Here are five keys for No. 8 Notre Dame (5-1) against No. 19 Michigan (5-2) on Saturday (7:30 p.m. EDT on ABC) at Michigan Stadium.
WEATHER THE STORM
The Irish may have to establish the ground game because of the cold, rainy conditions that are expected. Running the football hasn’t been an issue lately for the Irish. Running back Tony Jones Jr. has recorded at least 100 rushing yards in three straight games. Michigan presents a more formidable run defense than that of Notre Dame’s previous three opponents, however. The Wolverines rank No. 30 nationally against the run and No. 14 in total defense. Running back Jafar Armstrong may provide a boost to the Irish ground game. But the junior’s expected workload coming off an abdominal injury remains unknown.
COME OUT FIRING
Brian Kelly is 47-20 as Notre Dame’s head coach and 161-38 for his career when his team scores first (excluding the vacated wins). Jumping out to an early lead in this one quiets the crowd and keeps the Irish from having to air it out in unfavorable conditions. A solid start from the Irish could also quell the momentum obtained by the Wolverines last week. Michigan finally found a rhythm on offense and nearly completed its comeback from a 21-0 first-half deficit at Penn State.
HANDLE THEIR PLAYMAKERS
Michigan wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black and Nico Collins continue to garner projections to be drafted into the NFL, though none of the three leads Michigan in receiving. The Irish will also have to account for sophomore Ronnie Bell, who tops the Wolverines in catches (24) and receiving yards (432). Any of the four receivers could exploit Notre Dame’s situation at field cornerback. Shaun Crawford is expected to play in his first game since suffering a dislocated elbow against Virginia, but he may split time with senior Donte Vaughn and sophomore TaRiq Bracy. The Irish also will need to slow down freshman running back Zach Charbonnet (94 carries, 457 yards, seven touchdowns).
WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE
Ranking No. 1 nationally in turnover margin and tying for first in red zone efficiency has played a role in Notre Dame’s success this season. The Wolverines, meanwhile, are tied for No. 124 in fumbles lost (nine). Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown will try to force the turnover issue by attempting to confuse quarterback Ian Book. Pinpoint accuracy and taking chances down the field may be required from Book at times, but he must take care of the football. He’s thrown just two interceptions this year.
Starting wide receiver Michael Young will reportedly transfer from the Notre Dame program and is not expected to play against Michigan. That means sophomore speedster Braden Lenzy needs to become more than just a niche playmaker for the Irish offense. Notre Dame has lacked a third playmaker in the passing game beyond top receiver Chase Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet. Lenzy is capable of stretching the defense, but he has yet to prove himself as a featured receiver. He may get that chance Saturday evening.