SOUTH BEND — Finally, after eight months of hype, Notre Dame and Michigan will go at it tonight at Notre Dame Stadium.
2017 was a good year for the Fighting Irish, posting a 10-3 record and a Citrus Bowl victory over LSU. It was a great bounce-back year for Notre Dame, as they had a 4-8 campaign in 2016.
For Michigan, 2017 was a disappointing year. The Wolverines entered the season No. 11 in the preseason polls, but couldn’t live up to those expectations, going 8-5 overall. The inability to defeat the stronger teams has left coach Jim Harbaugh on the hot seat entering his fourth season as the head coach at his alma mater.
This is the first time in four years the Irish and Wolverines have faced off. Michigan leads the all-time head-to-head matchup against Notre Dame, 24-16-1.
The last meeting, however, was all Fighting Irish. Notre Dame shutout Michigan, 31-0, in front of a raucous crowd in South Bend. It was the first time the Wolverines had been shutout since 1984.
Only a few Notre Dame players remain from the 2014 meeting. Linebacker Drue Tranquill was used in speed packages throughout the game. Now, as one of the captains of the Notre Dame team, he knows his responsibilities will be much more in this contest than they were four years ago.
“It’s a little bit different…I just came in on those speed packages to get after it. So, probably a little more detail in my game plan this time around. It should be fun,” Tranquill said.
Another current captain, offensive lineman Alex Bars, was a redshirt freshman on that Irish team. He was on the scout team during practice that week and remembers how demanding the older players were of the younger guys.
“I specifically remember that week … the older guys made sure that we went hard as a scout team to prepare them for that game,” Bars said. “After the game, it obviously paid off, so they were really thankful that we did that. So, I’m telling the scout guys the same thing this week.”
While not suited up for the game, wide receiver Miles Boykin had just committed to playing for the Irish. The Michigan game in 2014 was his first as a commit.
“It was probably my favorite game that I’ve ever been to … my fondest memory of that game was the last play, when they picked it off and returned it back,” Boykin said. “No one cared that they took the touchdown back. I’ve never seen a Notre Dame crowd like that.”
A lot has changed since the last time these two teams met. Harbaugh replaced Brady Hoke, who was the Michigan coach in 2014. Michigan also has a new quarterback for 2018 in Shea Patterson. The junior transferred from Ole Miss, leaving a lot of uncertainty about what type of offense the Wolverines will run.
“I’ve watched a few games on him at Ole Miss. He’s a guy who can scramble to extend plays. He reminds me a little bit of when I watched Johnny Manziel in terms of he’s not looking to run first,” Tranquill said. “He’s looking to scramble, extend the play, and throw the ball down field.”
Michigan’s defense is also stout, as the likes of defensive end Rashan Gary will lead a ferocious defensive attack. Couple that with a Notre Dame defense that returns 10 starters, and it could be a low-scoring battle between the two teams tonight.
“They’ve gotten a lot of the recognition in the preseason, and rightfully so. I think they’ve got a number of elite players on the defensive side of the ball,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said of the Michigan defense. “I’ve got more notes on their defensive line than any group I’ve had. These are really good football players.”
Bringing the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry back has generated a lot of buzz. For guys like Boykin, playing in these types of games is expected when playing for the Fighting Irish.
“It’s huge because you come to Notre Dame to play in games like this. It would’ve been sad if I had come here and not got a chance to play against them,” Boykin said. “We’re definitely excited.”
Austin Hough can be reached at [email protected] or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN
No. 14 Michigan at No. 12 Notre Dame
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: Sunny 101.5 FM
Extra: ESPN’s “College GameDay” will be live on the campus of Notre Dame from 9 a.m.- 12 p.m.