September 3, 2013 at 2:10 am

John Niyo

Notre Dame game is Michigan's golden opportunity at redemption

Michigan's offensive line will be counted on provide enough support for quarterback Devin Gardner to run against Notre Dame when needed. (David Guralnick / Detroit News)

Ann Arbor Taylor Lewan has no interest in playing a game of chicken, even if it was his own coach that hatched this latest quarrel with one of Michigans traditional rivals.

The Wolverines All-America left tackle and offensive captain has little time for bulletin-board material, either. Or the fact that ESPNs College GameDay crew is headed to Michigans campus this week, adding to the considerable hype for Saturday nights showdown with No. 14 Notre Dame.

Its a huge deal, all these things going on, all this exciting stuff, Lewan said Monday, swigging a bottle of water while smartly avoiding any false-start penalties at Michigans weekly news conference. But its not for us. Its for yall. Its for the students. For us, were playing a game on Saturday.

More specifically, Lewan and his fellow offensive linemen are playing a game against one of the nations best defensive fronts, a group that generally made a mess of things for Michigan in last years 13-6 loss to the Fighting Irish.

Denard Robinson and offensive coordinator Al Borges shouldered the blame for much of went wrong in South Bend a year ago, and deservedly so. But shaky pass protection conspired with some questionable play-calling and Robinsons throwing limitations in that game, and the end result was about as ugly as it gets. Robinson tossed four interceptions on four second-quarter throws, as Michigan essentially threw the game away.

We didnt play well, Lewan said. None of us did. So thats unfortunate.

Fortunately, Michigan gets a shot at redemption the rivalrys not going away for a couple more years yet. And for junior quarterback Devin Gardner, there was no hiding his excitement Monday as he talked about getting his turn in the September spotlight.

Its what every quarterback dreams of, being on the big stage and being able to perform like this, said Gardner, who actually led the Wolverines in receiving last year at Notre Dame.

The line forms here

But its also time to see just what Borges new-and-alumni-approved offense really looks like, assuming what we saw Saturday in the 59-9 rout of Central Michigan was a dress rehearsal in full disguise, save for a punt block and a pistol formation or two.

And its in the middle of that offense, right in front of the often-gallivanting Gardner, that the mystery still lies, perhaps, with three new starters in the trenches sandwiched between fifth-year seniors Lewan and Michael Schofield.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke wasnt thrilled with the offensive tempo Saturday, or some of the penalties. But he came away encouraged about the play of his young offensive line.

For the most part, and not entirely obviously, they did a pretty good job, he said. Theyre a pretty stout group, especially the two guards. So, for their first time out there with live bullets, I think they did a good job.

Right guard Kyle Kalis was solid in his debut Saturday against the Chippewas, but that was expected, given the coaching staff wanted to play the highly touted recruit as true freshman last fall. Walk-on Graham Glasgow, a third-year sophomore, appeared to hold his own at left guard, too. But center Jack Miller struggled at times a blown snap count here, a goal-line gaffe there and could be in for a long night Saturday if he doesnt get some help.

At various times Monday, Lewan referred to Notre Dames front seven as good and pretty good and great. No matter where you place them on that X-and-O axis, though, its several adjectives better than last weeks opponent.

Fearsome front

Lewan spends hours poring over game tape each week. And while he insists he treats everyone the same I dont care who Im playing against, I have a job to do, whether its Stephon Tuitt for Notre Dame or Central Michigan, he said Monday its obvious hes a bit better acquainted with this weeks matchup than he was with whats-his-name in the opener.

Tuitt, a defensive end who earned preseason All-America honors, and nose tackle Louis Nix combined for 14 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last season, freeing up the linebackers Manti Teo is gone, but Prince Shembo is back this fall to make plays in Notre Dames 3-4 scheme. Both Tuitt and Nix are likely NFL first-round draft picks, guys that we had some trouble with a year ago, Hoke admits, and a big reason why Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly proudly touts his defense as suffocating.

Tuitt has added 15 pounds since last year, while Nix remains a mammoth obstacle in the middle at nearly 350 pounds with a healthy appetite. When Hokes booster-club comments about Notre Dame chickening out of the rivalry made headlines back in May, Nix responded via Twitter that MeatChicken it sounds like Meechigan, I believe will taste delicious on Sept. 7.

That dinner date is fast approaching. And after feasting on Chips and Owls for an appetizer, everyone sounds hungry for the main course Saturday night.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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