Most college football coaches, players and fans will echo the same thought about the second week of the season: Every team improves more after its first game than after any other game. This bodes well for both Michigan and Notre Dame, who both won easy opening contests despite committing enough errors to keep their respective coaching staffs busy all week long. Michigan, which won its game against Central Michigan by fifty points, still has plenty of improvements to make on the field, and we'll all be looking for them when they face much stiffer competition in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Secure the Football
A massive victory over a terrible MAC opponent doesn't excuse three turnovers, and it definitely doesn't cover up for Dennis Norfleet's ill-advised attempt at a miraculous scoop on the punt return team. Devin Gardner needs to take care of the football from beginning to end without playing conservatively. This means making the correct pre-snap reads and getting rid of the ball when the defense has him confused post-snap. Notre Dame will show us all if Gardner really is a film junkie or not.
The rest of the team needs to come ready to put the ball on the Michael Hart Points of Pressure. Michigan could've kept Notre Dame from facing a similar beating against Alabama if Denard Robinson would have secured the ball on what looked like Michigan's one great drive against the Irish last year. Neither offense will have its way with the opposing defense this weekend, making ball security extremely important.
Keep the Irish Secondary Honest
We still don't know if Michigan has a legitimate running attack or not, and we might not even know after this weekend. Notre Dame boasts one of the best front sevens in all of college football–so good that many now believe that Al Borges implemented the zone stretch in order to lessen the effects of that front.
The offensive line doesn't have to come out and play its best game of the season. All Kalis, Miller and Glasgow need to do is keep the Irish secondary honest with a merely average rushing attack. Keeping Nix and Tuitt from blowing up every third rushing attempt will allow Devin Gardner more room to work with off of play action. It would also give us all hope for the rest of Michigan's schedule, which doesn't show another front seven quite like Notre Dame's.
Give Gardner Options
This team's lack of great options on the outside has been documented time and time again over the past two seasons, but there's no better time than now for someone to step up. Jehu Chesson, who has received more and more hype over the course of the offseason, needs to show up. The coaching staff has lauded his ability to stretch defenses–something that Michigan desperately needs him to do this Saturday.
Devin Funchess and Drew Dileo aren't off the hook, either. Funchess' hype train dwarfs Chesson's, and although Funchess hasn't let us all down, he still hasn't proved himself worthy of the hype. Dileo needs to tap into the same Dileo who found space to work with against Michigan State in 2012.
Force the Issue on Defense
Michigan will win this game if it wins the turnover battle, and its facing a quarterback who tends to make the occasional head-scratching mistake. Forcing Rees into turnovers might be a bit more difficult without Jordan Kovacs barking orders in the secondary, and it doesn't help that his two replacements–Michigan still can't decide between Courtnery Avery and Jarrod Wilson–both suffer from a lack of experience at the position. Courtney Avery should be able to go against the Irish, which could prevent the missed assignments we saw from Wilson in the home opener.
The defense needs to cause turnovers, regardless of who starts beside Thomas Gordon. Defensive end Frank Clark must get to the passer without overrunning his gap responsibility, and players like Cameron Gordon and Jibreel Black need to extend their efforts from the CMU contest. Nothing will cause Notre Dame to cough up the ball like getting to Tommy Rees will, and I don't see Michigan winning without forcing at least one Irish mishap.
Again, this game will be won by the team who takes care of the football. Both defenses are good enough to keep their team in the game until the end, and both offenses have question marks that will be answered by the end of the contest. Michigan needs its young interior offensive lineman who play consistently and allow Devin Gardner to work off of play action, while the defense needs to create some turnovers and get better play from whoever starts next to Thomas Gordon. We're all going to learn a lot about this team Saturday night.