Friday, September 6, 2013

Preview: Michigan vs. Notre Dame

Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

Michigan had a mediocre performance from its running backs last week, when they totaled 38 carries for 155 yards and 4 touchdowns against Central Michigan. The better numbers came from quarterback Devin Gardner (7 carries, 52 yards, 2 touchdowns) and slot receiver Dennis Norfleet, who took a reverse for 38 yards. Michigan ran the zone stretch well last week, but the running between the tackles left something to be desired, partly because of a mediocre interior offensive line. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish have a highly touted front seven, but they allowed 4.6 yards/carry to Temple in their season opener and made just 2 tackles for loss. Junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt (6'6", 312 lbs.) and senior nose tackle Louis Nix III (6'3", 342 lbs.) are the headliners up front. There's no star linebacker this year now that Manti Te'o graduated, but the whole crew is made up of highly recruited high school stars. Michigan's interior linemen are going to struggle getting movement against Nix in the middle, but the Wolverines should have an advantage with All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan on the left side. Backup running back Drake Johnson (2 carries, 9 yards) is out for the year with a torn ACL, but starter Fitzgerald Toussaint and his backups should be able to hold their own in this game. The x-factor in this matchup is Gardner, who can turn passing plays into big runs.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense
Gardner (10/15, 162 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions last week) had an up-and-down performance last week. He took some unwarranted chances, but still ended up with a solid completion percentage and decent yardage despite a Chippewas team intent on stopping the deep pass. He'll have to make better decisions this week against a team that will blitz and put its defensive backs on an island more often. Top wideout Jeremy Gallon (4 catches, 47 yards, 1 touchdown) is due for some big catches and tight end Devin Funchess (2 catches, 47 yards) is a matchup problem, but the other receivers are either unproven or proven to be mediocre. The biggest concern here is the young interior linemen against Nix, Tuitt, defensive end Sheldon Day (6'2", 290 lbs.), and an array of blitzes from the 3-4 defense. Tuitt had the only sack in the game against Temple, but he had 11 last year and the pass rush should be better. Junior cornerback Bennett Jackson (6'0", 185 lbs.) led the defensive backs in picks last season with 4, and sophomore Keivarae Russell (5'11", 190 lbs.) had 2. The safeties are lightly regarded and not particularly fast or big. Gardner might be able to take advantage of those safeties, but he'll have to be careful about waiting too long for routes to develop because of the pass rush. I would expect Michigan to throw some screens to slow the pass rush, along with some sprint-outs to move the pocket. Michigan should be able to make a play here or there in the passing game, but it will be tough sledding through the air.
Advantage: Notre Dame

Rush Defense vs. Notre Dame Rush Offense
Michigan allowed just 66 yards on 29 attempts by Central Michigan last week, but that was largely without starting running back Zurlon Tipton, who had almost 1,500 yards rushing in 2012; Tipton broke his ankle early in the game. But Tipton actually had the worst day of the running backs, who had 14 carries for 68 yards without him. Meanwhile, Notre Dame's backs had a solid day against Temple's rush defense, totaling 34 carries for 193 yards and 1 touchdown. Starter George Atkinson (6'1", 220 lbs.) is very talented, and backup Amir Carlisle (5'10", 190 lbs.) led the team in rushing last week. Quarterback Tommy Rees (6'2", 215 lbs.) isn't a threat on the ground, but the Fighting Irish are more of a rushing attack than one might expect from a Brian Kelly-led team. The offensive line is large and pretty solid, averaging 6'5" and 315 lbs. for the tackles and guards; center Nick Martin (6'5", 295 lbs.) isn't small, either. Michigan's defensive linemen are not particularly large, even at nose tackle, where the rotation players are all a shade over 300 lbs. Michigan will have to win this battle with quickness and play recognition, the latter of which is a category where linebackers Desmond Morgan and James Ross excel.
Advantage: Notre Dame

Pass Defense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense
Senior quarterback Rees takes over for Everett Golson, who was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester. Rees went 16/23 for 346 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions last week against Temple. That was a step forward for a guy who had 34 touchdowns to 24 interceptions coming into this year, including 35/52 for 430 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions against Michigan over the years. Little used backup Andrew Hendrix has been mediocre throughout his career. Senior T.J. Jones (5'11", 195 lbs.) has hurt Michigan in the past and caught 6 passes for 138 yards in the opener, and junior wideout DaVaris Daniels (6'1", 203 lbs.) is a speedster who had 3 catches for 69 yards and 2 scores. Tight end Troy Niklas (6'6", 270 lbs.) isn't the receiver that Tyler Eifert was, but he can be a bit of a matchup problem due to his size. Fifth year senior strong safety Thomas Gordon returns, and senior free safety/utility defensive back Courtney Avery will be available this weekend after arthroscopic knee surgery. Those players should help out a little bit, but Michigan needs redshirt sophomore Blake Countess and junior Raymon Taylor to be at the top of their game. Jones is dangerous across the middle and running after the catch, and if he shakes free from the nickel corner (probably Countess), that could be trouble. The Wolverines generated a pass rush last week, but it's going to be tougher sledding against the large and experienced Irish.

Roster Notes
  • Notre Dame's roster is full of players Michigan offered: OT Hunter Bivin, WR Chris Brown, CB Devin Butler, WR DaVaris Daniels, DT Sheldon Day, OT Steve Elmer, LB Dan Fox, WR William Fuller, OT Mark Harrell, DT Jarron Jones, OG Christian Lombard, CB Cole Luke, OT Zack Martin, DE Jacob Matuska, OT Mike McGlinchey, OG Colin McGovern, OG John Montelus, DT Louis Nix III, WR James Onwualu, DE Isaac Rochell, S Elijah Shumate, OLB Jaylon Smith, TE Durham Smythe, DE Tony Springmann, OG Chris Watt, TE Alex Welch, and CB Lo Wood
  • TE Mike Heuerman is the son of Paul Heuerman, a former Michigan basketball player; Mike played in high school with 2014 Michigan DT commit Brady Pallante
  • PK Kyle Brindza and OT Steve Elmer are the lone Irish players from the Great Lakes State
  • Michigan RB Justice Hayes was committed to Notre Dame at one time
Last Time . . . Notre Dame beat Michigan by a score of 13-6 in 2012.

  • Michigan continues to successfully run the zone stretch, especially off left tackle, and Toussaint has a big game
  • Play action gets Michigan's wide receivers open deep once or twice for big plays
  • Rees has enough time to pick apart Michigan's secondary until he makes a big mistake late
  • Michigan 31, Notre Dame 24


  1. I don't mean for this to sound as confrontational as it may come across, and I assume you read Brian's UFR's. When you make statements like you do here about the interior line play being mediocre, and central's defense being intent on stopping the pass that are completely contradictory to Brian's conclusion that the YPC was low because of the safeties creeping up and being over aggressive, not the interior line, are you just ignoring the results of the UFR and trusting what you saw live/in the box score or are you actively disagreeing with his conclusion?

    1. Just because everyone on MGoBlog agrees with Brian doesn't mean the entire blogosphere has to.

      Brian is great, but he's been wrong many times and his Xs and Os breakdowns are sometimes highly questionable. Like anyone, he tends to favor views that support his predictions & arguments.

    2. @ Lanknows
      I certainly wasn't saying that everyone must agree with Brian. I was just trying to get a feel for whether Magnus/Thunder was trying to expressly disagree with the UFR, or more or less just ignoring it and trusting what he saw himself.

    3. Yeah - it was a good and fair question, wanting to know more. My comment wasn't intended as a critique of your comment, just the general "Brian said it, so it must be so" mentality out there.

    4. I am not Thunder, but I'll take a stab at it looking at the stats. Central's front 7 is going to be much different than ND's front 7. Against central, I see half of Toussaint's runs made it to the next level. Even when he's making it to the safeties, he's only getting 5-7 yards. The overall blocking on the interior doesn't look too bad. We knew Glasow and Miller weren't going to be stars this early, but they were formidable. If they end up doubling Nix, I wont be too worried.

      Brian's Xs and Os aren't bad. He's not any kind of coach, but he diagnoses plays like he sees them.

  2. I just wrote a really long response to this, but the internet killed it. Here's what I said in summary:

    Brian is entitled to his opinion, but my statements don't reflect his unless specifically noted.

    Furthermore, I thought CMU's safeties were aligned fairly tight to the line (9-10 yards) but were very conservative with their reads.

    I also think CMU is a mediocre MAC team, so we shouldn't read much into Michigan's interior OL performance. When Kelby Latta plays a lot of snaps, there's just not a whole lot of athleticism on the DL.

    1. I think Thunder's right about the O-line issue as well as the position of CMU secondaries. I am esp. concerned about the center position. Man I miss Molk. Let's hope for the best and GO BLUE

    2. Thanks, again, I wasn't trying to sound confrontational, I just like to cross reference all the data I gather from various places to get the best preview possible and I wasn't sure how much your preview reflected his conclusions from CMU.

    3. "we shouldn't read much into Michigan's interior OL performance"

      I couldn't agree more. Going from CMU to ND is a dramatic change and I'm worried about our young line being in for a shock.

    4. I think the main takeaway from the UFR was that Graham Glasgow has some ability and should not be considered "stop-gap" variety of walk-on. The guy had more pancakes in the CMU game than Barnum had in 1.5 seasons. And he appears to have a good feel for the combo blocks and can also pull without looking like a fool. Not sure he'd ever be an all B1G guy, there is some early evidence that he could become a competent starter. He is already doing certain things more smoothly than Barnum or Omameh ever did.

      Agree that the overall OL dominance should not be taken too seriously because of the competition. They did appear to be in pretty good synch in the first game. But this is obviously not a finished product. Kalis needs to eliminate errors. Still not sure whether Schofield has improved his drive blocking (which was needed). And Miller appears to be the weak link - it's pretty clear from piecing together PC comments that the coaches would prefer to have Bryant at LG and Glasgow at C. After the ND game, they will have a few cupcake games to experiment with the lineup.

    5. @PS

      Those a pretty big conclusions to draw based on one game against CMU. If Glasgow can handle a game vs Nix and co. the same way, I'll be with you.

    6. I agree on Schofield and Kalis, but I'm not so sure about Glasgow over Miller at center. From what I've heard, the coaches are pretty set with Miller at center.

    7. I had a similar thought to Anonymous(i.e. "this contradicts Brian's UFR, I wonder what Thunder/Magnus saw that makes him more pessimistic?). I think your original post would have been stronger if you provided some reasoning and/or evidence to support your claim that the interior offensive line is mediocre.


    8. I've said a few times that I don't think the offensive linemen got a great push. Especially against some small and/or un-athletic defensive linemen for CMU, they should have been mauling them. Lewan did a good job, and there were flashes of dominance, but it certainly wasn't consistent.

    9. The RB production sucked last week. Brian's argument (blame the RBs) is kind of hard to buy, IMO. I think he gave the benefit of the doubt to the OL in a situation that was not very challenging. Toussaint is a good running back. I think he has proven that in '11 and at times in '12. There is no 'old' Toussaint - it is about the opportunities presented (by the OL and playcalling.)

      When Michigan had a dominant run game in the past, the backs job was easy - hit the gaping hole fast and hard. That wasn't there last week and probably won't be against ND either. The running backs could have done more, sure, but when presented with a big hole (e.g., Green's long run) they took advantage.

      Brian's opinions are very influential and he has asserted all summer that the OL concerns are undue and that continued in game 1...I think a lot of people are in for disappointment this week when it comes to our run game.

      M can still win without it though.

  3. I agree with your conclusion about their, especially early in the game. But do you think that advantage/edge disappears as the game goes on because of the fact that Mattison is willing/comfortable running a fairly deep rotation?
    Thanks for all your work on the site. It's one of my favorite stops in the morning.

  4. I think our run game will struggle mightily and our backs will be well under 4.0 ypc. My view is the opposite of what you said above - the passing game will be effective but running will be hard. Gardner's ability to improvise (both running and passing) and Gallon are a combo that not many teams can combat. Just hope Gardner stays intact against those big DLmen.

    Defensively, Rees has shredded us before, but I like our secondary speed and ability right now. ND is always loaded with talent, but I don't see a nightmare matchup like Floyd or Randolph this year. ND's offense has earned my respect, but our D is STRONG. I assume there will be a few big play busts, but if we can balance it out with some turnovers and create problems with pressure (which I expect) things will be fine.

    Turnovers or big special teams play could swing this one. No idea who wins but it should be fun as usual. Go Blue!

    1. I also feel that UM will be forced to rely on the pass to beat ND. UM's RB corps only averaged 4.1 ypc last week against CMU and I expect ND to cut that number in half. Gardner is going to have to run the ball 10-12 times and probably throw 28-30 passes if UM is going to win this game.

      RE: Notre Dame and their performance last week against Temple, what I found odd was that they had about 530 yards of total offense and no turnovers yet only scored 28 points. I'm way too lazy to go watch that entire game but I would be very interested to see what happened to account for those numbers.

    2. I agree; I feel confident in our secondary even if it's just that we now have the athletes to keep up with ND's deep threats.

      Pass rush will be essential. There's a big drop-off from clean-pocket Rees to pressured Rees.

  5. While I don't have super high hopes for the OL against ND, I'm encouraged by the 4+ ypc that Temple got against them. Was that just a case of running away from Nix and poor LB play? Or is the Temple OL decent?

  6. Isn't Sheldon Day a DT? I see him listed as WR .. maybe a typo.