For one team tonight, their conference schedule comes to a close. For the other, they’ll be another game away from having decided their fate as it pertains to the playoffs. That’s the scene tonight as Michigan and Notre Dame square off. Each team has playoff hopes tonight, and Michigan needs more help than the Fighting Irish does in order to claim a playoff berth. So let’s examine this.
The Wolverines got their first conference win last week by defeating Penn State by two scores. Receiver Cutter McGillicuddy found himself in contention for player of the week in the win, by recording 10 catches, 144 yards, and a pair of touchdowns. Quarterback Dewey Ainge put up almost 350 yards through the air, and both of his touchdown passes went to McGillicuddy while halfback Adam Croft rattled off three scores of his own. Add on receiver Giorgio Pipino’s propensity for big plays and the contributions of tight end TJ Walker and this offense will make noise.
Defensively, they had some struggles in defending the run, but that’s no surprise. Still, safety Miles Freeman has had several games this season with 10+ tackles, and he recorded 13 last week. Unfortunately, linebacker Jake Lake hasn’t quite had the anticipated season, but defensive end Jay Washington has been a positive contributor in key moments, as he recorded a sack last week. They’ll be tested tonight though.
The Fighting Irish are an even .500 in conference thanks to their squeaky win over Washington a week ago. The raging bull of halfback Joe Pantoja has been on a rampage lately, and his 31 carries a week ago led to 168 yards and a score. Quarterback Leo Asiata, meanwhile, has been the idol of consistency. Rarely does he throw more than one touchdown pass, and he upheld that last week, although he offset it with an interception. Receiver Thaddeus Jefferson’s eight catches took him to 114 yards, but the Irish need that out of guys like Albert Saenz and Alistair Kye too. Jefferson and Ryan Hughes can’t do all the heavy lifting tonight.
Defensively, it’s been a tirade. Defensive end Shane Razorback may not be putting up major stat-lines (although he’s eyeballing the career sack record to be out of reach), but Razorback flies all over the field. Unsung this season has been safety Zeus Williams who has continued to elevate his level of play this season, and has been the beneficiary of the linebacker-esque corner in Tyrell Solo. Watch out Wolverines.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
If I’m Notre Dame, I just let Joe Pantoja go on a rampage. Michigan has been given fits stopping the run this season, and Pantoja is an enraged bull in the Fighting Irish backfield. Dare the Wolverines to slow the powerful runner from getting downhill and see how Michigan feels in the fourth quarter after being punished physically by the Raging Bull.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know if Michigan can nail down the upset, and I certainly don’t believe they can slow down Joe Pantoja. Leo Asiata doesn’t make mistakes, and Michigan has struggled to force mistakes. Add that to some of their offensive struggles, which could be compounded by a fierce Notre Dame defense? I’m taking the Irish to sink Michigan’s playoff hopes tonight.
MICHIGAN 24, NOTRE DAME 31