Many expected Michigan to have its hands full with Connecticut in the season opener, but the Wolverines were highly impressive in a 30-10 triumph. Rich Rodriguez, the head coach of the Wolverines, needed that victory to quiet the cries of his detractors. He has failed to take Michigan to a bowl game in either of his first two seasons and finished the 2009 campaign with five straight losses to fall to 5-7 overall, including 1-7 in the Big Ten play.
As for Notre Dame, it kicked off the Brian Kelly era in impressive style with a 23-12 triumph over rival Purdue. A proven winner, Kelly resurrected both the Central Michigan and Cincinnati programs, and the fact that he led the Bearcats to a pair of BCS games speaks to his ability. Kelly takes over for Charlie Weis, who failed to elevate Notre Dame back to an elite level.
"Clearly, I was very pleased that we battled for four quarters," said Kelly after the opener. "I told them, if you just give me great effort for four quarters, we'll find a way to get it into the house. Now, we are going to have to get in a little bit more assertively at times, but that's going to come."
Michigan owns a 21-15-1 series edge over Notre Dame, including a thrilling 38-34 victory over the Fighting Irish last season.
A perceived weakness of the Michigan team heading into this season was the quarterback position, as sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson had much to prove. Judging by the opener, the Wolverines are in good hands. Robinson rushed for 197 yards against Connecticut, a school record for a quarterback. He ran for one score, passed for another and finished with 186 yards through the air.
"He threw the ball well, and he made great decisions," said coach Rodriguez of his signal caller. "He was in command, and we ran him. We have other quarterbacks that can play too, but Denard certainly took the lead today and did a great job."
On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan entered this season with few experienced holdovers. The Wolverines gave up a school-worst 393.3 ypg last season and lost its three best defenders. Fortunately, the team's new 3-3-5 set worked extremely well against a UConn team that is expected to challenge for a Big East title.
Michigan allowed 343 total yards, and while the team didn't post a sack and recorded just one takeaway, the fact that it held the Huskies to 4-of-15 success on third down conversion attempts was impressive. As a result, the Huskies had possession of the ball for just over 23 minutes.
"Our guys played hard, and we have to be an active defense," said Rodriguez. "We've got to tackle well, which we did for the most part today. For the most part, I thought our young guys did pretty well for the first time playing."
Not only did Notre Dame enter the opener with a new coach, but there was a new quarterback in place as well. Dayne Crist, a junior, completed 19-of-26 passes against Purdue for 205 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
"I would say that if we were looking at his performance, he played well enough today for us to get a win against a good opponent, but there's great room for improvement," said coach Kelly of Crist. "I think we would probably be in agreement on that."
Standout receiver Michael Floyd made five catches for 82 yards, while stud tight end Kyle Rudolph made five catches as well. Notre Dame finished with 358 yards and 20 first downs, and while the production could have been better, the Irish have to be encouraged by the fact that Crist didn't turn the ball over.
Give credit to the Notre Dame defense, as it allowed just one touchdown to Purdue. The Boilermakers were only able to post 102 rushing yards on 32 carries, and while they did complete 31-of-42 passes, the Irish limited those connections to 220 yards and also recorded a pair of interceptions.
In what figures to be a tight game from start to finish, a narrow edge goes to Notre Dame. Michigan has won some thrillers over the Irish in recent years, and the Fighting Irish will get some revenge.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Notre Dame 27, Michigan 20
September 11th, 3:30 p.m. (et)