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Hefferon: No place to hide in Michigan Stadium (Sept. 6)

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The dress rehearsal went off smoothly enough. Some bumps here, some early kinks to work out there.
But Saturday night, the curtain will truly rise on the 2013 Irish. And if past trips to Ann Arbor are any indication, some theatrics will probably ensue.

The Big House will be packed, and the bright lights will be on once again. Two years ago, they were turned on in Michigan Stadium for the first time, and most of the Midwest turned out for the show.

Those lights will expose Brian Kelly’s squad, one way or another. They got the compulsory result against Temple, but the process could use some work. The offense showed its ability to hit home runs, but its stable of running backs struggled at times to grind out yards.

The defense is as deep as it has ever been but showed some rust at every level last week. And the kicking game is still a Touchdown Jesus-sized question mark, which is exactly the opposite of what you want in a hostile, primetime environment.

The opponent will be ready and pose a challenge that will give the Irish everything they can handle. Vegas has the Wolverines as three-and-a-half point favorites, which by the standard bettor’s rule of thumb for home field advantage (part of any good Irish Catholic education), means these teams are about as even as they come.

Career antagonist Denard Robinson was vanquished in his final act last year, but now Michigan returns with Devin Gardner, who can run nearly as well as Robinson – and can actually throw the ball, too.

Michigan’s defense has several new faces and will attack the Irish in ways they haven’t seen before, forcing Rees and new play-caller Chuck Martin to adjust on the fly. And even if Notre Dame can handle the 11 Wolverines on the field, there will still be over 100,000 of them to deal with in the stands.

Most of the focus this week has been on how to classify the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry, or whether it is even a rivalry at all. (It is a rivalry, and it’s one of Notre Dame’s top two. Moving on.)
But it doesn’t matter if Saturday is Notre Dame’s last trip to the Big House, what the history of the two schools is, or who is chickening out of what. Saturday’s game matters – not because of the series’ past or future – because it’s all about this year.

Can the Irish offense take care of the football? Can the defense contain an explosive dual threat? And can this year’s Irish squad show that last season’s success was no fluke?

We’ll get those answers Saturday, in Notre Dame’s first big opportunity of the year to show what it can be.
‘GameDay’ and the ESPN cameras will be out in Ann Arbor. A small country will be packed in the stands. A top-20 opponent will be waiting on the field. And those lights, exposing and illuminating, will be shined down on the Irish once again.

It’s showtime.

Contact Jack Hefferon at [email protected] The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.