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Michigan vs. Notre Dame Preview

September 21, 2012


September 22nd, 2012 – 7:30pm

Network: NBC

South Bend, IN

Song of the week:

It’s a typical situation in these typical times
Too many choices, hey yeah
It’s a typical situation in these typical times
Too many choices ell

– Dave Matthews Band “Typical Situation”

Names To Know

1. Everett Golson (QB #5) – Despite the return of last year’s starter Tommy Rees, Brian Kelly has decided to go with sophomore Everett Golson as his starter for 2012.  Rees was suspended for the first game of the year for an off the field incident and though he engineered the game winning drive against Purdue in a game in which the Irish offense struggled, Golson has continued to hold the starting spot.   Golson has been solid, but not spectacular through three games, throwing 3 TDs and averaging just over 200 yards per game.  He struggled last week against Michigan State, completing less than 50% of his passes.  Golson is supposed to add a running threat to the Irish attack, but through three games we haven’t seen much of it.  It could be an opportunity for Notre Dame to try somethings with him.

2. Manti T’eo (LB #5) – Notre Dame has its first Top 20 defense in over a decade, and a big reason for it is senior preseason All-American linebacker Manti T’eo.  T’eo is one of the best linebackers in the country with a ton of experience – he’s started every game since early in his freshman year.  He’s coming off a 12 tackle performance against MSU that earned him the Walter Camp Player of the Week Award and is playing like the 2013 1st Round NFL Draft pick everyone expects him to.  When Fitzgerald Toussaint has trouble running the ball or Denard doesn’t have time to pass on his rollouts, chances are #5 will be the reason.  There is no good way to neutralize him, the only hope is to take advantage of where he isn’t.

3. Cierre Wood (RB #20) – Last year Wood torched Michigan for 134 yards on the ground on 25 carries.  He was a big part of the reason Michigan entered the 4th quarter trailing by 17.  Coming off of a 1,000 yard season, Wood started 2012 suspended.  He came back last week to pick up 56 yards on 10 carries against a supposedly excellent Michigan State defense.  With no big time receiving threats Wood will be expected to carry a big part of the load on Saturday.  Factor in that Michigan got shredded by Alabama and Air Force on the ground and you can fully expect Brian Kelly to run the ball until Michigan proves it can stop it.  The upside for Michigan is that if they can stop Wood chances are they are going to win this game.

Offensive Strength

Through 3 games the Irish are fairly pedestrian in most phases on offense.  They are 65th in passing yards nationally and 69th in rushing yards, and that’s including a 50-10 thumping of Navy.  Despite putting up 20 points last week against MSU, the Irish only managed 300 yards of offense and averaged 3.6 yards per carry.  Against Purdue, they averaged 1.4 yards per carry, but that was without Cierre Wood.  If I’m giving them a strength, it’s the rushing attack, but that’s only because of the return of Cierre Wood and what he did to Michigan last year.

Offensive Weakness

Following the first two games,  you might have been able to label the Notre Dame passing attack a strength, with Golson connecting on passes and racking up yardage.  But after a 14-32 performance against MSU, I’m not sure this passing attack is ready for prime time.  Notre Dame’s best returning receiver is Tight End Tyler Eifert, but he is questionable for Saturday and has only racked up 8 catches so far this year, after a 63 catch 2011.  Michigan will do its best to force a young Golson to throw the ball and rely on his young receivers to make plays.

Defensive Strength

Notre Dame may have the best front 7 we’ll see all year save for Alabama.  Manti T’eo is headed for an All-American season, and he finally has some help.  Defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix III, and Kapron-Lewis Moore absolutely dominated the Michigan State offensive line last week, keeping the Spartans from having time to pass or being able to rush the ball effectively.  The front 7 is leading the way for a defense that is allowing less than 100 yards per game on the ground.  Michigan got a taste of this against Alabama, it will be interesting to see if they have adjusted.

Defensive Weakness

As good as Notre Dame’s front 7 are, their back 4 might be equally as bad.  Notre Dame has been hit by injuries leaving them incredibly inexperienced in the secondary.  Most recently the Irish lost starting safety Jamoris Slaughter for the year.  Replacing Slaughter is converted wide receiver Matthias Farley who didn’t play last year as a freshman.  Rounding out the secondary are junior cornerback Bennett Jackson who started his career as a wide receiver, freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell who was recruited as a running back and senior Zeke Motta – the only member of the secondary with more than 3 career starts.  And as you’ll remember from last year, this wasn’t that good of a unit to begin with anyways.

My Game Expectations

As the song says, this is a typical Michigan/Notre Dame game.  Notre Dame is coming in as the nation’s darling, looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 2002.  They are favored for the 4th year in a row, despite losing the last three and everyone (read, the media) is “hoping” this is the year they get over the hump.  In some ways, they are starting to remind me of the Chicago Cubs, except the part where even opposing fans kind of root for them.  And honestly, I think this game will be a typical Michigan vs. Notre Dame game, coming down to a handful of simple things:

1. Can the Michigan offensive line get a push against this front 7 of Notre Dame in order to move the ball on the ground? Last year Brian Kelly managed to contain Denard Robinson for 3 quarters by controlling the line of scrimmage and keeping Denard, or anyone for that matter, from running.  The Michigan pass protection has been much better this year, but it won’t matter if the Notre Dame defenders don’t respect the run.  Force Notre Dame to respect the run game and Denard will be able to pick apart this secondary all night long.  We have a huge advantage with our receivers matchup against their defensive backs, but we have to be in a position to exploit it.  That means an above average performance from our offensive line.

2. Will Michigan’s defensive line be able to slow down the ND run game.  I’m not impressed by the Notre Dame passing attack at all, and am confident in Greg Mattison’s ability to confuse Everett Golson with multiple looks and defenses.  But none of that matters if we can’t force them into passing situations.  Alabama and Air Force shredded us on the ground, but one was sporting an NFL caliber offensive line and the other ran a gimmicky offense that we didn’t figure out until the last 4 minutes of the game.   Those excuses aside, I’m still concerned about our linebacker play, though I’m feeling better about how the defensive line is progressing.

3. Which team will benefit the most from the turnovers?  In the last two meetings between Michigan and Notre Dame has turned the ball over 8 times  including 3 in the Red Zone alone last year.   So far this year Notre Dame has done a much better job of hanging onto the ball (only 2 turnovers) while Michigan has forced just two meaningless turnovers in three games.  Moreover, the Irish have forced 7 turnovers of their own.  In 2008 Michigan lost because of 6 turnovers and in 2009 and 2010 they won because the Irish couldn’t hold onto the ball.  With potentially windy and rainy conditions for Saturday night, the ball will squirt free at some point – the team that takes advantage is going to win this game.

If you’ve read, listened or watched most pundits this week you’ve heard a lot about how Notre Dame is more motivated after three straight years of last minute losses to Michigan.  I don’t really buy into that argument – its Michigan vs Notre Dame at night in a primetime game.  You don’t need extra motivation for this one.

As for the outcome…as good as the Notre Dame defense might be, I’m not sold on this offense.  20 points in each of the last two weeks  isn’t impressive.  And when you factor in that they haven’t been hampered by turnovers its even more concerning for Irish fans – they just don’t move the ball well.  

For Michigan, my main question mark is whether or not they will finally get over the hump when it comes to playing physical opponents away from the Big House, which have been Denard’s achilles heel (see MSU and Iowa last year).    The difference this year might be the Devin’s (Gardner and Funchess). who are a nightmare matchup for an unproven Notre Dame secondary.  And that’s before we talk about guys like Gallon and Roundtree.  Assuming Michigan can give Denard time, he may finally be in a position to pick a part a secondary.   Unlike last week, where Notre Dame dared MSU to pass, we have the playmakers to make them pay for doing that. That being said, the forecast for windy and rainy weather doesn’t bode well for Denard throwing the ball.  Even though he’s come a long way as a passer, I still expect a couple of head scratcher throws – at least one of which will hurt us.  

Defensively, if Michigan can stop the run, Notre Dame will need help from special teams or Michigan turnovers to score.  Without a go to receiver like Michael Floyd, the Irish just don’t have enough in the passing game – until Everett Golson can prove he has the arm and legs to win games on his own, I’m not buying.  

In the end, Notre Dame is going to win this game with exceptional defense, and Michigan will win with explosive offense.  I’ve seen what Denard Robinson has done to the Irish the last two years (969 yards in two games).  As good as Notre Dame’s improved defense might be, they can’t completely stop that.  And they don’t have the offense to compensate for it. 




**Andrew stepped in for Mike to write this week’s preview as Mike was moving across country.  But Mike still picked the song.  

One Comment leave one →
  1. Dr William Costello permalink
    September 22, 2012 6:02 PM

    Good analysis Andrew.

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