Welcome to a new weekly column here on UHND from one of our newest writers, Pierce O’Leary. Each week Pierce will take a look at the key matchups that will make the difference in that weekend’s contest.
Denard Robinson versus the Irish front seven
Simply put the entire Michigan offense runs through their dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson is responsible for 82% of the Wolverines offense this season (1050 yards). Robinson’s first instinct is to run the ball; therefore it is of paramount importance for the Irish front seven to contain Robinson by keeping him within the pocket. Last season the Irish did a solid job defending Robinson on the ground, Robinson rushed for 108 yards on 16 carries; however, if you take away his 39 yard run in the third quarter Robinson was held to 69 yards on 15 carries, slightly over four yards a carry. If Robinson is successful running the ball the Michigan offense will move the ball effortlessly, but if forced to pass, Robinson will make mistakes, as he is interception prone with four already this season. If the Irish front seven can continue their early season form they can make the game very difficult for Robinson and the Michigan offense.
Michigan receivers versus the Notre Dame secondary
With the Irish’s defensive game plan likely to put a precedent on forcing Michigan to throw the ball, the young Irish secondary must step up. Despite intercepting Robinson on three occasions in last season’s meeting the Irish secondary fell apart late and allowed Robinson to pass for a total of 338 yards and four touchdowns. Michigan will provide the Irish with their toughest test against the pass so far this season, facing a veteran quarterback, talented receivers, and missing fifth-year senior and leader of the secondary Jamoris Slaughter due to a season ending injury. The Wolverines possess four talented receivers led by fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree, former quarterback Devin Gardener, who leads or is tied for the team lead in receptions, touchdown receptions, and receiving yards, as well as Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, and talented tight-end Devin Funchess. The Michigan receiving corps possess speed, size, and experience the likes of which the Irish secondary has yet to see this season, it is crucial Notre Dame’s young unit responds to the challenge.
Tyler Eifert versus the Michigan secondary and linebackers
The Notre Dame offense struggled to move the ball at times against Michigan State, in part because of the job the Spartans did against the Irish’s number one weapon Tyler Eifert. Eifert will need to factor into the Irish offense more prominently this week, as he is a security blanket for young Everett Golson as well as a big play threat, and go to receiver in the red zone. Eifert will face an experienced unit of linebackers and defensive backs as six of the seven starters are upperclassmen. If Eifert can make plays that will open up room for the other receivers and allow the Irish offense to sustain longer drives and score more points.
Irish offensive line versus Michigan defensive line
Coming into the season plenty was expected of the Irish’s veteran offensive line, which contains four seniors (two fifth years), and a junior. After their dominant performance as a unit versus Navy, the Irish offensive line has struggled at times to protect the passer and establish an initial push in the run game. In the last two games combined the Irish are averaging only 2.5 yards per carry and have given up six sacks. The Irish offensive line must return to their dominant form to allow the offense to establish the run and create a comfortable environment in the pocket for Everett Golson for the team to be successful.