Notre Dame v. Michigan ’14 – Key Matchups

This week the Irish will face bitter rival Michigan under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium.  This weekend’s game is of paramount importance for the Irish’s season as the Michigan game typically shows what type of team Notre Dame is.  The Irish must defeat Michigan to have any chance of putting together an impressive season with much stiffer challenges waiting down the road.  In order to emerge victorious this Saturday the Irish will need another excellent effort offensively as well as a cleaner game from the defense.  The following are this week’s key matchups the Irish must control to defeat the Wolverines:

Jaylon Smith vs Devin Gardener:  Last season Michigan quarterback Devin Gardener burned the Irish on route to a Wolverines victory, this season the Irish need to contain the athletic signal-caller to have any chance.  Sophomore standout Jaylon Smith will be critical to limiting the damage Gardener can do.  Smith will need to use his speed to help keep Gardener in the pocket and make him a pass first quarterback.  If the Irish can make Gardener a pocket passer they can get to him and force him to make mistakes and turn the ball over.

Cody Riggs vs Devin Funchess:  With it looking like KeiVarae Russell will be out again this week while an academic investigation continues it will be up to Cody Riggs to slow down Devin Funchess.  Riggs looked solid in his Notre Dame debut but had issues staying on the field because of fatigue.  The Florida native will be at a size disadvantage against the 6’5’’ Funchess who physically resembles a tight end.  The junior wide receiver is Gardener’s favorite target and started off the season with a three touchdown catch performance.  Riggs will need safety help in order to hold Funchess in check or it could be a long night for the Irish defense.

Ronnie Stanley vs Frank Clark:  Ronnie Stanley looked at home in his first career start at left tackle for the Irish in last week’s victory.  However, this week he is in for a much bigger challenge when he faces Michigan’s senior defensive end Frank Clark.  Clark is a solid pass rusher so Stanley will need to be at his best to protect Everett Golson’s blindside, but Clark is even stronger as a run defender.  Stanley will need to be physical with Clark who has a great motor and is very disruptive or the senior could throw a wrench in the Irish running attack which is the base of the offense.

Will Fuller vs Blake Countess:  With DaVaris Daniels currently out of the lineup for the Irish the title of go-to receiver is up for grabs, and early on Will Fuller is doing his best to earn it.  Fuller led the Irish with four receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown versus Rice and will need another big effort against the Wolverines.  Attempting to shut him down will be Blake Countess.  Michigan’s redshirt junior had a big game versus the Irish last season picking off Tommy Rees twice.  Fuller does possess the speed to get behind Countess though and create big plays in the passing game for the Irish offense.

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