SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame is off to its best start in years, and could find itself ranked among the top 10 teams in the country with a win on Saturday. Problem is, Notre Dame hasn't beat Michigan in the last three years. And more specifically, they haven't beat Denard Robinson.
Robinson's touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree with two seconds left in last year's contest was one of the defining moments of last year's college football season. It was the culmination of one of the wildest quarters of college football in recent memory, and most of it was the product of Robinson's masterful performance.
Notre Dame led 24-7 heading into the fourth quarter but lost the lead with just over a minute remaining. With 30 seconds left, the Irish got the lead back. And then with two seconds left, they lost it.
"I was really, really positive that was the game," running back Cierre Wood said. "But in any game you cant be too sure about anything, you cant take your foot off the gas pedal. Thats what I feel we did, the results were what they were.
"This year, theres gonna be a different outcome."
It's easy to forget just how well Notre Dame played against Michigan for the first three quarters last year. Eight of Michigan's first nine drives ended with a punt or interception, and Robinson was contained, only leading the Wolverines to five first downs on those drives.
But the overall picture of Robinson vs. Notre Dame isn't pretty: He's passed for 562 yards and rushed for 366 in two games -- 928 total yards of offense.
"He can beat you with his arm, he can beat you with his feet, and he's a fast little guy back there," defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. "I feel like if we contain him, and just kinda get him out of his comfort zone, I think we'll be all right."
Robinson's already been muted once this year, but that was by Alabama's incomparable defense. His elusiveness creates plenty of problems, and while he's prone to making a few bad decisions, against Notre Dame last year his scramble-and-heave plays wound up helping more than hurting Michigan's chances.
"He can extend plays, he's a great player," safety Matthias Farley, who will make his first career start Saturday, said. "He's obviously extremely fast, good arm. You can't fall asleepyou gotta play to the whistle the whole time or he'll get you."
But when Robinson's explosiveness is taken out of the equation, he's beatable. That's what Notre Dame did for 45 minutes last year, and that's what they're aiming to do for 60 minutes this year.
"We have to find a way to limit bigchunk plays, just like we have the first few weeks," coach Brian Kelly said."It's about our defense not giving up those big-chunk plays.We gave them up in the running game in year one and we gave them up in the passing game in year two. We have to eliminate and control those big plays that are out there.If we do that, we feel pretty good."
Notre Dame's done well handling a variety of atmospheres in its first three games, from playing overseas against Navy to the home opener against Purdue to a hostile atmosphere at Michigan State. Saturday will have yet another different feel, with the game starting at night and having plenty of hype.
"Everybody and their dog are coming to this game," Lewis-Moore said. "It's going to be an exciting atmosphere, but you can't really get too lost in it and everything.
"It's exciting, but at the same time we gotta focus in. Michigan's had our number the past three years. This is a stepping stone for us and it's a great challenge ahead of us."