Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Michigan vs. Notre Dame 2013: NFL Draft watch notes for Saturday's game

Saturday night marks the last time Michigan and Notre will play at the Big House for the foreseeable future. The two teams will not be continuing with the storied rivalry as the Irish move towards a more ACC-centric schedule in the future.

Both Michigan and Notre Dame have BCS aspirations this season, but they also both have a lot of NFL talent on their respective rosters. The Irish have a maturing defense that is anchored by a few potential first-round picks, while the Wolverines' quarterback is oozing potential and is protected by a potential bookend tackle.

Notre Dame at Michigan, 8 ET, ESPN

When Notre Dame has the football

The Irish don't have a ton of eligible NFL talent on offense. Tackle Zack Martin is the player to watch, though. He looked improved in Week 1, but that was against Temple. Now he has a chance to prove himself on a bigger stage. Martin is a potential top 50 pick.

The question for Notre Dame on Saturday night, and throughout the season, will be how effective Tommy Reese can be leading the offense. He hasn't shown any NFL potential thus far in his career, but the Irish offense looked explosive in Week 1. Wide receiver T.J. Jones and running back George Atkinson may have the most NFL potential on the offense. Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels and tight end Troy Niklas, both juniors flashed big play potential a week ago.

Michigan's defense does not boast any NFL Draft prospects of note.

When Michigan has the football

The real treat for NFL Draft fans will come when the Wolverines are on offense. Junior quarterback Devin Gardner has drawn considerable buzz heading into the season. He puts quite a bit of velocity on his passes and has the athleticism to turn heads in the pre-draft process. Can he start to show the ability to go through reads and make smart decisions with the football?

The matchup most will be watching will be Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan against whichever Notre Dame defensive lineman he lines up against. The Irish's 3-4 defensive front could cause some issues for Lewan, who has struggled in the past with quick interior rushers. Notre Dame has one of the nation's best in that area. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt has outstanding length to match his athleticism and quickness and will cause all sorts of issues for Lewan if he matches up with him.

Notre Dame's best defensive lineman is nose tackle Louis Nix. The Vince Wilfork comparison has been thrown out there, and Nix lives up to that praise. He's a massive body on the inside with the quick first step and active hands to be as dangerous rushing the passer as he is plugging gaps against the run. Michigan may not have an answer for him. Last week, Nix showed his biggest flaw, which is his ability to let his emotions get the better of him. The emotion is what makes him such an effective player, but he needs to keep it in check to maintain his discipline.

The Irish defense runs deeper than the line of scrimmage, though. Linebacker Prince Shembo has NFL potential if he continues to develop as a senior. Cornerback Bennett Jackson had a strong showing against Temple last week, flashing the ability to close on the football in a hurry and get physical in coverage when needed. He's a riser to watch out for on Saturday night.

Question of the night

How will Michigan handle the Notre Dame defensive line?

Everyone will be watching Lewan, and rightfully so, but the Irish have more talent than Lewan can block alone. Right tackle Michael Schofield will have to do his part. More importantly, the interior of Michigan's offensive line will have to rise to the challenge. Gardner faces a tough secondary and may not have much time to throw. How will he handle his first big test?

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