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.
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.
- 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