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OFD Game Day Countdown: Notre Dame vs. Michigan

Breaking down the Under the Lights II smash of the titans with the all-time winning percentage on the line.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame (+3.5) at Michigan

Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Kickoff: 8:00 PM ET

Television: ESPN

Series: 23-16-1 Michigan

Here is the One Foot Down preview of the season's first road game.

5 Factoids

  • 10

This is the amount of running backs we could see on Saturday for both teams. Against Temple the Irish gave carries to Carlisle, Atkinson, McDaniel, Bryant, and Folston while Michigan gave carries to 6 running backs. However, backup Wolverine tailback Drake Johnson is out for the season after suffering a knee injury. That has moved true freshman Derrick Green into the backup position behind Fitzgerald Toussaint while junior Thomas Rawls, freshman DeVeon Smith, and sophomore Justice Hayes round out the group. Last week the Irish running backs totaled 193 yards at 5.6 per rush while the Michigan running backs totaled 155 yards at 4.0 per rush.

  • 4.5%

This is the interception percentage in Devin Gardner's career in comparison to Tommy Rees' 3.6 percent. It's an interesting stat since we'll mostly hear in the build up to this game how turnover prone Rees has been in his career. In all 5 starts last year Gardner threw an interception and he began 2013 with 2 more interceptions on just 15 attempts. Gardner is very talented but it's important to remember he's still very inexperienced as a passer.

  • 32.5

That's the average points scored by Notre Dame in their last two visits to the Big House, both losses. Prior to the 2009 visit the Irish had only scored 30+ points once in the previous 18 games at Michigan Stadium and that was during the classic No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in 1943 won by Frank Leahy and Notre Dame.

  • 15-0

Michigan has not a lost a home game under Brady Hoke going a perfect 15-0 at the Big House since the beginning of 2011. The 7 losses by Hoke while at Michigan have been on the road at Michigan State, Iowa, Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State plus a bowl loss to South Carolina and neutral site loss to Alabama.

  • 16

This is the total number of turnovers for both teams in the last two meetings between Notre Dame and Michigan. Two years ago the Irish threw 2 interceptions and lost 3 fumbles while Michigan tossed 3 interceptions. Last year Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson threw 2 early interceptions while the Wolverines tossed 5 interceptions and lost 1 fumble.

4 Players to Watch

  • QB Devin Gardner

He is the X-factor. If the redshirt junior plays well Michigan will be tough to beat but if he struggles the Wolverine offense could crumple. His Heisman hype may be a little much but he has scored 21 touchdowns (12 passing, 9 rushing) in 6 career starts which is nothing to scoff at. There aren't as many called run plays as there were with Denard Robinson (although watch out for the play-action naked bootleg) but Gardner is a great athlete and a great improvisational runner. He's a fairly accurate passer with a strong arm yet is still pretty inconsistent, especially when pressured.

  • WR Jeremy Gallon

The 5'8" fifth-year senior has emerged as the favorite target of Gardner and is coming off a 2012 season in which he led Michigan in receptions (49) and yards (829). As you would expect, he's shifty and quick due to his size and he's also thrived under the Robinson/Gardner offense(s) when the play breaks down and the quarterbacks buy time to throw down field. He's not your typical number one receiver but he's dangerous in his own right.

  • OLB James Ross III

Michigan fans are expecting BIG things out of the true sophomore. He only tallied 3 tackles (with 0.5 for loss) against Central Michigan but didn't play a ton of minutes in the blowout. As a true freshman he put up a solid 36 tackles with 2.5 for loss and will be looked at to be one of Michigan's top playmakers on defense with Jake Ryan recovering from knee surgery. At 6-1, 220 he's not very big but he plays bigger than his size and has really good speed. He'll definitely be used as a weapon to disrupt Tommy Rees and slow down the Irish running game.

  • S Thomas Gordon

The Michigan safety position was a little unsettled in their opener as the team searched for a new starter throughout the off-season and really didn't come away with a definitive answer. Gordon (returning starter at strong saftey) was suspended due to a violation of team rules, and Courtney Avery (moved from corner) won the free safety position but was out with arthroscopic knee surgery. Avery may play on Saturday and Gordon will be back after totaling 81 tackles and 2 interceptions last season.

3 Concerns

  • Turnovers

Now more than ever. Sweet Queen of Victory, now more than ever.

  • Containing Gardner

See pburns' post Keeping Gardner Planted.

  • Matching Mattison's Moves

MIchigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has done a pretty incredible job turning around the Wolverine defense from their horrific Rich Rod days. He does receive some credit for holding the Irish to just 239 total yards and 4.78 YPP last season, although that was against perhaps the most conservative offensive play-calling of the Brian Kelly era. Two years ago, despite the turnovers, Notre Dame did pile up 513 yards and 7.1 YPP.

Mattison and Michigan have recruited well although they're still shaking off the Rich Rod veterans and relying on some young talent. Mattison typically gets more out of his talent so we'll see what moves he makes on Saturday.

2 Sides of the Line

Michigan was dangerously close to returning only 1 offensive lineman for 2013 but Taylor Lewan (6-8, 315) decided to pass up a 1st round grade in the NFL Draft and return at left tackle for a fifth season. At the other tackle spot UM brings back the steady and reliable fifth-year senior Michael Schofield (6-7, 304) to form nice end-caps on the line.

All of the players on the interior are first time starters including redshirt sophomore left guard Graham Glasgow (6-6, 303), redshirt sophomore center Jack Miller (6-4, 290), and redshirt freshman right guard Kyle Kalis (6-5, 302). Michigan fans like this interior a lot more than last year's unit---because which fan base doesn't say these things---but after Lewan and Schofield's showing against the Irish last year there should be plenty of concern in the middle with this entire unit.

On the defensive line the Wolverines return only one starter from 2012 in fifth-year senior nose guard Quinton Washington (6-4, 301) who had a decent season last fall (32 tackles, 3 for loss) but has not quite lived up to expectations through three seasons in Ann Arbor. Backing up Washington you can expect Ondre Pipkins (6-3, 315) to see a lot of time after the sophomore saw some action in 2012. Pipkins is the highest rated recruit on the entire line.

At the other tackle position senior Jibreel Black (6-2, 278) has had a nice career so far and looks to step up as a full-time starter. Redshirt freshman Chris Worlmey (6-4, 289) offers some nice depth at defensive tackle.

Michigan can use as many as 6 defensive ends and have nice depth here although they like the weak-side much more than the strong-side. At WDE junior Frank Clark (6-2, 273) is starting and was a pretty explosive backup last year with 9 tackles for loss. True sophomore Mario Ojemudia (6-3, 250) has a lot of potential and played a little bit in 2012, while true freshman Taco Charlton (6-6, 270) could get in the mix as well. At the strong-side redshirt sophomore Keith Heitzman (6-3, 280) is in the mix with redshirt freshman Matthew Godin (6-6, 280) and redshirt freshman Tom Stroebel (6-6, 265).

1 Prediction

It feels like for at least the past half decade Notre Dame has come into this game with "better" talent. Yet, it's resulted in only a 2-3 record versus Michigan since 2008. Okay, losing 3 out of 5 isn't that bad but it is when you think you should win---if not every time at least a majority of the time---and with all three of those losses being of the insane/unbelievable/ridiculous/soul-crushing variety. Is Michigan coming into this game feeling that way after last year's clown show in South Bend?

Football Outsiders' Advanced State Week Two

FEI 9 21
GE 26 8
S&P 6 19
S&P O 2 18
S&P D 62 27
F/+ 8 20

Weird things happen in Ann Arbor when the Irish show up---and it's usually not in Notre Dame's favor. Just like the Big House has been a consistent vexing force in recent times yet again the Irish travel north with what looks like a stronger team. No, Notre Dame is not favored for the first time since 2008 but you can throw the spread out when these teams get together as the underdog has covered in 20 out of the last 24 meetings.

I really don't have much more to say. If we compare units and matchups in this game I think Notre Dame has a distinct advantage, especially where it matters most in the trenches. I have a lot more faith in Notre Dame's ability to run the ball, stop the run, and protect the quarterback. I'd have a lot of faith in the Irish getting after Devin Gardner but he's a great athlete who can make plays by himself and escape pressure.

And that's just it. If Gardner plays just okay and isn't Devin the Darkhorse Heisman Candidate I don't see how Michigan wins this game. I think Notre Dame can win if Tommy Rees plays okay. Too simplistic?

This one should be a little more high scoring than expected.

Notre Dame 31

Michigan 28