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And in that corner… The Michigan Wolverines

Sep 3, 2014, 5:14 AM EDT

Appalachian v Michigan Appalachian v Michigan

A week after both Notre Dame and Michigan took their opponents to the proverbial woodshed, they’ll do battle one more time, with both proud programs hoping to do the same to their nemesis.

In a game that’s one of the premiere matchups in college football, the lights will shine bright over Notre Dame Stadium as Brian Kelly tries to even things up with Brady Hoke. While Hoke’s seat in Ann Arbor may be warming up after a significant regression the past two seasons, he’s beaten Brian Kelly in two of three matchups.

With a primetime kickoff and the game a key September barometer for success, the last scheduled meeting between both teams will likely be even saltier than usual, in a rivalry recently defined lately by close and heart-wrenching games.

Getting us ready for action is Bleacher Report’s Adam Biggers.


Let’s get this first question out of the way: How strong is the hatred coming from Michigan’s side of this “rivalry.” As strong as it is for Michigan State? That “team from Ohio?” (After being in Ann Arbor last year, I’ve got to think strong to quite strong at the very least.)

There are a lot of Notre Dame alums and fans in Michigan, so Wolverines fans have the experience of running into one of three enemies at every turn, especially those in Ann Arbor, who are minutes away from the borderline of savage society (just kidding, Ohio!).

Saturday, the No. 1 enemy will be Notre Dame—the only team that should exist for the Wolverines this weekend.


Outside of the revenge/upset storyline, how much can you learn from the Wolverines beating an Appalachian State team that was 4-8 in the FCS last year? Change the name to another directional school and would there be as much excitement about the impressive victory?

Michigan did what it had to do, so I’m not going to get too excited about the 52-14 victory. Brady Hoke’s staff had a solid game plan. The players did their jobs. The O-line held tight, the D-line pretty much owned the trenches. Everything that a Michigan fan wanted to see was clear and present at The Big House.

At the end of the day, the Wolverines removed a thorn from their side, but I don’t think they’re looking at it as some monumental accomplishment. But I know for a fact that they’re geared up for Notre Dame.

Jake Ryan told me that the game will be a real test for the defense. I agree. It’ll also be one for the offense, which didn’t dazzle me for four quarters this past weekend.


That said, this was Doug Nussmeier’s debut as offensive coordinator and playcaller and all reports had to be rosy. The Wolverines offense racked up 560 yards on 55 plays. The running game plowed its way to 350 yards, at an astounding 9.7 yards per touch. Devin Gardner completed 13 of 14 passes with three touchdowns to Devin Funchess.

Is Nussmeier in walk-on-water territory after Game One? Is there a grain of salt with all of this? After Al Borges’ offense torched the Irish last year, just how terrified should Notre Dame fans be of the Michigan offense come Saturday night?

Hahaha. No. Not yet. Not even close.

However, to say that Michigan fans are happy about his presence would be an understatement. Watching Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess play catch during the first half of the season-opening win over Appalachian State was a welcome sight; likewise with Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, who combined for 285 yards and three touchdowns.

It appears that guys whose names start with “D” are going to be stars this fall. Doug Nussmeier could very well be next.

But let’s wait and see how he does against Notre Dame before going bonkers over bonking the Mountaineers.


Greg Mattison tweaked his role in the defense, coaching linebackers now as he and Mark Smith switch roles. There looks to be a lot of talent returning. After Mattison (or the moment) seemed to overwhelm Everett Golson in 2012, how do you think the Wolverines will attack the Irish offense?

Michigan’s defense is going to throw everything at everyone, regardless of helmet color, jersey creed or nationality. Michigan fans should prepare for what could be Mattison’s best defense yet—and that’s saying a lot, considering he brought the Wolverines from the cellar to top-25 contention (defensively) in his first year.

Respecting Golson’s athleticism, I’d imagine that he’ll have a linebacker glued to him for much of the game, anticipating his every move. I’m also going to guess that Notre Dame receivers won’t get a lot of breathing room.
On media day, Jourdan Lewis and Blake Countess, both corners, told me that they were more than confident in their secondary.

That’s a great sign, obviously. A defense is only as strong as its last line of…well…defense.

I like the D-line, especially with Brennen Beyer, Ondre Pipkins, Willie Henry and Matt Godin, among a few others, looking like they’ll be all hustle in 2014. During Week 1, the Wolverines gave up 153 yards on the ground. I wouldn’t think that they’d be too keen on letting sophomores Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant getting remotely close to that. If there’s one “weakness” evident after the opener, it’s run defense up the middle—that has to be buttoned down quickly, which shouldn’t be a problem. You can bet that Mattison’s pumping film right now.


If you were Brian Kelly, how would you attack the Wolverines defense? On the ground, where Michigan gave up a 100-yard rushing game? Through the air? Brady Hoke might be on the hot seat, but he’s beated Kelly three of four times.

Well, as kind of mentioned above, I’d go up the middle until the Wolverines stop allowing positive yardage. Again, this area needs to be tightened up before Saturday; it’s the most concerning aspect of Mattison’s unit so far.


What’s your gut tell you about Saturday night? Notre Dame opened as a six-point favorite in a game that really favors the underdog. In the last game until both ADs can kiss and make up, what are the keys to victory?

Keeping emotions in check will be huge. Neither team can afford an ejection, especially of a star player or even coach, so it’s important for both sides to remain relatively calm—which is easier said than done, considering that this is it (as of now, anyway).

Staples of solid defense, such as winning first and thirds, creating turnovers and limiting the big play are always a good place to start. If I’m Kelly, I want to make sure that Green and Smith are cold. Once warmed up, they can go through walls.

When I asked Smith if he and Green proved anything Saturday, Smith told me this: “[Derrick and I are] powerful runners. It’s going to take more than one person to bring us down.”

These guys are focused and ready to do damage. The Irish have to find a way to cap them—not to mention Devin Funchess—if they want to ensure victory. I see this one going down the final moments, with Michigan slipping away by less than a touchdown.


You can get more from Adam on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

  1. onward2victory - Sep 3, 2014 at 7:30 AM

    Man I hate Michigan.

  2. thefightinfloyds - Sep 3, 2014 at 8:13 AM

    This is going to be a tough game. Anytime I hear about Gardner I have flashbacks of last years game. Hopefully our D can keep him from having the best game of his life v2.0.
    From what Ive read this week it sounds like Michigan will be pretty jacked up for this game, I wouldnt be surprised if they came out of their corner swinging. It will be important to match their intensity and try to keep a lid on Gardner and UMs running game. If ND can do that and limit mistakes and execute! then I could see a +7 point victory but only because the game is in South Bend.

    Go Irish.

    • liv4nd - Sep 3, 2014 at 11:07 AM

      Jaylon will cause Gardner all kinds of trouble.

      Irish by 4.

  3. irishwilliamsport - Sep 3, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    I hate to say it but this is sort of a make or break game for the program. If we lose at home to an unranked Michigan team it’s going to be a long year and I would think in year 5 of BK’s tenure a mediocre 7-5 record would put him on the hot seat. This is a game we should win, a tough opponent at home but surely beatable. The thing that concerns me with BK is that the players are always “learning” and “getting there” and never THERE. Why ? Also the inexcusable interview the day after the NC game and holding the program hostage for a week.

    • danirish - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:42 AM

      It does seem like this game always sets the tone for the rest of the team’s year.

      GO IRISH

    • mtflsmitty - Sep 3, 2014 at 8:16 PM

      Turn the page, Dude.

  4. gtizzo - Sep 3, 2014 at 9:25 AM

    App. State didn’t nothing to stop Funchess. They guy was so wide open Keith could have thrown for 300 yards. ND plays there best this game shouldn’t be close. Michigan’s offensive line wasn’t perfect it did give up a sack. Attack the true freshmen at left tackle and bring pressure from the left side of the line of scrimmage. Michigan wants to shadow Golson, then we can shadow Gardner. My pick to spy on him would be Jaylon Smith. ND will have to come up and challenge Funchess off the line, maybe with safety help over the top. The offense needs to get off to a good start an for me that means starting Greg Bryant at tailback. No turnovers, 2 penalties for 10 again would be great an this should be over by the 4th quarter.

    • danirish - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:44 AM

      I agree. I’d love to see long sustained drives by the Irish with lots of running and scoring td’s in the red zone. Gardner can’t have a great game sitting on the sidelines.

      But I’ll take a win regardless of how….

      GO IRISH!

      • irishwilliamsport - Sep 3, 2014 at 11:23 AM

        Usually the first game of the year is a good barometer for how the season will go. 2010 was a yawner vs. Purdue, 2011 was the South Florida disaster, 2012 was the Dublin blowout of Navy, 2-13 was the uninspired win over Temple and this year was a great opener.

        This year 5 for BK, no excuses, they are all “his guys”.

  5. upthera44 - Sep 3, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    Question for Keith (or anyone who knows): Will a stream of the Michigan game be available on the NBC Sports website like it is for Rice to watch after the fact? I have to attend a wedding exactly at 7:30-10 Saturday–what a nightmare–and will watch it after I can escape.

    • flandersst1 - Sep 3, 2014 at 9:50 AM


      Sorry bout the wedding dude … but YES all ND home games are streamed like Rice was.

    • andy44teg - Sep 3, 2014 at 11:42 AM

      If the wedding isn’t yours, your son’s or your daughter’s, I’d skip it!

  6. irishwilliamsport - Sep 3, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    Alabama beat WVU, FSU beat OK State, Georgia beat Clemson etc. This is the type of game we have to win. Other than beating OK & Stanford two years ago there haven’t been many signature wins and we have to start winning some of these games. One good year out of 4 isn’t cutting it.

    • johngaltisspeaking - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:22 AM

      You won’t do it with poor coaching and talent. It takes too long for Brian k and bvg to teach their offense and defense. Michigan kicks our butts

      • papadec - Sep 3, 2014 at 6:26 PM

        Michigan may kick your butt – but NOT OUR butt. You never were, are not now, or ever will be part of OUR ND. Back under the bridge troll, with your anti-Catholic bigoted buddies.

  7. danirish - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    Is it me or does it seem that in recent history (back to the Willingham era) any game with a gimmick attached to it the Irish are on the losing side. We all remember 1993 with the original Game of the Century against Charlie Ward – I knew ND would pull through and they did.

    But now it seems if there is a catch phrase we lose – “Under the Lights,” “National Title,” “The last rivalry game for a long time.”

    Maybe it is the pessimist in me but I have a bad feeling about this game, a very bad feeling. The kind of feeling when you know your team is better, more talented, and at home yet they will lose.

    It is a horrid condition to have!

    Anyone else?


    • teddajudge - Sep 3, 2014 at 1:46 PM

      You are definitely on to something in recent history. And I hope that it stays in the past. Just please don’t break out the green jerseys, for God’s sake! The green jerseys have been cold ever since Holtz left.

      • irishkg07 - Sep 3, 2014 at 4:24 PM

        At tedda… I was having this conversation with someone a couple days ago. He was in support of the Green, but like you… I had the same “curse” feeling. His argument was that the curse had been broken, that we’ve won in them recently (Army/Maryland).

        But I came with the angle that the green jerseys are supposed to actual big games, important games. Not for games that you’re a heavy favorite. And in big game situations…. I still can’t get past USC in 2005. I’m still haunted, and scared of the Green…even though I LOVE them and the thought of them inspiring a team to topple odds and emerge triumphant like the old days.

        But we’re a superstitious bunch aren’t we? Haha, When will we ever find comfort in wearing them for a big game again?

      • andy44teg - Sep 3, 2014 at 5:39 PM

        Don’t forget about the BC game in ’02….I think….started off 8-0 and then all of a sudden Ryan Grant forgot how to hold on to a football.

    • irishkg07 - Sep 3, 2014 at 4:19 PM

      I think that’s become an extremely common feeling for Irish fans the past 20 years and we’ve all really struggled shaking it. It’s b/c it occurred so often that it began to feel expected, and even in remarkable seasons like 2012, we were still just on the edge of losing so many of those games… So we still haven’t been able to pull out of the “inevitable disappointment” zone that we cast ourselves into.

      Like I can’t help looking at the recent UM/ND history and seeing that we haven’t been able to win it when it took place in week 2. I hate playing them so early, and it makes me nervous regardless what the teams look like.

      I’m not pessimistic about this one. But I’ve learned that we can never be very confident in this match-up. But maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be….it’s a rivalry after all…. You’re never supposed to be comfortable playing your rival. Logic goes out the window.

    • papadec - Sep 3, 2014 at 6:28 PM

      dan – take some TUMS & relax. It’s going to be OK.

      • danirish - Sep 3, 2014 at 9:18 PM

        Thanks man, I needed that….

        GO IRISH!

    • wisner74 - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:59 PM

      Dan – In my mind, the “original Game of the Century” was the 1966 ND/MSU game up at East Lansing that ended in a 10-10 tie. That was Ara’s first NC team.

      • danirish - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:15 AM

        A little bit before my time but I understand that! :)

        GO IRISH!

  8. johngaltisspeaking - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    This is Alabama all over again…… Michigan has brought in SEC Winning coaching to the program. For some reason Brian K likes to complicate football. BVG scheme is hard enough in the NFL but for a freshman forget it…. Michigan steam rolls the Irish.

    • Wesley Clark - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      If you are such a fan of the SEC, go comment on their boards. You are one of the loudest, lowest college football IQ posters I have ever seen. Your brand of commenting is just, well, old. We all know John Galt is speaking, but does he ever zip it? Why don’t you follow your beloved hero’s example and go Galt. You know, drop out never to be heard from again.

      • nudeman - Sep 3, 2014 at 6:59 PM

        Why don’t you get that he loves these type of messages?

      • Wesley Clark - Sep 3, 2014 at 9:31 PM

        Eh. I know he is a troll. Sometimes it just feels good to vent a little. I feel better now!

      • wisner74 - Sep 3, 2014 at 11:03 PM

        Listen to Nude, Wes. Just skip it. You may feel better, but all you and others who reply really accomplish is to clog up this board. Oh yeah, and encourage more from Rand-boy. If everyone ignores him, he’ll go away eventually.

    • runners00 - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:43 PM

      Steamrolls? I doubt it but they play the games for a reason.

  9. johngaltisspeaking - Sep 3, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    This just in hot off the press:

    Notre Dame Rises In Coaches And Associated Press Polls only to drop out of top 25 after Michigan gives its last beat down to the Irish. Irish don’t have any plans to renew the rivalry due to Brian K not being able to recruit as well as Hoke.

    Brian K remarks ” We are playing a lot of Freshmen and they are just gonna have to bring their A game. Yes even after 5 years we are still a work in progress.

    • mediocrebob - Sep 3, 2014 at 5:11 PM

      Who’s the better coach? Hoke it Dantonio? I’d venture to say that most people that have a clue would say Dantonio. Still following? What’s Kelly’s record against MSU? I’ll help you out. 3-1 . Michigan has had NDs number. Not BKs fault at all. He’s had them in position to beat them every year. Players have lost/won this game.

  10. 4horsemenrideagain - Sep 3, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    Despite all the build up, this one turns out to be as vanilla as they come. Mattison will pull out some typical weirdo/never seen before coverage and blitz schemes, but ND grinds this one out on the ground (with the help of great field position) and EG isn’t asked to do all that much with the 65:35 run to pass split that ends up with ND winning the time of possession. Cam puts this one to bed late, but it’s the youngsters that shine early and often and “slap in the face” or not, Frank Clark watches this game mostly from his back. BVG lets Funchess get his yards, but nothing deep or damaging and for the most part the attacking defense looks conservative and intent of making Gardner be a quarterback instead of an athlete taking snaps.

    • irishkg07 - Sep 3, 2014 at 4:26 PM

      Can’t say I would disappointed to see that

  11. shaunodame - Sep 3, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    Muck Fichigan

  12. alwayspositive11 - Sep 3, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    “with Michigan slipping away by less than a touchdown.” So Michigan is going to lose by less than a touchdown? Because slip away means that you were unsuccessful at something or you died. Pull away on the other hand means to get ahead, and I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant. This Adam Biggers needs to study his phrasal verbs if he’s going to be a writer.
    The Rice game showed that we have a more talented team all around than last year and we look more disciplined as well. Michigan is going to get pummeled if they expect the same Notre Dame team as last year. Well they’re going to get pummeled anyway. 35-21 Irish, with Michigan’s last touchdown coming in garbage time. Go Irish! Beat Michigan so I don’t have to listen to my husband’s constant negativity any more.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 3, 2014 at 12:48 PM

      If you guys ever listen to Irish Sports Daily Power Hour, they interviewed a UM writer/pundit who opined that Michigan would lose in a close but high-scoring game. So maybe this guy is on board with that sentiment and by “slip away” he feels the skunk bears are going down.

  13. fightinmad35 - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    ND’s starting linebackers can run with anybody. That wasn’t the case last year. The bend but don’t break defense Diaco employed was tailor made for a running quarterback and Gardner took advantage of it. He had the defense on it’s heels the whole game last year. Not at any point did any of us watching think that he could be stopped. As long as he’s made to beat ND with his arm then this should be a far less spectacular game for him. Enough of the gloom about what ND is facing. Michigan has to match up against ND and the endless weapons. There’s speed on the outside, speed at QB, speed at RB. I see EG picking them apart! Go Irish

  14. runners00 - Sep 3, 2014 at 5:46 PM

    I’ve seen Notre Dame look pretty good this year. Golson looks crazy accurate — something we’ve missed thus far in his career — and insanely mobile, especially compared to his predecessor. Bryant and Folston are explosive thoroughbreds that won’t fall over upon the first or second strike.

    Can our offensive line move people around the way that it has to? I’d like to see Hegarty, Stanley, Martin and Hanratty move Michigan’s front seven, allowing the powerful backs to gallop through holes these men create. We need to see Riggs have some nice punt returns (following our defensive stops).

    Most importantly, we need to see Jaylon Smith, James Onwualo and Sheldon Day have great nights. They need to find Gardner and not let him loose. And we’re going to need Matthias Farley to have his best game yet as the defense stops Funchess from seeing the ball and making plays on the ball. It’s a tough matchup but we have the players. We have to execute.

    Finally, I’m pulling hard for Coach Kelly not just because I am a Notre Dame fan but because this is the man who logged very long hours at Grand Valley State and Central Michigan, while the land grant university paid a lot of money to other guys to have less impressive records. Irish. ND. Get it done!

  15. golfboy66 - Sep 3, 2014 at 7:25 PM

    I can’t believe what I’m reading here from so many of you guys. It almost makes me ashamed. Enough with the “bad feelings about this game” and ” Michigan is so tough” and “Gardiner is invincible” crap. You sound afraid and that is not what it means to be a ND fan. Michigan is a good team and certainly worthy of respect as is any opponent we will meet this season but WE ARE ND! We fear no one. I hope none of our players are reading that s#@t. Michigan is unranked and a little better than an above average team at best. We’re fielding a team the likes of which they haven’t seen in recent memory, with a quarterback and offensive weapons they haven’t had to deal with before. They’ve been disrespectful and arrogant. Read their blogs and posts. It’s time we shut them up. Rivalry games are always tough but to run scared makes me sick. If we can’t beat these knuckleheads with all the motivation we have, with all that’s on the line, then how are we going to beat some of the better teams we will face later in the season? Screw Michigan, screw Brady Hoke, and screw anybody who doesn’t believe deep down that we will win this game. If you are a true Son of ND you will be positive, offer unconditional support, and truly BELIEVE! Strong hearts, fellas. We got this. Go Irish!!!

  16. mtheparrothead - Sep 3, 2014 at 9:08 PM

    Even things? I guess if you count 2-6 even over last eight years then yeah, I guess.

    • papadec - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:25 PM

      That would be a myopic view. Look at the history of games vs each other. ALL teams, including sec teams, have up & down cycles. I believe, and granted I could be wrong, that Michigan & ND have the two highest winning percentages.

  17. lightskin350 - Sep 4, 2014 at 12:16 AM

    Talent wise we are a better football than Michigan but its going to come down to Golson and Gardner and who plays the best. Coach Kelly and Golson together are great together because he can fully run Kelly’s offense. You give Brian Kelly this type a quarterback and he is going to win a hell of a lot of games. When he has a QB like Golson he has won going back to Cincy and in 2012. I think Kelly is going to lean hard on his O LINE and the dynamic duo of Folston and Bryant. We need to play smash mouth football and see who wants this game more.

    I think Notre Dame wins 38-28

  18. yaketyyacc - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:23 AM

    well, let’s not be too hard on Michigan. after all, it taught us how to play football. and now, I think it is time for Notre Dame to say thank you, by showing Michigan how well we have learned, and sending them back to Ann Arbor, smiling to know that Notre Dame learned so well, that the student is now teaching the teacher. and the best way to say thank you is to kick their butt. GO GET EM IRISH!

  19. viktory2013 - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    ND will win Saturday…they are simply a better team. Michigan ran up the score on a JC team and is acting like they beat Alabama. ND was fast, tough and confident last week and won’t be awed by Gardner or Funchess or anybody else they can scrape up. Michigan hasn’t been at all imposing last couple seasons, and if ND simply stays focused they should win by 8-10 points.

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