Orange Bowl

Game of the Week: Week 2

 
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Rece Davis | ESPN

Regional Rivalry vs. Chickening Out. All of them are fighting words for No. 17 Michigan and No. 14 Notre Dame.

Or perhaps at Notre Dame they are "FIGTHING" words.

Hope you have seen or perhaps snagged one of the souvenir cups from Notre Dame last weekend. Who proofread that? Digger Phelps?

It also looks like a typo that the Irish are making their last scheduled trip to the Big House Saturday night for what's being dubbed "Under the Lights II." I know there are legitimate scheduling difficulties for both sides, but this is a game that needs to be played. Other Irish rivalries might have deeper roots or longer histories, but this game is important in modern-day college football.

Realignment has cost us too many compelling games already. Notre Dame says it's independent, so be independent. Work around your commitments to play ACC teams and get Michigan back on the schedule. Scheduling philosophies will change when the playoff arrives in 2014. Adding the occasional game against Texas (as the Irish will do in 2015) gives Notre Dame a presence and potential recruiting help in all corners of the country. All of these things are fine, but if the ACC agreement didn't keep the Irish from playing the Horns, it shouldn't keep them from playing the Wolverines. Work it out. This rivalry is worth saving.

Generally speaking, it's worth saving. Last year's game is worth losing. Michigan had five consecutive pass attempts intercepted. Think about that. Who does that? How is it possible to have five consecutive passes picked off? The Wolverines turned it over six times in total in the slopfest and still lost by only seven points.

Devin Gardner was Michigan's leading receiver that night -- well, other than Manti Te'o. Saturday, Gardner will be at quarterback with the opportunity for his biggest win. To do that, he'll have to take care of the ball better than his predecessor, Denard Robinson, author of four of those five picks last year to go with a fumble.

Two of the Wolverines' turnovers came in the red zone last year. But since Gardner took over as quarterback after the Nebraska game last season, Michigan has 19 touchdowns in 22 red zone trips. Gardner has rushed for eight of those touchdowns and has yet to turn it over in the red zone.

Taking care of the ball and running wisely will be key for Gardner. The interior of Michigan's offensive line is new. The man who calls himself "Irish Chocolate," Louis Nix III, will test the newbies. He'll likely get considerable middle push at times against Gardner. He'll certainly clog things up in the running game. How well Gardner handles that pressure, particularly in the red zone, will be important for Michigan.

The Irish, meanwhile, got a career-high 346 passing yards from Tommy Rees in Week 1 against Temple. It's the third 300-yard passing day of Rees' career, but his first in a win. One of the others came in the 2011 loss to Michigan.

Rees looked the part of veteran quarterback against the Owls. He used a variety of targets and threw the deep ball well. Rees' seven completions on passes that traveled 20 yards or more in the air are the most for an Irish QB since Jimmy Clausen's seven such completions four years ago. Michigan allowed the second-fewest number of 20-yard passes last season. Notre Dame will test Michigan down the field anyway.

One big edge for the Wolverines is at kicker. Brendan Gibbons hasn't missed a field goal since Oct. 6 of last year, a streak of 14 straight. Notre Dame missed two last week. This game has come down to late field goals before. So if this rivalry is going to close after next year's match, why not make the swan song in the Big House a classic of which the late, great Harry Oliver or Remy Hamilton would be proud?

I don't get the same feeling about the Florida-Miami matchup, although logic would say the two schools ought to play more often. This game will be a proving ground for both teams.

No. 12 Florida didn't have a play longer than 29 yards in the opener against Toledo. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said explosive plays aren't a priority for him right now. Miami quarterback Stephen Morris, though, can generate big plays and quick scores. The question is if he can do it against the Gators' defense. If he does, asking the Gators to nibble away at yardage rather than bite off chunks could make for a tight finish.

Like you, I get a little tired of the conference comparisons. There are too many variables to make it completely accurate. But this is another huge opportunity for the ACC. If Miami can follow Clemson and defend home turf against an SEC juggernaut, the ACC could have itself set up for a banner year.

Speaking of the Tigers, the team they beat in Week 1 has another huge matchup this Saturday.

No. 11 Georgia's season doesn't come down to beating No. 6 South Carolina. It just seems that way. Many are quick to dial up the Dawgs' losses to Boise State and South Carolina before rallying to make the SEC championship game two years ago in an effort to counter those saying Georgia's season is ruined with a loss this week. Even last year, the Dawgs got clobbered by Cocky but pushed Alabama to the brink in the SEC title game. But things are different this year.

First, the schedule works for South Carolina. It doesn't play Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M or Ole Miss from the West. Georgia has LSU in addition to their SEC East foes. Plus, Georgia spent the whole offseason stewing over the 5 yards that separated them from the BCS title game. To have that goal ripped away in two weeks would be gut-wrenching.

Georgia needs to cut out the penalties this week. Six drives against Clemson included flags. Georgia failed to score on four of those drives.

The Dawgs also had some protection issues against the Tigers. Now South Carolina and Jadeveon Clowney roll in, and he's probably out to prove a point after being called out for his lackluster performance against North Carolina. Clowney has flat wrecked Georgia the past two years. Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo joked that maybe "The Longest Yard" treatment was the best way to slow down the Gamecocks' "Freak."

But Bobo's serious plan is realizing Clowney will impact the game. The Dawgs can't let a bad play turn into a catastrophe. Funny, that could mirror the theme for the start of Georgia's season.

 

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