Sports Talk

Game day: No. 11 Notre Dame vs. No. 18 Michigan

It’s a big day for the Fighting Irish.

We’ll be with you every step of the way tonight, hosting the live blog with some special guests from The Observer (Notre Dame’s school newspaper) sports team. Until then, let’s go over some final questions I’ve been thinking about as the No. 11 Irish go through final preparations before taking on No. 18 Michigan tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC (and NBCSports.com).

Will the field hold up?

There’s been rain in South Bend already today and it’s cold and windy. Will the much debated natural turf inside Notre Dame Stadium hold up under these conditions? A quick look at the Stadium Cam doesn’t show you much, but the field looks in good enough shape from the top of the press box. Whether we see divots flying while the Irish defenders chase Denard Robinson remains to be seen.

Can Notre Dame play well in back-to-back big games against premiere opponents?

Forgetting the first seven seconds, the Irish handled their business and played solid football against Michigan State last week. It was a stern test and the Irish passed it with all eyes on them. Can Notre Dame do it again? It’s been a full calendar year since the Irish played well at home (against a good team). With a hyped up crowd will the Irish play up to the hype of the game?

Will Notre Dame limit Michigan’s big play capability?

The Wolverines rely on the big play to power their offense. Last year was a perfect example, with the Wolverines rallying back in the fourth quarter thanks to defensive breakdowns and big plays down the field. Of course, the Irish can’t give up 31 yards a reception again. But can they limit what the Wolverines want to do down field with Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess? Can they contain Denard Robinson and keep him from ripping off 20+ yard runs?

If the Irish defense can do that, Notre Dame will walk out of the stadium 4-0.

Will the Irish offensive line dominate the line of scrimmage?

It’s been a slow start for the right side of the Notre Dame offensive line, with new starters Mike Golic and Christian Lombard playing some uneven football. But against the undermanned front four of Michigan, the offensive line needs to dominate the line of scrimmage. There’s no need to put this game on quarterback Everett Golson. It should be won on the backs of Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson. After putting together a clutch drive at the end of the game to ice it, the Irish need to build on that momentum and seize control of the game early up front.

Can Greg Mattison force Everett Golson to turn the football over?

Notre Dame fans have seen plenty of Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. And while his defense has been slow to start, don’t expect the Wolverines to sit back and play reactive defense. It’s not a matter of if Mattison will blitz Golson, but how much. Can the veteran coach trick the Irish’s young quarterback into making some bad decisions with the football and forcing some throws into coverage?

So far, Golson has been strong with his decision making. Tonight, if he can stay clean in the passing game, the Irish should be just fine.

Can the Irish front seven collapse the pocket and suffocate Denard Robinson?

It’ll be hard for Denard Robinson to beat Notre Dame if he can’t find anywhere to run. Can Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, and Kapron Lewis-Moore collapse the pocket and make it hard on Robinson to find daylight? With Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams fly off the edge and wreak havoc? Will Manti Te’o, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese finish tackles like last week?

It’s going to take relentless pursuit to bring down Robinson and the Irish will have their chances. If Notre Dame can blow up the line of scrimmage and beat Michigan up front, it could be a long day for Robinson.