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The saying goes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when it comes to Notre Dame and Michigan football, it’s difficult to tell which program began copying the other, as they have battled since 1887.
From an offensive style standpoint, the two national powers have proven over the years that they are each capable of beating opponents in a multitude of manners.
You want power?
How about a dose of Notre Dame’s Jerome Bettis? Or better yet, Michigan’s Ricky Powers, no pun intended.
You want flash?
Nothing is more dazzling than a ‘Rocket’ Ismail kickoff return (Hey Bo, kick it to him again!), with the exception of a diving touchdown catch by Desmond Howard.
Both the 17th-ranked Wolverines (1-0) and 11th-ranked Fighting Irish (1-0) will be capable of throwing the ball all over the place tonight (8 p.m., ESPN) with proven veteran quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Tommy Rees, respectively. However, at their essence, Michigan and Notre Dame want to run the ball at, over, and through opposing defenses. And fourth-year Irish coach Brian Kelly acknowledged that he expects nothing less than that philosophy being implemented by the Wolverines.
“Well, we're built that way,” Kelly said of dealing with Michigan power runners. “You know, we're 250 at middle linebacker, we're not 225. We're 250 at the drop, 250 at the cat. We're 320.
“We're a bigger, physical football team. We prefer that kind of match-up. That doesn't mean it's going to be easier.”
The Irish have been constructed to be versatile from a defensive standpoint. Over the course of a season, Kelly’s guys will have to deal with Midwestern power attacks and West Coast spread schemes. Kelly can’t go find new players for varying opponents, so his defensive starters better be versatile enough to deal with anything.
In the case of Michigan, the Wolverines will utilize multiple players in running the ball, including Gardner. But the two main threats will bring different styles and dangers. Fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint (200 pounds) is a smaller, yet faster back than freshman Derrick Green (240 pounds), and both were used frequently (a combined 25 carries), as Michigan exhibited great balance offensively (242 yards rushing last week and 221 passing) in its season-opening throttling of Central Michigan.
Kelly feels his defense will be prepared for anything.
“You look at our match-up against Stanford, and you look at it even against Pittsburgh last year,” Kelly explained. “(Panther coach Paul Chryst) brought in a Wisconsin-like prototypical kind of offensive structure. Those teams that are big and physical, you know, that's how we're built. We're built for those physical games.
“We played Oklahoma last year when they spread it out and went no back, and I thought we played very well. We can adapt, but we are structured physically to play that style of football.
“We're certainly in a position where we don't feel we go into this week and feel like we're undermanned.”