Michigan game ‘a big deal’ for Notre Dame
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or email@example.com September 21, 2012 8:44PM
FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2012, file photo, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (16) rushes against Air Force during an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich. The season is now three weeks old, and the stats are proving what defensive coordinators have known for years_ a dual threat quarterback is still the most dangerous weapon an offense can have. Robinson, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nevada's Cody Fajardo are the only quarterbacks in the nation with at least 1,000 yards passing and 300 yards rushing this season. (AP Photo/Tony Ding, File)
Updated: October 23, 2012 6:09AM
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame’s schedule is littered with storied rivalries — historic matchups that date back decades and wake up the echoes and the ratings and the hairs on the necks of longtime fans across the country.
But history is often lost on a bunch of 18- to 23-year-olds, kids who weren’t even born the last time Notre Dame won a national championship. Recent memory resonates with them a lot more than distant past.
So, yes, the Navy game is great. Purdue and USC and Stanford, too.
But Michigan matters to these guys. Maybe more than any other game.
“All I know is the senior class is 0-3 against them,” ND tailback Theo Riddick said. “So it’s a big deal.”
The manner in which the Wolverines have won those three games makes the game all the more meaningful for the Irish. In 2009, Tate Forcier’s touchdown pass with 11 seconds left gave unranked Michigan a 38-34 win over No. 18 Notre Dame. In 2010, Michigan’s Denard Robinson capped off a 502-yard day (passing and rushing) and a 28-24 win with the game-winning touchdown plunge with 27 seconds left.
And last year, Robinson did it again, racking up 446 yards of Michigan’s 452 yards of offense and capping a 28-point fourth quarter with the game-winning touchdown pass with two seconds left.
“You always hate to lose, especially in some of those games,” ND safety Zeke Motta said. “(Last year) sticks out most in my mind. I haven’t beaten Michigan yet since I’ve been here, so this is something that’s pretty important to me.”
It’ll be Notre Dame’s last crack at the electrifying Robinson, who has owned the Irish like perhaps no player in history. But never has an Irish team been as well-equipped to contain Robinson — the ND front seven came into its own in last week’s 20-3 win at Michigan State, holding Le’Veon Bell and the Spartans to just 83 rushing yards. That should take some of the pressure off an injury-ravaged and inexperienced secondary.
One thing’s for sure, though. The Irish won’t have any trouble getting motivated for this one. The lights, the national TV, the distant past — none of it makes a difference. Not in this one.
“I know it’s a great clash,” ND coach Brian Kelly said. “It’s Notre Dame, it’s Michigan, it’s great college football. But for me, we have not beaten them. That’s what I remember about this series.”
Key player: Robinson. The Irish actually have a successful blueprint in last year’s game film — as long as they stop the tape after the third quarter, when Robinson was just 4-of-14 passing (he threw for 202 yards and three TDs in the fourth). “I thought we did a pretty good job, really, for three quarters,” Kelly said. “We liked our plan.”
Michigan will win if: Robinson protects the football (he has four picks already this season) and the Irish front seven is unable to duplicate what Alabama’s did (holding Robinson to 27 rushing yards) in a Week 1 41-14 thrashing.
Notre Dame will win if: The defensive backs in the still-untested Irish secondary keep the Wolverines in front of them, and don’t yield too many huge gains. “We have to find a way to limit the big-chunk plays,” Kelly said. “We gave them up in the running game in Year 1, we have them up in the passing game in Year 2. If we limit that, we’ll feel pretty good.”
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Michigan 24
— Sports editor Mark Lazerus