The showdown in South Bend will feature two storied programs in need of "Big Game" victories. Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr was run out of town (nicely) last year for not being able to beat Ohio State or win bowl games. Charlies Weis and the Irish counted up all of 3 victories last year and lost to most of its rivals (USC, UM, Navy, Purdue, Michigan State).
So as quick and painless as I can make it, here is a preview of the key players and strategies that will impact Saturdays showdown in the shadow of the Golden Dome.
Notre Dame Key Players
Jimmy Clausen (QB): The poster boy for horrendous 2007 season spent all last year with his face being smashed into the ground. Once labeled as a 5 star recruit with an NFL arm, he must prove he can manage the Pro Form offense which has been so ineffective the last 2 years.
Golden Tate (WR): Top hands man for Notre Dame stretched the San Diego State defense last week. If Clausen can connect with Tate on vertically thrown passes, the Irish will have a better chance of resurrecting their pitiful running game.
Brandon Walker (Kicker): Walker has been skewered for his much publicized inability to make a 40 yard field goal. He only made 1 out of 5 from 40+ last year and missed his only attempt versus San Diego State. Saturday's game will not be an offensive shootout and the Irish are bound to need a big kick from Walker.
Michigan Key Players
Terrence Taylor (DT): This former State Champion wrestler has helped Michigan's defense dominate the line of scrimmage against Utah and Miami (OH). If this All Big 10 monster lineman proves unblockable, Notre Dame's running backs will be immobilized.
Donovan Warren (CB): This 5 star recruit has truly lived up to his billing as a do-everything athlete. He is a "ball hawking, run supporting, you-can't-throw-to-one-side-of-the field-because-of-me kind of corner" according to SBN Michigan blogger Maize and Brew. Warren returns punts too - his versatility and speed will be a difference maker when Jimmy Superstar attempts to go down the field.
Jesus, will you please allow these teams to score more than 20 points combined?
Steven Threet (QB): Will he show off his Elite 11 cannon arm? Will his inaccurate throws lead to 3 and outs and turnovers? Will Threet's lack of footspeed (read: legs-stuck-in-concrete slow) continue to hamper Michigan's running game?
Game Strategy Overview
Michigan's defense is the most experienced and talented unit of either team. The UM defense proved that it can manhandle an experienced quarterback (i.e. the 2nd half of the Utah game) and has only allowed 83 yards rushing through two games. Charlie Weis must give Jimmy Clausen time to throw the ball and not allow Michigan's defense to accumulate quarterback pressures and sacks.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Wolverines must not let the team fall in a hole by stringing together multiple first half 3 and outs. The RichRod Spread is not a quick-score offense and a 14 point deficit on the road may be too much to overcome.