Notre Dame faces old rival Michigan today in an important contest for both schools in this very young 2013 season.
It is also the last scheduled game between the two schools at the "big house" in Ann Arbor, Mich. The final game in the current series in next year in South Bend. ND dropped the remaining games in the current series due to commitments to the ACC when it joined that conference last summer. ND must play at least five ACC schools every year so some longtime rivals, who are not members of the ACC, must be dropped. Michigan is the first to go. However, the schools hope to schedule some games later, depending, of course, on their respective league commitments.
Last week ND opened with a 28-6 win over pesky Temple in South Bend. After scoring two quick touchdowns (each drive lasted just three plays), the Irish offense ran out of fuel for some reason.
Tommy Rees, returning as starting quarterback, certainly took advantage of the situation and came up with a record-setting performance. The win also was the 200th in the career of head coach Brian Kelly.
Rees finished the day completing 16 of 23 passes for a career-high 346 yards with three TDs and, most importantly, no turnovers. His pass-efficiency rating was 238.97, more than 100 points above his career mark and more than double his rating for each of his previous five starts.
But the overall performance of the Irish had me unsatisfied. The offense sputtered after those first quick scores, and the defense, which is supposed to be the strong suit of the 2013 team, did not impress. The Irish "D" did come up with some big plays to stop Temple, but some of the stops were with the help of the Owls - overthrown passes, dropped passes, and missed field goals.
My overall rating of the Irish for the day was a C+.
Today the Irish face No. 17 Michigan in a key game. But a loss for either school today will not push them out of the race for a title shot. With this being only the second game of the season, the loser has plenty of chances ahead to get back into the race. But the game is important and it is also for bragging rights among two of the most prominent football programs in the nation.
Michigan comes into the game fresh off a rout of Central Michigan, 59-9. It was the highest scoring game for the Wolveries since 1905. Of course, with all due respect to the Wolveries, Central Michigan is not a powerhouse in football. Also, CM lost two key players before the half QB Cody Kater broke an ankle, and running back Zurlon Tipton broke a clavicle.
The Wolverines are led on offense by QB Devin Gardner and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Michigan used a lot of reserves in the win so it wasn't like they ran the score up.
Michigan leads the series, 23-16-1, with ND winning last year, 13-6.
The game will be televised nationally by ESPN with a 8:10 p.m. start.
IRISH NOTES: Some quick Irish stats from the Temple game. TJ Jones was top receiver, and had a good day, catching six for 138 yards; DaVaris Daniels, was the leader for the day, with three receptions for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Top rusher was Amir Carlisle with seven carries for 68 yards, longest 45; and Carn McDaniel 12 and 65. On defense Dan Fox led the way with 10 tackles followed by Carlo Calabrese with nine.... Last week I said Temple and ND matchup was probably the last regular season game between the schools for awhile. I misspoke. Last weekend while in South Bend I was told Temple and ND will play in Philadelphia in 2014 and Temple will return to South Bend in 2016.... The win was a big one for Kelly. It's his 23rd year of being a head coach and he became the fifth-quickest coach to win his 200th game (200-68-2). Also, on Saturday, ND announced it has extended his contract for another five years .... Earlier this summer Michigan coach Brady Hoke, speaking at a Wolverine gathering, said ND was "chickening out" of its series with Michigan. As I mentioned in the beginning, ND is dropping the Wolverines due to ACC commitments. Kelly and staff have certainly used the comment by Hoke during practice this week to fire up the team.... Look for Kyle Brindza to take over all punting, kickoffs and placekicking duties this week from fifth-year senior Nick Tausch. Tausch might still get some chances for extra-points .... Temple managed 362 total yards on offense, with over 200 coming in the first half. ND adjusted in the second half, however, with the Owls' first six second half possessions ending in three punts, two turnovers on downs, and a fumble. But Temple's 134 rushing and 228 passing yards should concern the Irish staff.... Freshman quarterback Malik Zaire, ND's No. 3 option, has not been practicing for the past three weeks recovering from mononucleosis. He still has not been cleared to resume practice by team doctors. The third QB now is Luke Masa, a QB turned receiver, now back at QB .... ND dropped in the AP poll from 12 to 14th, but moved up to 11th in the coaches' poll .... Kelly isn't afraid to play freshmen. Ten got in last week's game and the coach said he may get some more in this week ....ND's roster this year has some well known names associated with it. Austin Collinsworth, a safety, is son of NBC Sunday Night Football broadcaster, Chris Collinsworth; Corey Robinson, wide receiver, is son of NBA great David Robinson; Torii Hunter, wide receiver, is son of Detroit Tigers All Star outfielder Torii Hunter; and Jesse Bongiovi, cornerback, is son of rock star Jon Bon Jovi. Collinsworth is a senior, the other three are freshmen .... In my preseason picks I have Michigan winning tonight. I will stick with that prediction. ND's defense was a disappointment last week and the offense needs work. Playing before a hostile crowd of about 110,000 is another factor. Michigan is a four point favorite. I just hope ND keeps it respectable.