On Saturday game days, the Big House swells into one of the biggest cities in the state of Michigan. Adding to the excitement, one of the largest crowds in the history of the Wolverines’ home stadium is expected to turn up on Saturday, Sept. 7 for an extremely rare night game against Notre Dame.
College GameDay will be in attendance, as will well over 100,000 fans – not even counting however many thousands more will be tailgating outside. Both Brady Hoke’s Michigan squad and Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish opened the 2013 season with wins, and both will be entering the game ranked within the top 15 of the AP Poll. However, only one will be leaving the Big House with a perfect record intact.
But which one?
Notre Dame rode its vaunted defense all the way to a 12-0 regular season in 2012. The Irish lost captain and interceptions leader Manti Te’o, but defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III still provide a massive pass rush and will stuff the run as well.
Both will have to be on the top of their game in Ann Arbor with senior Devin Gardner finally under center full-time. The ultra-talented, 6-foot-4, 210-pound Detroit native began his career at Michigan as a wide receiver. When star passer Denard Robinson went down with an injury last year, however, Gardner was given his opportunity and has not looked back. He completed 10 of his 15 passing attempts for 162 yards and a score in a 59-9 blowout of Central Michigan in Week 1’s warmup game.
His counterpart on the Irish is another senior in Tommy Rees. Like Gardner, Rees is only now starting full-time under center. After losing the starting job to Everett Golson a year ago, Rees took advantage of Golson’s year-long suspension, throwing for 346 yards and three scores in a Week 1 win over Temple.
Entering the season, there were questions as to who Rees would be throwing to and handing off to after losing star tight end Tyler Eifert, as well as running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. However, senior T.J. Jones stepped up in a huge way against Temple, hauling in six passes for 138 yards. Amir Carlisle only needed seven rushing attempts to pile up 68 yards.
Raymon Taylor led the Wolverines with two interceptions in 2012, and he hauled in his first of the season against Central Michigan on Saturday. Taylor will need to play big on Saturday with the eyes of the nation focused squarely on the evening showdown.
Will he be up to the task? What about his defensive teammates? Will they outplay Rees and his new set of weaponry?
If not, will Gardner be able to find Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo and tight end Devin Funchess enough to keep pace?
The last time these two teams played, in 2011 under the lights, Michigan pulled off one of the craziest, 34-31, victories the Big House has ever hosted.
Can Michigan once again send Notre Dame packing, or will Kelly’s Irish remain undefeated on the new year?
We have no idea, but perhaps you do.