting us around different positions on the field is going to make our team that much better.”
It should be a bigger Saturday for the Irish running game, who can do damage by making plays, and keeping Denard Robinson off the field.
It may not be the bonanza last year’s night game was, but this weekend will be a recruiting showcase.
It’s not the all-in affair that last season’s USC contest was, but this weekend is shaping up to be a big recruiting weekend for the Fighting Irish. In addition to trying to beat Michigan, the Irish will try to impress a large contingent of 2013 and 2014 recruits that’ll be in town for the game this weekend.
In total, ten recruits will be taking an official visit this weekend:
Michael Deeb, LB — Committed
Mike Heuerman, TE — Committed
Jamel James, RB — Committed
Corey Robinson, WR — Committed
Corey Clement, RB — Offered (Committed to Pitt)
Torii Hunter Jr., WR — Offered
Cole Luke, CB — Offered
L.J. Moore, CB — Offered
Khalfani Muhammad, RB — Offered
Juwaan Williams, WR — Offered
In addition, the following Irish commits will also be in town for an unofficial visit:
Hunter Bivin, OL — Committed
Steve Elmer, OL — Committed
Jacob Matuska, DE — Committed
Colin McGovern, OL — Committed
James Onwualu, WR — Committed
Doug Randolph, LB — Committed
Isaac Rochell, DE — Committed
Jaylon Smith, OLB — Committed
Justin Brent, WR — Committed (2014)
Tyler James of the South Bend Tribune has a nice update on several more potential prospects in town, so if that sort of thing interests you, definitely give it a look.
The Irish will have to impress on the field this weekend, because it doesn’t look like the weather will be all that enjoyable. With cool weather heading through South Bend and intermittent rain in the forecast for Saturday afternoon, the product on the field will have to do the talking.
With their most daunting task to date, the focus will be on the young Irish secondary.
If there’s been a pleasant surprise this year, it’s been the solid play of the Irish secondary. Gutted by injury, Bob Diaco, Kerry Cooks, and Bob Elliott haven’t had the chance to go with Plan A, and now are on to Plan C or D after just three games. With starting jobs handed to Jamoris Slaughter and Lo Wood, and a significant role waiting for Austin Collinsworth, Notre Dame will now trot out three freshmen (eligibility wise, of course) to take their place.
No bigger spotlight will be on a defender than Matthias Farley. The soccer player-turned wide receiver-turned safety leapfrogged Danny McCarthy in the safety rotation before the season opener and has been a valuable contributor down in the box against Navy, Purdue and Michigan State, chipping in six tackles. Now he’ll be asked to fill Slaughter’s shoes against one of college football’s most electric ball carriers. Kelly thinks Farley’s up for the task.
“You know, he’s got 140-some snaps,” Kelly said of Farley’s contributions thus far. “That’s a lot of football. It’s not a guy that’s getting the first time out there on the field. He responded really well in practice this week. Now, he wasn’t put in the same position that he’s going to be put in this week. So he’s going to be asked to do a lot more. But he’s s smart kid, he’s athletic, he’s sneaky fast. He can run well. I think the most important thing is he’s played 140 snaps and he’s starting to feel more comfortable in the position.”
Also pushed into action at the nickel back is Elijah Shumate, who is already tied for the team lead with three pass break-ups. While he tried to contain his enthusiasm, Shumate’s potential has Kelly really excited, and the freshman is primed to take on a more prominent role in the Irish defense.
“We think he’s a very special player,” Kelly said of Shumate. “We’re going to continue to work with him. We’ll have more time over the bye week to spend some more time with him and continue to work with him both at that nickel and corner positions and allow us even more flexibility in the secondary.”
If you’re expecting Farley and the other youngsters to feel overwhelmed, don’t.
“Everybody has settled into the roles they have,” Farley said this week. “Maybe they didn’t start, they didn’t come in doing the roles they’re doing, but everyone’s been working real hard, and I feel like the fruit of everyone’s labor is being seen as far as the play goes.”
We’ll get a true status report tomorrow night.
If the Irish want to neutralize Denard Robinson, they’ll need to keep bringing the heat up front.
Worried that Denard Robinson is going to beat you with the deep downfield throws? Don’t give him enough time to make them. That recipe worked just fine against Michigan State, when the Irish pass rush bombarded the Spartans’ offensive line and quarterback Andrew Maxwell, making it near impossible to get the downfield passing game on track.
When the Irish lost Aaron Lynch in the middle of spring drills, many thought Kelly was paying lip service to the defensive line when he openly said he expected the front four to be the strength of this football team. Through three games, that strength is apparent. Notre Dame’s defense is getting to the quarterback better than it has in recent memory, finally adding a pass rush component to the Irish defense thanks to Stephon Tuitt and company.
Tuitt leads all underclassmen in the country in sacks and is third in the FBS with five. Even more impressive, the defensive line has nine of the team’s 11 sacks (T-8 in the country), with Louis Nix tallying 1.5 and freshmen Sheldon Day and Tony Springmann notching one each, and Kapron Lewis-Moore and Kona Schwenke each chipping in a half-sack. With Prince Shembo playing his best game in an Irish uniform last week, the Irish should take dead aim at Robinson in the pocket and overpower the Michigan offensive line.
Interestingly, that wasn’t the strategy Kelly and Diaco employed last season, keeping Lynch and Tuitt on the sideline in favor of Ethan Johnson and Lewis-Moore. With Sean Cwynar missing the game last season with a hand injury, the Irish played solid defense at the point of attack with a limited cast of characters.
With a full allotment of weapons, except to see the Irish getting a great surge at the line of scrimmage.
Hold onto the football, win the football game.
To call the Irish victimized by turnovers last season would be doing disservice to victims everywhere. Notre Dame imploded their own season last year by self-inflicted errors, turning the ball over more times in the first three games — 13 times — than any Notre Dame team since 1977.
But through three games this year, the Irish have turned things around. Notre Dame hasn’t had fewer turnovers through three Saturdays since 1993. Tied for 11th in the country in turnover margin, the stats seem to favor Brian Kelly’s team when they manage to simply hold onto the football.
Last year, the Irish were 3-0 when they didn’t turn the ball over. Kelly’s Irish squads are 7-0 when they’re unblemished with the football. Against a Michigan team that has plenty of problems at the line of scrimmage, the Irish don’t have to have a perfect performance. But they just can’t give the ball away. Thanks to a stingy defense and some offensive firepower, the Irish can beat another talented team from the state of Michigan by following the blueprint it used last week.
“Third down conversions are great. You want third down conversions,” Kelly said, recapping the keys to last week’s victory. “But we were managing the game. We had a great kicking performance. If we can kick that way, third down conversions are not going to impact the football game. The turnovers. It’s short fields. And it’s the big chunk plays. I know you’ve heard this ad nauseam, but the fact of the matter is, the completion percentage will continue to get better. The third downs will continue to get better. We just need to take care of the football and keep our defense on the long field.”
It’ll be harder to do that against one of college football’s most explosive weapons. But if the Irish are going to make it to 4-0 for the first time since 2002, they’ll need Everett Golson to continue playing football wiser than his years.
Jun 18, 2013, 10:50 AM EDT
When Hunter Bivin gave a verbal commitment to Notre Dame, most fans thought the Irish were getting a prototype offensive tackle that had the chance to compete for the job of Zack Martin’s replacement. It turns out the Irish were getting much, much more, with the versatile Bivin being a veritable Swiss Army Knife for…
Jun 16, 2013, 12:41 PM EDT
With the freshman class on campus and the football team starting voluntary workouts and summer school, the team is now in the hands of strength coach Paul Longo and medical trainer Rob Hunt. That’s good news for an important recruiting class that will likely have a few early contributors come September. One athlete who doesn’t…
Jun 13, 2013, 8:17 PM EDT
Caught up in the commotion of DeShone Kizer’s commitment to the Irish was the news of how Kizer actually committed to Notre Dame. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound quarterback called to deliver the good news to Brian Kelly and the head coach wasn’t in South Bend, but actually in New England spending some time with Bill Belicheck…
Jun 12, 2013, 8:00 PM EDT
For those worried about the Irish defensive line after the surprising loss of Eddie Vanderdoes, it’s probably worth taking a look at who’s returning along the Irish front. Just about everybody. While the Irish lose senior captain Kapron Lewis-Moore to graduation, they return five of their top six players up front, including All-American caliber talent…
Jun 12, 2013, 11:52 AM EDT
After a lot of grumbling by Arizona State athletic director Steve Patterson, it appears that Notre Dame and Arizona State’s game in 2014 will go on after all. The Sun Devil’s athletic director took to the internet yesterday to announce that the Irish’s date in Tempe that looked to be in jeopardy is back on…
Jun 11, 2013, 9:00 PM EDT
Notre Dame received the commitment of Toledo quarterback DeShone Kizer Tuesday. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound quarterback had offers from Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Penn State, and Tennessee among others. “I am privileged to say that I will be continuing my Fighting Irish tradition by playing football at the University of Notre Dame!” Kizer Tweeted this afternoon. Kizer’s…
Jun 10, 2013, 5:41 PM EDT
We’re a week away from freshman reporting to summer school — finalizing the assembly of the 2013 Fighting Irish football team on campus and beginning offseason workouts. Across the country, guys like Greg Bryant and Jaylon Smith say goodbye to home and high school and prepare to go from All-Everything recruits to freshmen football players,…
Jun 7, 2013, 7:01 PM EDT
As someone that had the opportunity to participate in this coaching staff’s very first Fantasy Camp, I can tell you that it’s an incredible experience. The Notre Dame staff roles out the red carpet for both campers and returning alums, making the short week one of the best experiences you could ever hope for if…
Jun 6, 2013, 1:40 AM EDT
Editors Note: While there’s no doubt that Rees will be the starting quarterback against Temple, the headline of this story has been tweaked to be a little less definitive, as talking at a banquet hardly construes an official announcement. UPDATE: It appears that Kelly did more than hint at Rees being the frontrunner for the…
Jun 5, 2013, 6:39 PM EDT
In one of the great examples of June being the Sahara for college football fans, Notre Dame recruit Elijah Hood, one of the best running backs in the country, got caught up in social media circus yesterday, courtesy of a Vine video he made. Hood, one of the most active social media users in the…
Jun 4, 2013, 5:11 PM EDT
Eddie Vanderdoes won’t be attending Notre Dame. Both Brian Kelly and the talented defensive lineman agree on that. How the situation ever got to this point, well that’s a story most people are still trying to figure out. Today, after a few weeks of murky details slowly coming to the surface, Vanderdoes, Notre Dame and…
Jun 3, 2013, 1:52 PM EDT
Summer break is over for the Irish football team. Returning members of the football team came back to South Bend yesterday to begin preparation for the 2013 season. While all workouts are technically voluntary, every player (freshmen will show up in two weeks) is expected to begin work with strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo…
May 31, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
Everett Golson intends to return to Notre Dame after his suspension. That’s the good news. But for Brian Kelly and his coaching staff, there’s no planning for good intentions, and right now the quarterback depth chart looks vastly different without Golson at the top of it. The once robust quarterback group had a very tough…
May 28, 2013, 4:13 PM EDT
Since the revelation of Everett Golson‘s suspension from Notre Dame, not much had been clear about the future of the Irish’s starting quarterback. But after listening to head coach Brian Kelly, one thing now is: The door is wide open for Golson to return in the spring. Kelly spoke briefly with the media Tuesday afternoon,…
May 27, 2013, 5:34 PM EDT
In the span of one holiday weekend, the trajectory of Notre Dame’s football program has been irrevocably changed. That’s not hyperbole. Coming off a twelve-win season and finally solving a quarterback conundrum that took three seasons to sort, Brian Kelly turned down an opportunity to jump to the NFL, presumably because he saw the bright…
May 26, 2013, 9:22 PM EDT
A day after news broke that Everett Golson was no longer enrolled at Notre Dame, the quarterback confirmed and clarified the circumstances surrounding his shocking departure. With the university bound to silence due to privacy laws, Golson himself acknowledged an academic situation that let to a suspension for the fall semester, ending his football season…
May 26, 2013, 12:40 AM EDT
Starting quarterback Everett Golson is no longer enrolled at Notre Dame. The bombshell was confirmed last Saturday night by university spokesman Dennis Brown to multiple outlets, with local NBC affiliate WNDU the first to report the news. Two sources tells Inside the Irish that an academic violation is the root of the problem, and may…
May 24, 2013, 6:59 PM EDT
With the unofficial kickoff to summer upon us, we’re inside 100 days until football is back. That may seem like quite a long time, but we’ve got plenty of ground to cover in the next few months as we get a better look at what the 2013 Fighting Irish will be. Before everybody disappears for…
May 23, 2013, 4:27 PM EDT
Jake Golic‘s football career isn’t over. The reserve tight end will spend his final season of eligibility at Cincinnati, exercising his ability to transfer and play immediately after graduating from Notre Dame last week with a degree in graphic design. Golic appeared in just five games during his four seasons in South Bend, battling injuries…
May 22, 2013, 3:14 PM EDT
With Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood gone from the Irish backfield, the Notre Dame running game is missing its two leading men from 2012. Yet there isn’t a huge worry about what comes next. Even with Riddick’s surprising, hard charging senior season and Wood’s three seasons in (and around) the starting lineup, there’s every belief…
- Heat rally to beat Spurs in Game 6
- PBT: After blowing lead, can Spurs rebound in Game 7?
- PST: On-fire Altidore lifts USA over Honduras in WCQ
- CSN: Patriots' Hernandez questioned in murder investigation
- CSN: Celtics-Clippers KG, Rivers trade talks dead
- HBT: Mets' Wheeler goes six scoreless in MLB debut
- Lolo Jones' attempt at humor backfires