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Friday Six-Pack: Keys To Michigan vs. Notre Dame

Michigan heads to South Bend looking to end their rivalry with Notre Dame on a high note. What are the key match-ups you should be watching?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It pains me to see this rivalry come to an end. Fans on both sides of it have come to terms with its dying importance, but it has still been so damn fun to watch.

We've been spoiled with this rivalry. I was in the nose bleeds of the student section in 2009 when Tate Forcier tore through a Notre Dame defense that gave me just the right dosage of false hope. I was close to the field in 2011 when Michigan managed to lose the game, only to come back and win the game – twice. An idiot sitting in front of me was waving her cheap maize pom-pom around when I inhaled the thing, but I was in such a deep state of bliss that I tossed it aside, forgot about my near death experience and continued celebrating with my roommates.

I was in the press box during last year's game, and although it wasn't quite as exciting as the 2011 contest it was still a fantastic game. The rivalry has been kinder to Wolverines in recent years in spite of Manti Te'o's attempt to make Denard Robinson die a slow death, and we're thankful for that.

But all of that hasn't been enough. Michigan would like to put an exclamation on its recent dominance of the Irish by winning the final battle, and it will if there's any justice in the world.

Here are six match-ups you should be watching as we enter the final chapter of this storied rivalry.

1. Michigan's Front Seven vs. Everett Golson

Everett Golson isn't the same quarterback he was during the Irish's march toward the national title game, and that Golson was still an effective quarterback. The embattled Irish signal caller looks more polished in the pocket and still possesses a impressive arm, but will he look equally impressive when Michigan is doing its best to get into his head?

Speaking of that, will Michigan be able to find a happy place between play-making and discipline? Joe Bolden and Jake Ryan will be called upon to blitz and put pressure on Golson, and they'll need to play with controlled aggression. Turning Golson into a nervous pile of lard will win the game, but letting him escape and find receivers down the field will lose it.

2. Mason Cole and the Michigan Line vs. Elite Talent

True freshman Mason Cole was fantastic against Appalachian State for such a young player, but he was facing a group of undersized and under-recruited Appalachian State defenders. Will he be able to hold up against former four- and five-star recruits with much more experience than himself? This game will measure his readiness for true college football.

And how about Jack Miller? He held up well against Appalachian State's only massive defender, but the opposition will be much more talented this time around. Michigan needs the line as a whole to hold the line and give Devin Gardner time to do what Devin Gardner does best.

3. Devin Funchess vs. Constant Double Teams

Michigan's other Devin is an all-world receiver who's destined for the first round of the NFL draft. Well, he's an all-world receiver who's destined for the first round if he can produce for the remainder of the season, and defenses are going to make him priority number one and two by throwing corners underneath him and safeties over top of him.

Can Devin still get his under the above conditions? Will his receiver buddies be able to pick up the slack if Notre Dame's secondary proves up to the task? Michigan's passing offense promises to be one of the best in the Big Ten if Dennis Norfleet, Amara Darboh and company can make defenses pay for putting too much emphasis on Funchess.

4. Michigan's Secondary vs. Busted Coverage

This is where the game will most likely be won or lost. Michigan is determined to get in receivers' faces and force passers to make tight throws, but we haven't seen them perform press man coverage against talented skill players. Notre Dame won't field its most dangerous wide receiver, but it still has plenty of speed and talent to make Brian Kelly's offense a threat.

My confidence in Michigan's corners has never been higher, so this really boils down to Jeremy Clark and Jarrod WIlson, who will both be forced into man coverage at different times during the game. Will the duo continue to look solid, or will Notre Dame expose a weakness?

5. Devin Gardner vs. Inevitable Pressure

Unlike last year, Notre Dame isn't coming into this contest unaware of Michigan's ability to block anything that comes screaming down the center of the field. The offensive line did show progress during the Appalachian State in this area, but that's Applachian State, not Notre Dame. Can Gardner take advantage of gaps in the Irish back end when they bring overload blitzes, or will he crumble and make another crucial mistake?

6. Jabrill Peppers vs. Jabrill Peppers' Ankle

How fast was your heart racing when you saw Jabrill Peppers limp off of the field last week? Very fast, and that's all because he's capable of taking Michigan's defense to another level. Will he be back to full strength by kickoff? Will the injury linger and bother him during the game? He has the potential to change the game on special teams and is an awesome blitzer from the nickel spot, so it would help Michigan greatly if he's healthy and not showing any signs of pain.



I'm drinking Bell's Two Hearted Ale tomorrow, and I highly recommend that you try it if you haven't already.

Drink up. To hell with Notre Dame.