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Michigan v. Notre Dame Preview

September 9, 2011

 

Quote That Most Represents This Game
“Feel it comin’ in the air, and the screams from everywhere
I’m addicted to the thrill, it’s a dangerous love affair
Can’t be scared when it goes down, got a problem tell me now
Only thing that’s on my mind, is who’s gonna run this town tonight?

— Rihanna & Jay-Z, song “Run This Town”


Names To Know

1. Michael Floyd (WR #3) — Floyd is a beast and will be an early-round NFL draft pick.  He beat Donovan Warren for 120+ yards a couple touchdowns in 2009 and would’ve got more than the five catches for 66 yards in 2010 if Notre Dame wasn’t rotating in walkons and other guys with no experience at quarterback. Troy Woolfolk and his bionic ankle are going to have a serious test this week. I’ll be happy if Floyd gets less than 10 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown.

2. Manti Te’o (LB #5) —  Another player who will be an early round NFL draft pick when he leaves Notre Dame.  Te’o is the best player on their defense and will be the guy they use to slow down Denard.  Te’o is susceptible to being beaten, which is evident when you watch Denard’s 80-yard touchdown run in 2010. During that play, Patrick Omameh runs Te’o 10 yards back and pushes him into the safety, thus opening the hole for Denard to score.  We can’t expect that too often though, so we will need guys like Kevin Koger to keep Te’o honest in the passing game so he can’t just focus on Denard and the running backs.

3. Tommy Crist (QB #21) — This is the name/number I’ve given the two-headed-quarterback-disaster that Notre Dame is facing this week between #11 Tommy Rees and #10 Dayne Crist.  If you’ve read anything this week, you know the Irish are facing a QB controversy that almost caused Brian Kelly to look like he’d been out in the sun too long last weekend.  Crist won the starting job with solid play in the Spring and Fall camps.  He promptly lost that job after 2 quarters of indecisive play against South Florida. Rees led Notre Dame to four consecutive wins last year after Crist got hurt, and got them within a couple of points of South Florida after he was put in the game, even though he did throw two interceptions that ultimately cost them a chance at winning.  We will see Rees take the first snaps this week as the “starter,” but any errors and we might see Kelly take them to the sideline to Rochambeau for the job, and I’m not sure if that would be the traditional version, or the South Park one…

Offensive Strength
As with last week against Western Michigan, the Notre Dame strength is their passing attack.  It didn’t look like it last week against South Florida when the quarterbacks threw 4 interceptions, but it will be a tough attack for Michigan to stop. Kelly’s offense is based on quick tempo and getting the ball out fast.  Alex Carder was able to do this early and allow Jordan White to have an All-American-like game.  With Michael Floyd on the receiving end, along with very good athletes Theo Riddick and TJ Jones to compliment him along with tight end Tyler Eifert, we will really get to see if our secondary has improved this year.
 
Offensive Weakness
This will seem contradictory to the last section, but the weakness of the Notre Dame offense is clearly their quarterback situation.  The passing attack is by far the strength of this team, but it only will be as good as the quarterbacks play, and last week they did not play well.  They got a lot of yards, but the end result was four interceptions, a loss, and a four-alarm controversy heading into a big rivalry game.  Crist has the measurables, but Rees makes plays on Saturdays.  Crist dominated Michigan early in the game last year, but Rees gets the start this week, which could make people question Kelly’s decision if things start going wrong.  This is the key factor to watch this week and will ultimately determine the outcome, in my opinion.
 
Defensive Strength

 

When you have a guy like Manti Te’o on the field, that unit is going to be your strength. Te’o had ~130 tackles last season and is on track to have the same number this year. He disrupts plays, and makes people pay when he lines them up for a hit.  In the 3-4 defense that Notre Dame runs, the linebackers are critical, and along with Te’o they also have three other guys right around 250 lbs in Prince Shembo, Darius Fleming, and Dan Fox that will show us how good our running game will be for the rest of the season.
 
Defensive Weakness
Watching parts of the South Florida game last week it looked like the Irish secondary was having some trouble.  BJ Daniels stats don’t really show it going 18-30 for 128 yards and a TD, but also contributing to that were torrential rains and multiple extended game stoppages.  With four seniors in the defensive backfield, I would expect them to be much better than they looked last week. Michigan may struggle to run this week, so I think they’ll try to attack the corners early to open things up for Denard, Toussaint, Shaw, and the rest of the running backs.
 
My Game Expectations
Such a strange turn of events coming into the first ever night game at The Big House.  In 2009 we saw Michigan play a true freshman quarterback amidst an NCAA investigation and the pressure of coming off the worst season in Michigan history.  Notre Dame came in with the veteran quarterback, explosive playmakers, arrogant head coach, and high expectations that would ultimately fade away when Tate Forcier hit Greg Mathews in the end zone to take the lead with seconds remaining.
 
Last season we went into South Bend with a first year starting Quarterback, images of the previous starter pouting on the bench with a towel of his head, the taste of an epic collapse to end the 2009 season, and a coach on the hottest seat in America. The Irish came in with a hot new coach, another top recruiting class, and their typical high expectations that again ended when Denard Robinson exerted his will to lead Michigan to another last second victory.
 
This year though, Notre Dame comes in with the quarterback controversy, videos of their head-coach F-bombing players on the sideline getting tens-of-thousands of views on YouTube, and a ton of pressure to again live up to the preseason hype. Michigan, on the other hand, comes in with low expectations with people saying the offense and defense are still being implemented by a new coaching staff, the star quarterback will be hampered by playing under center, and the team doesn’t have a star running back to carry the load in the new offense. The expectations are so low, in fact, that Vegas has Notre Dame as a 3.5 point favorite going into the a game where Michigan and their fans will get to experience an electric atmosphere for the first ever nigh game in Ann Arbor.  Is Michigan really that bad where a team we beat two years in a row, one who’s limping into a dark stadium with rabid fans who’ve been counting down to this game for a year, is favored by 3.5 points?
 
We saw six series of offense against Western last week that involved probably 7-10 different plays. I think the coaches are upset they didn’t get more players snaps, but I think they are also happy they didn’t have to show anything on offense before this week. They’re going to open the offense up this week though and I think it’s going to look a lot like it did last season. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to actually see more spread plays than we even saw the previous staff run including speed options and wide receiver “jet” sweeps. We might even see a triple option with Stephen Hopkins, fresh off his suspension for the opener, lining up with Denard and Fitz giving them a threat up the middle or speed option to the outside. Nothing will be saved, so we’ll really be able to judge how the offense will play the rest of the season after this week.
 
On defense, I think the game plan will be exactly what we saw at the end of the Western game. Carder was throwing quick passes and not giving our line time to get any pressure, so Greg Mattison brought out the blitz packages to throw his timing off. Tommy Rees and Dayne Crist have shown they like the quick passes and they’ve shown that pressure can cause them to make mistakes.  We will see a lot of blitzes, and I assume a lot of double-teams on Michael Floyd. It will leave us exposed to give up some big plays, but they won’t sit back and let the QBs build confidence early by connecting on quick passes to move down the field.
 
The combination of a confident team, an electric and historic atmosphere, and going into the game as the underdog according to a lot of people in the media could make Michigan play tight, but I think it has the opposite effect.  The last two have been close, so I see no reason to think this game won’t be a nail biter, but in the end, I think Michigan makes the statement and “runs this town tonight.”

Outcome
Michigan wins 34-31

-Mike Randazzo
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One Comment leave one →
  1. Dr William Costello permalink
    September 9, 2011 11:24 AM

    Mike,

    I am no rapper but I like your twist on this, perhaps, epic game.

    Dr. Costello

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