Michigan Wolverines: Zack Martin

Planning for success: Notre Dame

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Chris Watt's biggest takeaway from Notre Dame's 2011 game at Michigan is "finishing."

The Fighting Irish blew a 17-point fourth quarter lead last time they visited the Big House, only to re-take with 30 seconds left -- and then watch Denard Robinson complete two throws on the game's final drive to clinch the Wolverines' win.

Notre Dame got revenge last season en route to a perfect regular season. And it also took the first steps toward ending the series, as athletic director Jack Swarbrick exercised the contract's three-year out clause to give his program more scheduling flexibility with its ACC agreement.

The final scheduled meeting will be next season, at Notre Dame Stadium. For now, though, this week is about the rivals' last meeting at Michigan, which will host its second-ever night game Saturday.

And the Irish are looking forward to the challenge.

"It was amazing," Watt said of the NCAA-record crowd of 114,804. "You could barely hear what was going on. But it's those games that you love -- going on the road and being away from home and being with your teammates. That's like the outlook when you go on the road. So it was an unbelievable game; obviously we wish we could have had a couple plays back, but just an amazing atmosphere up there."

Michigan coach Brady Hoke cause a minor stir during a summer speaking engagement when he said that Notre Dame was "chickening" out of playing the Wolverines. Irish coach Brian Kelly followed with a jab of his own Sunday when he said that he had not seen the Michigan rivalry as "one of those traditional, historic Notre Dame rivalries." Two days later, he reversed course.

But recent history is not lost on the players' minds, not when Michigan beat them three straight times in the final minute before Notre Dame forced six turnovers in a 13-6 win last season.

"This is huge, especially for myself and the other guys in that fifth-year class," captain Zack Martin said, "because since we've been here, every game has been pretty much down to the wire and pretty crazy, so this rivalry is huge."

Martin has played in a national title game. He has played at USC twice, at Michigan State twice and at Stanford once. But Saturday might present the wildest atmosphere of his college career.

"There's no other place I've played at since I've been here that compares to two years ago when we were up there," Martin said. "Just the atmosphere, the fans and all that together really was something to see."

Michigan-Notre Dame writers roundtable

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
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Michigan StadiumAP Photo/Tony DingCan anything top Michigan's 35-31 win in 2011, which was the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium?

Under the lights ... and two of college football’s oldest rivals in one of their last scheduled meetings … and College GameDay. Does it get any better than this? Only when Big Ten reporter Brian Bennett, Dame reporter Matt Fortuna and Michigan reporter Chantel Jennings get together to talk about it. Today, they discuss a few topics surrounding the highly anticipated matchup.

1. Over the past few years, this rivalry has seen its fair share of big stars excel during this game -- Denard Robinson's 502 yards in 2010, Roy Roundtree's game-winning catch in 2011, Manti Teo's defensive performance in 2012. Which player could you see having a mega game on Saturday?

Bennett: How about Jeremy Gallon? The Michigan receiver had the huge 64-yard catch that set up Roundtree's game-winner in 2011. While he wasn't as active in last year's game, that's primarily because the Wolverines were busy throwing the ball to Notre Dame. Gallon has been more effective ever since Devin Gardner started running the show, and I could see him burning the Irish secondary for some big plays.

Jennings: The heroes this game has helped create have kind of come out of nowhere in some instances. So I’m going to pick a guy who has been flying under the radar statistically, who I think has the ability to show up in big games, and that’s Michigan tight end Devin Funchess. He had a fine freshman year and a better offseason. I think we could see him be a big difference maker on Saturday.

Fortuna: If I'm Notre Dame, I'm gearing up for Gardner, since Michigan quarterback play has essentially decided these contests in one form or another in each of the past four years. From the Irish side, though, I think wide receiver DaVaris Daniels could break out. He was Notre Dame's best offensive player in the national title game loss to Alabama, hauling in six catches for 115 yards. On Saturday against Temple, the redshirt sophomore had three catches for 69 yards, including a pair of 32-yard touchdown receptions on the Irish's first two drives.

2. Which mismatch between these two teams are you most intrigued to watch?

Bennett: On paper at least, it's the Michigan interior offensive line vs. Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III. Center Jack Miller and guards Kyle Kalis and Graham Glasgow are talented and played well together last week, but they have very little experience. Nix, meanwhile, is a 357-pound man-mountain who helped anchor a championship-level defense last season. He commands double teams, and it will be up to Michigan's young inside guys to keep him in check so Stephon Tuitt and others can't wreak even more havoc.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMichigan tackle Taylor Lewan will have his hands full with Notre Dame's talented defensive line.
Jennings: Left tackle Taylor Lewan on whomever or whatever Notre Dame tries to throw at him. He’s so crucial to Michigan’s offense, and I really don’t see him not dominating any matchup this season. Lewan came back for games like this and matchups like what he’ll have against Tuitt.

Fortuna: I'll say Notre Dame's offensive line against Michigan's defensive line. The Irish have three starters back from last season, along with a very talented center in Nick Martin. One of the reasons they were able to jump out to a 17-point lead in Ann Arbor two years ago was because of their ability to run up the middle, as the Irish averaged six yards per rush on the night. Notre Dame is now in its third straight year of starting Zack Martin and Chris Watt together on the left side, and it has started using pistol packages in 2013 to tailor to the strengths of some of its young backs in hopes of establishing a downhill run game. This is far from a "mismatch," but with Michigan returning just three starters from last season's front seven, and with the teams so evenly matched across the board, I'd say this is where Notre Dame probably has the biggest edge. Conversely, I can't wait to see Tuitt and Lewan go head-to-head. Both will be a lot richer eight months from now.

3. Is there any way this game could one-up the last time these two teams met in the Big House?

Bennett: It's possible that this could be an even better overall game than the one in 2011, just not as flashy. People remember the Michigan comeback and the crazy fourth quarter, but it was a pretty lopsided affair until then. That wild finish was made possible by major defensive breakdowns on both sides, and both teams are much more sound defensively now. I believe these are two legitimate top-15 teams, so we should expect a tight game. The atmosphere won't be quite as special because it won't be the first time under the lights at the Big House. But Notre Dame-Michigan usually finds a way to amaze us.

Jennings: I was on the sideline for the final minutes of that matchup two years ago, and to call the atmosphere electric would still be selling it short. I don’t know if the Wolverines have had a game as exciting since, so I’m going to go with no. I think it’ll be a great game and the fact that it’s the last in Michigan Stadium for the foreseeable future adds a lot. But as far as the plays themselves, jam packed into that short amount of time, I just don’t see that being topped.

Fortuna: I said no to this same question two years ago and was sadly mistaken, so I'll try not to be as definitive in my answer this time around. Whether it was Denard Robinson or Tate Forcier before him, magic seems to always happen in the late moments of this game. I'll just go ahead and make the bold prediction that if Notre Dame takes the lead with 30 seconds remaining this time, its secondary will hold up and secure an Irish win. Like I said, bold.

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