It may not have the pageantry of Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, Miami-Florida State (when both teams are actually competent) to many across the country, but for Michigan and Notre Dame fans alike, this is one of the biggest games on the schedule every season ... where they actually play each other.
After their second bye week of the 2019 season, on top of a fall break for students on campus, the Irish returned back to work for their upcoming encounter against the Wolverines in The Big House on Saturday night in Ann Arbor.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly took to the podium for his weekly press conference before kickoff and heaped praise onto Michigan, along with providing some positive news on the injury front for both the Irish offense and defense.
Here’s some of Kelly’s talking points from Monday’s presser, starting with Michigan’s much-criticized signal-caller: Shea Patterson.
Kelly on Shea Patterson: "Tough, gritty, accurate, can run it. Throws a very catchable football (to) big physical receivers who will go up and get the football for him."— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) October 21, 2019
Patterson’s numbers weren’t completely terrible last season in South Bend against the Irish, throwing 30 times and completing 20 of those attempts for 227 yards, but was constantly under pressure from the Irish front and threw an interception while battling muscle cramps in the 24-17 Notre Dame victory.
Kelly also pinpointed arguably the most important player outside of Patterson for the Michigan offense in wideout Ronnie Bell.
Kelly on WR Ronnie Bell: "He's the playmaker for them. I look to see him have a really big game. He's that kind of player for them."— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) October 21, 2019
Clark Lea’s defense did a fantastic job taking USC star wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. out of the contest in their last game, but Bell’s a stud in his own right. Outside of SC’s wideout group, Notre Dame’s secondary will have their hands full against the Wolverines’ perimeter players at times on Saturday.
Speaking of that Notre Dame secondary ...
Hurray for good injury news!
The Irish have had some much-needed time to lick their wounds and get healthy once more, and accordingly to Kelly on Monday, they’ve done just that on both sides of the ball.
Shaun Crawford, who has a lengthy injury history during his time in South Bend, dislocated his elbow in the Virginia victory, but could make his return to action on Saturday.
Injury updates on Jafar Armstrong and Shaun Crawford:— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) October 21, 2019
"Jafar is going to be an important part of our game plan (at Michigan). It’s a full-go for him."
“Shaun is involved in everything from 7-on-7 to 1-on-1 drills. We expect him to play."
You probably caught the Jafar Armstrong notes in there, didn’t you?
On top of good news for Crawford’s return, Armstrong, who injured his groin all the way back during the Louisville win, hasn’t been himself all season, but now might finally be 100 percent and ready to contribute to a Notre Dame backfield that had a strong performance on the ground before the bye against USC.
The former receiver-turned-running back can be deployed as a versatile weapon for the Irish attack, providing some nice assistance for Tony Jones Jr., who has been a consistent and steady workhorse for the Irish in Armstrong’s absence.
Redshirting note on an Irish DB:
Kelly says CB Donte Vaughn "will be playing against Michigan -- guaranteed."— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) October 21, 2019
Had hoped to redshirt him and bring him back next year.
Taking the crowd out of it
It’s no secret that Notre Dame had their issues in their lone defeat this season against then-No. 3 Georgia with offensive communication, resulting in some costly penalties in the contest.
Kelly said on Monday that those issues have been and will be taken care of this week.
Kelly says offense practiced silent count early last week and will make sure they "don't make the same mistake twice" after struggles with noise at Georgia.— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) October 21, 2019
An easy way to avoid not having to deal with crowd noise from over 111,000 people? Score and score a lot.
Can the Irish #RTDB against the Wolverines?
Former Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand would’ve been proud of the Irish’s efforts up front on the offensive line for their stout run-blocking against USC.
The Irish pounded the ball down the Trojans’ throats to close that win out, but can they replicate that success offensively against one of the nation’s toughest run defenses on Saturday night?
Michigan has only allowed teams to rush for 3.03 yards per carry this season (17th in the nation) and have allowed just 838 yards (31st in the nation) on the ground all season so far.
Simply put, it’s going to be tough to run the damn ball against Michigan.
Kelly on running the ball vs. Michigan DC Don Brown: "There are other ways to win games. We're committed to finding ways to win first. We're going to have to carve out a run game at some time during the game. That's just being persistent, patient." #NotreDame— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) October 21, 2019
Translation: Michigan is tough and physical up front, so some of this game is going to fall on Ian Book’s shoulders, and he’s going to have to make some plays in and outside of the pocket for our team to have some success.
Notre Dame hasn’t won in The Big House since 2005, when the then-No. 20 Irish upset No. 3 Michigan 17-10 in Charlie Weis’ (gasp!) first season at the helm.
So, it’s safe to say that they’re due, right?
If you want to watch Kelly’s presser in full, you can below here: