SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Too bad this week's Notre Dame vs. Michigan game hasn't had any pregame sniping or frivolous drama.
Saturday's game, which is the final at Michigan Stadium between the two schools before the series goes into hibernation following the 2014 game in South Bend, could be a dandy.
The Fighting Irish enter as the higher-ranked team (they are 14th in the latest Associated Press poll, while Michigan is 17th), but Michigan is listed as a four-point favorite on Bovada, with home field no doubt giving the Wolverines the bump.
Does that mean this one shouldn't even be played? Nope, and here are five things that Notre Dame can do to help its cause.
No. 1: Set the edge, meaning keep Devin Gardner in the pocket
Two years in a row, Denard Robinson torched the Irish—once mainly with his legs and the next year with his arm. During his weekly press conference, Irish coach Brian Kelly raved about the graduated Robinson.
"I can't remember a quarterback that I've coached against in my time that was that electric and dynamic," the fourth-year coach said.
"Having said that, you know, throwing the football, Gardner throws the football with much more accuracy. He pushes the ball down the field very easily. And he certainly scrambles very well, keeps his eyes downfield and is not afraid to run," Kelly continued.
Therein lies the key. Notre Dame has to keep Gardner one-dimensional, and that means containing him to the pocket and not letting him turn almost-sacks into long gains. Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo are ND's best pass-rushers, and while sacks would be nice, keeping Gardner in check could be just as beneficial.
No. 2: Run downhill
One of the benefits of the pistol offense is that ideally running backs aren't as easy to target since they line up directly behind the quarterback.
Notre Dame showed some pistol last weekend, but...
"I think there is more to come. I think we only showed a little bit of it. There were a lot more pieces to it. Today was just a small segment of it," Kelly said after the Temple Game on August 31. "We didn't obviously show a lot of our stuff today, which was our intention. We're happy that we didn't have to put our entire game plan out there for everybody to see. So that was a pretty good deal."
A pretty good deal for the Irish on Saturday night would be to run the clock and silence the loud crowd. The pistol could help them do that.
No. 3: Get your kicks
Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons has made 14 straight field goals. Notre Dame's Kyle Brindza and Nick Tausch each missed a field goal last week.
In a game in which the spread is four points, every point matters. Whoever is lining up for field goals for the Irish must be on.
No. 4: First things first
At the press conference, it was pointed out to Kelly that his team averaged more than 10 yards on first down against Temple. That's one way to take yourself out of 3rd-and-long.
I think we made it pretty clear that first and second down, and particularly throwing the ball on first down, we threw the ball on first down, which changed those numbers dramatically from last year to this year.
We felt like it was important that we threw the ball this year on first and second down, and we'll continue to do that.
No translation is necessary. Expect Tommy Rees to throw on first down.
No. 5: Finish strong
How important, Kelly was asked at the press conference, is a fast start? After addressing that part of it, Kelly was quick to mention that the Irish started strong two years ago in the loss.
"But we didn't finish strong," he said. "I think it's four quarters of winning for us. Get off to a fast start, attention to detail, great effort, and then finish strong. It's going to take four quarters."
In the spirit of Brady Hoke's comments last May, the Irish must, at all costs, avoid laying an egg.
Bob Wieneke covers Notre Dame for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com.
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