On September 22, under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will welcome the Michigan Wolverines. The Irish have a chance to go 4-0 for the first time in almost a decade.
It has been just as long since the Irish have beaten top 20 teams in consecutive weeks and for the Irish to accomplish this, all they have to do is beat Michigan. Michigan was a preseason top 10 team and is currently ranked #18 after suffering a devastating loss to #1 Alabama. Notre Dame is undefeated and ranked #11 in the country heading into Saturday night's contest.
However, defeating Michigan and containing senior quarterback Denard Robinson has proved to be no easy task. Since becoming Michigan's starting quarterback and a perennial Heisman Trophy hopeful, Robinson has had some of his best moments against Notre Dame. In 2010, at South Bend, Robinson accumulated an astonishing 502 yards of total offense, including the longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history, an 87-yard touchdown run. With only seconds left in the game, Robinson ran in the go-ahead score from two yards out.
In 2011, Notre Dame did an excellent job of containing Robinson and the Michigan offense -- for two quarters. Led by Robinson, late in the third quarter, the Wolverines began their comeback, scoring 21 unanswered points. Just seconds after I had rejoiced at Notre Dame regaining the lead with 30 seconds left, Robinson struck on a 16-yard pass to win the game. Against Notre Dame, Robinson has posted career-highs in passing attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns. Equally as scary were his 258 rushing yards against the Irish in 2010.
If Notre Dame is to be successful, it cannot allow Robinson to control the tempo of the game. The Irish must contain Robinson and the Michigan offense, and they must do so for all four quarters. Against Le'Veon Bell and Michigan State, Notre Dame allowed only 237 yards (50 rushing). Even more telling of the improved Irish defense is the fact that they did not allow Michigan State a single trip to the red zone. Not since Notre Dame's championship season in 1988 have the Irish held their opponents to fewer points through three games -- allowing only 30 in three games. The front seven of Notre Dame will need to continue controlling the line of scrimmage, just as they did against Michigan State, while a secondary riddled with injuries cannot allow Robinson the opportunity to beat them with his arm.
It has been said many times in the past that the best offense is a good defense. But on Saturday, if the Irish offense is to be successful, the defense must be great and Denard Robinson must be stopped.
Nicholas Guerin is a lifelong fan, who has watched Denard Robinson pick his Irish team apart for the last two years. Hopefully this year will tell a much different story.