This ongoing series examines Notre Dame’s 2014 opponents as they stand after the spring. We’re going down Notre Dame’s schedule, so next up: The Michigan Wolverines.
Date: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Series history: Michigan leads 24-16-1.
Last meeting: 2013 — Michigan won 41-30.
2013 common opponents: Michigan State (Notre Dame W, 17-13; Michigan L, 29-6).
2013 in a nutshell
Michigan erupted on a 5-0 start — including a 41-30 win over Notre Dame at Michigan Stadium — but utterly collapsed after an overtime loss to Penn State in Week 6. The Wolverines lost six of their next eight games, skidding to a disappointing 7-6 record (3-5 in the Big Ten).
Players/positions to watch
- Quarterback: It’s Devin Gardner’s position to lose, but new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier might have other ideas. Gardner was an unfortunate victim in the offensive line’s collapse, and he was forced to throw on the run more often than Michigan would have liked. While Gardner isn’t the ideal fit for Nussmeier’s system, his seniority and proven toughness may cement his status. Challenger (and blue-chip sophomore) Shane Morris didn’t wow anyone during Michigan’s spring game, but he’s a legitimate contender for the starting role.
- Offensive line: Without match, the offensive line was the weakest link in the Michigan chain last season. Behind this line, Michigan managed a paltry 125.6 rushing yards per game — one of the worst team performances in modern history. The Wolverines allowed 36 sacks and ranked a bottom-scraping 113th in tackles for loss. The line will be better under Nussmeier’s direction, mostly because it can’t be much worse.
- Linebacker Jake Ryan: Back from an ACL injury, Ryan factors back into the starting lineup immediately. The to-be senior recorded 16 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three break-ups, and four forced fumbles as a sophomore. Ryan moved to middle linebacker before the spring in a move that head coach Brady Hoke said would allow Ryan “an opportunity to be more prolific for us.”
- Receiver: Like Notre Dame, Michigan has a whole lot of untapped potential on its receiving corps. Receiver/tight end Devin Funchess is the only proven commodity in the mix. He caught 49 passes for 758 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore. Look for the youngsters to separate themselves during pre-season camp.
Unequivocally the biggest game for Notre Dame in 2014. Can the Irish end this series on a high note? Years of bragging rights hinge on this game, especially since no one knows when the Irish and Wolverines will meet again.
The recent history of this matchup has relied on how Michigan’s quarterback performs. In 2012, Denard Robinson tossed four consecutive interceptions en route to a 13-6 loss to the Irish. In 2013, Gardner shredded the Irish secondary with 263 passing yards, 82 rushing yards and five total touchdowns in Michigan’s 41-30 win.
With Hoke’s road record (6-9 in three seasons) and the return of Everett Golson, I like the Irish in this one. Unless Gardner puts on another clinic. Either way, that first Saturday in September should be a spectacle.