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Can Notre Dame stop Denard?

The Fighting Irish have a tough task on Saturday night. Dave Miller

Print This September 21, 2012, 10:30 AM EST

Can Arkansas salvage its season under John L. Smith? Why has Wisconsin been slowed offensively? Plus, a look at the Week 4 action as I join David Nuno of Rivals on Yahoo! Sports Radio on Thursday night.

Notre Dame's thorough victory over Michigan State in East Lansing was one of the standout moments in Week 3 of the 2012 college football season.

The victory over the Spartans was Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly's signature win at ND, and it moved the Irish to 3-0 for the first time since 2002.

But Notre Dame has a lot of work to do if it wants to return to the upper echelon of the college football world, and a tough fall slate continues Saturday night against Denard Robinson and Michigan under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium.

The Irish have lost three in a row to the Wolverines, and Robinson has been the single-biggest reason why they have fallen the last two seasons.

In 2010 "Shoelace" accounted for 502 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring the winning touchdown with 27 seconds remaining and breaking off an 87-yard run, which is the longest in Notre Dame Stadium history.

And last fall Robinson helped rally the Wolverines from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 35-31 victory in Ann Arbor. He finished with 446 yards of total offense and four passing touchdowns, including a 16-yarder with two seconds left.

On Saturday night the Irish have to hope that some of the passes Robinson made through the air last season were fluky. While ND's secondary is greener and lacks the depth it had last fall, the unit has held its own thus far this fall. And while Robinson will never be mistaken for a pure passer, especially in this Al Borges offense, he has cast a spell over the ND defense after struggling in the first half of last season's game, when he was just      2-of-9 passing. We just need to go back to last year's game-winning score to see Robinson's magic.

The main concern for Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is making sure that "Shoelace" doesn't have a game like the one he had the last two times these teams have met.

If the Irish buy into the idea that last year's game was an aberration -- getting beat by Robinson through the air -- how can the Irish prevent what happened in South Bend in 2010, when "Shoelace" single-handedly willed the Wolverines to victory? Preventing long runs like these will be a challenge...

Notre Dame's front seven is the best and most physical it's been in well over a decade, led by veteran Manti Te'o and younger players like Stephon Tuitt and Sheldon Day. So getting pressure on Robinson will help when he drops back to pass. But then Diaco's crew will have to deal with a freelancing Robinson, and that is often when he's at his best. Will the season-ending loss of safety Jamoris Slaughter expose the Irish if Robinson gets by the first two levels of the defense? And when Robinson does have time, can he make the plays through the air that he has been unable to make on a consistent basis against other teams?

We'll find out if the Irish can break their losing skid to the Wolverines on Saturday night. And while the play in the trenches will likely dictate the outcome of this one, "Shoelace" will always be the X-Factor no matter which team the Wolverines are playing. But that's especially true against the Irish, which has given up 948 total yards to Robinson in the last two games.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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