in town for free camps
9/17/2007 - Michigan 38-0 Notre Dame - 1-2
"They're going to have to learn about us, OK? Let them try to stop a pro-style offense, which has multiple personnel groups and multiple formations. Let's see how they are going to do. They've had their advantage because I've come into recruiting late. Well, now it's Xs and Os time. Let's see who has the advantage now."
This post isn't really about Michigan, because that game provided no more information about Michigan than the upcoming Eastern Michigan game will. When not blocked, they can sack; when not shed, they can run.
And thus the House of Weis comes crashing down. Notre Dame, in year three of the Weis regime, is 119th -- last -- in rushing, total offense, and scoring offense. The pass offense, Notre Dame's bright spot, is 115th. Notre Dame has been blown out by more than twenty points for the past five games. NDNation begins to turn in on itself, and even Stewart Mandel -- generally the last person to realize anything -- has caught on to the sleight of hand Weis parlayed into a ten year, 40 million dollar contract. Losing to Appalachian State seems like small potatoes in comparison.
Notre Dame partisans will tell you all about this year's senior class, they of the four contributors who are all marginal players at best, and point a finger at Ty Willingham's recruiting. They are not without reason here. Willingham's 2004 class was a dire melange of two-stars and guys overrated late because they decided to go to Notre Dame. It is dragging the program down. But this far? Notre Dame has a number of contributors left over from the 2003 class: four-year starting center John Sullivan, three-year starter Trevor Laws, probable NFL first-rounder John Carlson. All told there are fifteen seniors on the Notre Dame two-deep and all of them will be departing after this year. (I think a couple may be walkons, but there are at least 12 on scholarship.)
Dire numbers, these... or not. Michigan has nine scholarship seniors. Ohio State, terrifyingly, lists all of five seniors on their entire two-deep and will graduate three starters after this year. Three of the five seniors are fullbacks. Clearly, both of these teams are much better than Notre Dame -- as are your local Pop Warner runners-up -- despite not having a massive edge in experience. Youth cannot explain away Notre Dame's start.
What can? There is a compelling case to be made that Charlie Weis sucks at life and, by extension, football. This is the Notre Dame offensive line that has given up 23 sacks:
- C John Sullivan. Redshirt senior. A four-year starter; given four stars and ranked the #3 center in 2003.
- LT Paul Duncan. True junior. Three-star, #26 OT of 2005. Other finalists: UCLA, Oklahoma, LSU.
- LG Mike Turkovich. True junior. Three-star, #30 OT of 2005. Other finalists: Wisconsin, BC, LSU.
- RT Sam Young. True sophomore. Five-star all-everything recruit; returning starter.
- RG Dan Wenger. Redshirt freshman. Four-star Rivals 250 member; #3 center of 2006.
Syracuse is second-to-last with 18 sacks allowed; no one else in the country has allowed more than 13. Not even Temple. Is this the picture of a line pretty obviously the worst in the country? Consider that Michigan is currently rocking a true sophomore and a redshirt freshman itself. Sam Young has the recruiting rankings than Schilling does and a year of starting experience; last year Schilling sat on the sidelines with mono, then injured his shoulder in the spring. Dan Wenger was rated slightly lower than Justin Boren and redshirted himself. Taken together these guys are a wash. John Sullivan is a four-year starter and redshirt senior who was a four-star his recruiting year: this is equivalent to Jake Long in terms of rating and experience. (Perhaps this is not quite fair, but we did give a wash to the kids on the line when Young has started for a season and neither Michigan player has.) Where Michigan has an advantage is in junior Alex Mitchell and senior Adam Kraus, who have one and two years experience on true juniors Paul Duncan and Mike Turkovich, respectively, plus a star edge in recruiting rankings. This is not an enormous gap. Michigan's line should be better than Notre Dame's, but not 295 rushing yards better.
Meanwhile, erstwhile starting quarterback Demetrius Jones -- lauded as a great guy and one of the keys to Notre Dame's impressive 2008 recruiting class -- got benched and immediately bolted for Northern Illinois... or didn't, instead enrolling at NIU on September 4th but continuing to practice with the Irish until it was time to board the bus for Ann Arbor, at which point he moved out of the dorm without telling anyone. It's hard to think of a more vindictive way to leave a football team that doesn't involve kneecapping the starting quarterback on the way out.
In a vacuum, this could be considered the petulant act of a 19-year-old kid angry at losing his spot. But last year starting defensive end Ronald Talley left Notre Dame for I-AA Delaware for no apparent reason. And running back Darius Walker bolted for the NFL draft... at least in theory. He was passed over and everyone got in their mocking, but he looks like a genius now. This was a non-screwup of a kid leaving early for NFL prospects everyone knew were dim. (Zach Frazer's transfer was a clear "you're never playing here, kid" sort of thing that happens to most programs, but it's also faulty roster management that leaves ND with two scholarship quarterbacks.)
Anyone who's read this blog for more than a nanosecond knows what the upcoming explanation is going to be: Weis is a colossal asshole. Heck, anyone who's read one of his many ridiculously arrogant press conference quotes (the grand mother of them begins this post) or saw the embarassing 60 Minutes puff piece -- wherein Weis came off as a bully and a jackass -- when Notre Dame was returning to glory for the umpteenth time knows this. The only wonder is that the media spent the better part of 2.5 years pumping him up as Weis E. Coyote, Certified Super Genius, largely because Weis spent every available moment telling the media that he and his ACME catalog of incredibly sophisticated devices were worth a foolproof touchdown every game. Somehow I doubt even Tyrone Willingham would have Notre Dame scoring -7 points per game.
Erickson driving a golf cart into a volcano, I can have this.
The result of all these fantastic toys? Literally nothing. No touchdowns. No rushing yards. No hope. This implosion has to be laid at Weis' feet. Jeff Carroll of the South Bend Tribune brings forth an excellent point:
Weis sabotaged this season when he installed that gimmick offense for the opener. What that did, beyond chasing unloved Demetrius Jones to DeKalb, Ill., was rob valuable learning time from new starters who should have been absorbing the fundamentals of running Notre Dame's real offense.
He essentially flushed preseason practices down the drain, never to be recovered. Since then, the inexperienced offense has been scrambling to get up to speed, and it may never, at least not this season. But, again, that's a symptom, not the underlying problem. The main malady is that Weis thinks that because he can process complex schemes, his players can do the same in 20 hours a week.
Weis either half-assed a spread offense and wasted some of his preseason prep time or really went for it, wasted all of his player's time, and junked it 30 minutes into the season. Either way it's a huge miscalculation borne of hubris, the one thing Weis has more of than lipids.*
Thus an odd situation to find oneself in: I kind of wish Notre Dame was better. Obliterating Notre Dame for the second consecutive year was a pick-me up, but it can only be so meaningful when Notre Dame is intent on snapping it to Tacopants and generally soiling itself whenever Michigan
- does something clever like run left, or
- does something clever like rush the passer.
As it is, a 38-0 whitewashing of Notre Dame means almost nothing in the somewhat grander (ie: Big Ten) scheme of things. Michigan will play no worse team this year. Eastern Michigan is likely to rack up positive rushing yards. Minnesota will probably manage the shotgun snap just fine. Both are strong possibilities to score; even if they do not they will probably have more than one meaningful snap on Michigan's side of the field. If Notre Dame did not suck so very badly, our prospects for Penn State would be cheerier. But they are not and so 38-0 is just a pleasant nothing of a game, enjoyable in and of itself but no solace in the face of teams that will do more than swing purses at onrushing players.
So there is always this, even when you've just lost to Appalachian State: Notre Dame sucks and has sucked for 14 years. This offseason we will search the country high and low for a proven collegiate winner; Notre Dame is saddled with a maladjusted hunchback who they have given a ten-year contract for losing to USC.
*(it's a fat joke, sure, but it's a science-y fat joke.)
- But oh boy do I still have some problems with our coaching staff. Unless Henne is for-sure playing this week, Michigan's decision to spend the entire second half grinding away on the ground was ludicrous. We have a true freshman quarterback who may or may not be starting against Justin King and Penn State next week; we should have been throwing on every down as soon as the game hit 38-0. It might have drawn fire for being "classless," but this isn't Chad Henne out there. Every rep the kid can get against actual competition helps.
- I really hope Carlos Brown's problem is cast-related, but I don't know... visions of Max Martin dance in my head, minus all the bad-apple stuff.
- Johnny Sears gone, drugs, bye.
- What is the deal with James Rogers and Renaldo Sagesse getting playing time? And Zion Babb? Have we learned nothing from Prescott Burgess?
- On first glance the linebackers were vastly improved, especially Thompson, but I think much of that was never having to deal with blockers.
- I think we might be able to grind Penn State pretty good; last year we had a decently effective ground game and now they have a very young defensive line. Stats are good so far, but against FIU, Notre Dame, and Buffalo. (Note that even before this year, Penn State looked to have a horrible nonconference schedule with those three teams and Temple. The three non-ND teams were ranked #117, #118, and #119 among D-I football programs by ESPN; with the Irish collapse Penn State may have the worst nonconference schedule of all time.)
- Mallett: meh performance, but I love his enthusiasm:
- There is a season to have if Penn State is defeated. That's the nice bit of being in a conference.
- No shirking from BGS' Dylan, who steps up to the plate and takes it like a man with... uh... two sentences:
You are what your record says you are, and right now you're an 0-3 football team, and that's not good enough.
Not by a damn sight.
Good game, mister. Glass houses.
ND column coming noon-ish or one-ish.
Update 9/3... er 9/17: Linked to articles on PA WR/RB/KR Cameron Saddler, PA HB commit Christian Wilson, DC DT Reggie Ellis, PA WR Jonathan Baldwin, MN WR Mike Floyd, OH TE commit Kevin Koger. Also one that mentions both Saddler and Hale, and this on NJ S Brandon Smith.
Potentially dubious: There is also Bill Kurelic speculation on PA DE Shayne Hale and an article on the top 25 players in Pennsylvania. Hey: the top 50(!) players in Pennsylvania... M/Pitt lead for Baldwin suggested. Recruiting Planet says JB Fitzgerald is committing to M this weekend. Moved NJ LB JB Fitzgerald to committed.
More articles: PA LB Shayne Hale, LA CB Robby Green, PA WR Vaughn Carraway. Removed PA DT Reggie Ellis(dropped us), TX WR Jeff Fuller (Ok). More articles: PA TE Mark Wedderburn, TX S Keanon Cooper, NJ S Brandon Smith, TN CB JT Floyd, MI CB Boubacar Cissoko (and others), PA HB Christian Wilson, PA LB JB Fitzgerald. Also a general article on recruits not getting spooked.
Editorial Opinion: Sorry for the hiatus; recruiting coverage will be sparser during the season what with all the Actual Events going on but I'll endeavor to make this at least a biweekly thing.
Anyway, question #1 on everyone's mind: will this thus-far strong recruiting class decommit en masse to play for Appalachian State? A brief overview of the flight risks follows.
|As Solid As Verbal Commitments Get|
|The Free Press got in touch with the four instate commitments. Boubacar Cissoko:
"I still love Michigan. I still want to go there."
The other three guys:
Cissoko, Rocko Khoury, Dann O'Neill, and Mike Martin are all 95% to end up at Michigan no matter what.
Darryl Stonum also fits in this category; he recently reaffirmed his commitment after his official visit. One of the primary motivations for his commit was and is the presence of former teammates Troy Woolfolk and Brandon Herron at Michigan; this will not change.
|No Reason For Serious Worry|
|Tight ends Kevin Koger and Brandon Moore were also contacted by the Free Press and said they were not considering other schools or even visits; they slot in this category only because there was no specific mention of what would happen in the event of a coaching search.
Christian Wilson said he's not wavering... yet:
Wilson said he is solid with his commitment to Michigan, but added, "If their coaching staff goes, I'll have to see what's going on."
Given the extremely positive comments from Wilson's mother on SackCarr's message board before his commitment, I think Wilson is a good bet to stick even in the event of a coaching switch; obviously he is less solid than the instaters.
OH OL Elliot Mealer grew up a big Ohio State fan but never received an offer. If he were to get one he would be a major flight risk, but the usually reliable insiders at Buckeye Planet think that is not likely:
I know for a fact the staff is not and never was very interested in Mealer. If they had been they would have asked him to hold off on a decision to see where some other chips fell. The staff made no such effort and were content to let him accept the offer UM made without pushing. If they missed on every OL target on their board Mealer would still not get an offer because he was never on the staff's board.
That post was in June, but it seems believable. If Mealer was really that big an OSU fan the logical thing would be to drag his recruitment out (like, say, Thaddeus Gibson did); OSU probably cut him loose. That might not say great things about OSU's opinion of his talent but it also means Michigan is likely to hold on to him: sometimes going to Michigan is sort of a screw-you-OSU thing.
|No one on the list looks like a grade-A flight risk but a few players haven't said anything and don't have any magical ties to Michigan that would make them stay in the aftermath of a coaching change. New Jersey linebackers Marcus Witherspoon and JB Fitzgerald are in this category. Greg Schiano is following Fitzgerald around in a freakin' helicopter, which makes me uncomfortable. (At least it does not have hot chicks in it, like Don Johnson's helicopters. Presumably.) One thing that might help out here is the potential commitment of Brandon Smith, a fellow New Jersey-type person -- more on that potential later -- who has gotten tight with Fitzgerald. Smith has long maintained that he was a Michigan fan since childhood and would be one of those magical ties guys if he commits.
Sadly, Sam McGuffie may be the commit in greatest danger of fleeing. He is from Houston, has some reasons to stay local, and
IL QB John Wienke stuck to his commit in the face of Steven Threet's transfer but has not been pinged on this stuff; he might have options at Illinois or elsewhere. CT RB Mike Cox and IN OL Kurt Wermers haven't been in touch with anyone of late.
So... even if Michigan struggles through 2007 and Carr retires, it appears that most of the recruits are likely to stick. Ironically, all the speculation about Carr's retirement, now going strong into its third year, may help Michigan should the rumors finally come to fruition:
But considering the bad start and the speculation surrounding the future of U-M coach Lloyd Carr, you would think that recruits might start to shop around.
However, Carr's situation has been the subject of hearsay for some time. It is highly likely that Carr will not be around when the Class of 2008 is finishing up at U-M, so recruits' eyes are wide-open.
"A lot of those kids have been hearing for sometime that his tenure is near the end," said Allen Wallace, national recruiting editor for Scout.com and publisher of SuperPrep magazine.
Wallace, who has been following recruiting for more than 20 years, says that fact is one reason why the two losses won't hurt Michigan.
"Kids tend to think the coaches are going to stay because it's easier for them," Wallace said. "In Carr's case, they are going in expecting a transition.
"They are choosing Michigan because of the other things the school offers."
A few may depart; the remainder would be a decent class at the very least. Losing McGuffie would suck, though.
Not so sunny is Michigan's situation with a few recruits. The always frank and funny PA WR/KR Cameron Saddler is expressing some reservations about Michigan given the potential turmoil:
"I pushed all of my official visits back, just because some of these situations are iffy," Saddler said. "Like Virginia. People aren't too happy down there. And you know people aren't too happy in Ann Arbor with Michigan. Plus, we want to make a championship run with our team, so I want to put all this recruiting stuff on the back burner."
Saddler said Michigan's 0-2 start definitely got him thinking.
"I don't know if I want to go to a school with a new coach," Saddler said.
"What if that new coach doesn't want a 5-foot-6 player like me. Wait. Let me correct that. I should've said a 5-9 player like me."
Saddler was visiting with five star DE Shayne Hale; Hale's visit also got canceled because he hasn't taken the SAT yet, which is, for some reason, a requirement if you're going to go on an official. We'll have to see how their recruitment plays out; as of now the longer it goes for the pair -- oft rumored as a package -- the better for Michigan. It sounds like they'll wait until their season is over, at which point all this turmoil will get resolved. So there's that at least.
TX S Keanon Cooper is also a little shaken:
"I'm still debating whether or not I want to go into a situation where a team is rebuilding.
That's the thing about Michigan right now," he said. "They are 0-2 and are really struggling on both offense and defense. It looks like they might be heading towards a rebuilding time. I want to see if they can bounce back. They are a program that is capable of finishing fast once they start clicking."
I think "rebuilding" is probably a bit harsh, especially since Cooper is comparing Michigan to freakin' Minnesota in this quote, but whatever. Cooper says Wisconsin leads over a set of chasers including Michigan.
Also, NJ S Brandon Smith is name dropped by Mike Farrell as a potential commit on his official visit for the Penn State game:
New Brunswick, N.J. athlete Brandon Smith, a top-100 recruit, could also commit on the weekend of Sept. 21. Smith and recent Michigan commitment J.B. Fitzgerald have become friends and have talked about playing in Ann Arbor together. They are scheduled to take their official visits the same weekend, so Fitzgerald may help recruit his friend while they are on campus. Fitzgerald is a linebacker from Princeton Junction (N.J.) West Windsor Plainsboro South.
Farrell is not the most reliable person in the world when it comes to these things, and there is this extensive interview with Smith and his mother from a local newspaper that contradicts him:
Q: When will you make your decision?
A: I've been nominated to play in the U.S. Army All-Star game in Texas, which is on national TV in January. If I'm chosen, I would like to do it there, like A.D. did. If not, I'll announce it on Feb. 6, which is the official commitment day.
It sounds like Rutgers is a real threat:
Q for Cheryl: Where would you like to see your son go?
A: My heart says Rutgers, but then I think sometimes it may be good for him to get away. From a recruiting standpoint, I love Rutgers, coach (Greg) Schiano and coach (Joe) Susan, the recruiting coordinator. I've been the most impressed with them.
...but optimism maybe?
Q: What schools do you plan to visit?
A: The only official visit I have set up is Michigan on Sept. 21. I don't know after that. One thing about Michigan, I love the cold weather. I think it gives me an advantage because I'll go 100 percent in the cold.
Take it for what you will; I've backed Smith off from blue to green.
Further bleah: LA CB Robby Green article without a Michigan mention.
Neutral items. Vaughn Carraway still maintains Michigan as leader and is close to setting up an official:
"I'm really close to setting up a visit with Michigan," Vaughn Carraway said. "I already talked with the coaches about it and it's going to be soon." Carraway, ranked the No. 48 wide receiver in the country by Scout.com, says the Wolverines still lead slightly.
I kind of get the feeling Carraway's offer is valid only in the event a couple other players commit elsewhere.
TN CB JT Floyd was planning an official last weekend; he did not make it up because of weather, though.
Kenny Demens from the above-linked Cissoko article:
"It wasn't so good that they lost," said Demens, a four-year starter. "What I saw was an opportunity (to play). That's a plus for me. I talked with (linebackers) coach Steve Szabo for about an hour afterward and he told me, 'We need you. We need guys like you.'
"Sure, I've received some negative talk. I've received some messages saying Michigan is terrible. But for me, I should be concerned with a program that needs me, where I can be a benefit."
On Monday, Demens added another scholarship offer to his list -- Oregon.
He found that ironic.
"First they come here and beat Michigan," he said. "Then they want to come here and take one of their recruits away."
Demens said he won't commit until after the season. He intends to visit U-M, MSU, Nebraska and West Virginia.
The upshot: the recruits who have already committed to Michigan are likely to remain committed, but the early-season turmoil
and the widespread speculation about a coaching change at the end of the season are hurting our chances with various uncommitted recruits. There does appear to be a real net effect; it looks small enough to be mostly harmless.
Please note the timestamp on this from the BGS comments:
cue up Yakety Sax.
Don't mind if I do!
Massive, incredible credit goes to Jeremy Bronson, who put this together and did it as well as possible.
Side note: banner not intended to endorse any political POV. It's just supposed to be funny.
There is no better summary of this game and the typical reaction of the disinterested observer than this:
Go Blue and stuff.
Run Offense vs. SSONIINI
Notre Dame has battled valiantly against the pounding rushing games of Georgia Tech and Penn State but a lack of depth and talent has told late:
rushing average against, by quarter 1Q
3.74 yards per carry
Those numbers are not great even in the first half; in the second half they are deplorable. Notre Dame bloggers have chalked this up to an excessively bleah offense stranding their warrior-poets on the field too long and project this will not happen against a Michigan defense that's much kinder, to say the least, than either Georgia Tech or Penn State. I don't know if that's true, though:
|ND Plays||Opp Plays|
Neither of these is a huge discrepancy, and 68 defensive plays is not out of the ordinary. Notre Dame's offense has been so awful that many of the scores against the defense have been on short fields...
41% of all points scored against ND so far this season have occurred on drives of 36 yards or less.
...which holds down both yards ceded and plays dealt with. While ND's scoring defense (93rd) is an artifact of its tougher than average start and the crappy offense, there's no reason to believe that even if said offense does improve there will be any corresponding bump from the defense, currently ranked 100th against the run and yielding 4.82 yards per carry. The evidence shows that they tire; they should against Michigan.
Meanwhile, the lone bright spot in the first two Michigan games has been the run offense. Mike Hart rolled up 188 yards at 8.2 YPC against Appalachian State and 127 at 5.1 YPC against Oregon. While neither defense is exactly Penn State, neither is Notre Dame. Continued success is probable.
Key Matchup: Mike Hart versus his own damn body. He's limped off and missed portions of Michigan's first two games; Michigan's running game drops off dramatically when he's not in the game: Primary backup Brandon Minor is only averaging 3.8 YPC.
Pass Offense vs. SSONIINI
Ryan Mallett's debut was less than scintillating --6-17, 49 yards, and one interception -- but he was victimized by a few drops and some horrendous babying that asked him to throw a lot of hopeless bombs on third and forever. He was obviously a step down from even a Henne in full on Hennebriation mode and will remain so this week; better numbers are a definite.
How much better is in question. Carr called out Manningham's effort this week and praised Adrian Arrington; Mallett is going to need some help from wide receivers that were unprepared to catch the rockets he was slinging out there. You'd hope that a week of nothing but Mallett zingers would help matters; there will still be a drop here or there and Mallett goes all Jacob Silj on people.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame's beleagured secondary has put up good numbers so far. Taylor Bennett was 11 for 23 for 121 yards; Anthony Morelli was 12 for 22 for 131 yards and one pick six into excellent coverage. Never change, Anthony. The mere idea of "excellent coverage" as applies to the Notre Dame secondary is mindblowing and worth examining. In this instance it was provided by sophomore cornerback Darrin Walls, not the cast of Manningham torchees that still hovers in the general vicinity of receivers without actually bothering to cover them. He's grabbed a starting spot and may be headed towards competence or better. The rest of it, though, is the same cast of characters: Boxer Tom Zbikowski, who is a boxer and the most overrated safety in America when he is not boxing or being boxed or participating in a boxing fight, Terrail Lambert and Ambrose Wooden, etc. New safety David Bruton has already made a couple hideous mental gaffes.
So... yeah, they've done pretty well so far but is this not a Zach Mills at PSU situation wherein opposing teams with good defenses can pack away anything remotely dangerous in the knowledge that 14 points will be good enough? A common MGoBlog heuristic is to severely doubt seniors who sucked as juniors without extenuating circumstances and to furthermore doubt all non-freshmen stuck behind the suck: this applies to every member of the Notre Dame secondary save Walls, and Michigan has at least two guys you have to cover, possibly more.
It's impossible to offer anything solid here with a freshman quarterback and conflicting indicators from the opposition... a few big plays for and against are probable.
Key Matchup: Mallett versus Corwin Brown. It will help our efforts greatly if Mallett does not throw the pick or two that seem inevitable; the coverages Brown calls will attempt to bait him into them.
Run Defense vs. SSONIINI
If we are preparing for Cripple Fight 2007, these are the most malformed limbs. Notre Dame's total rushing through two games: -8 yards. Michigan's rank in rushing defense: 109th. Something has to hold. Probably.
Which is it? If there's one position group that Michigan fans might be holding out a little bit of hope for, it's the defensive line. While they were spread and shred the last two weeks the guys up front are relatively veteran folks with little starting experience and considerable guru acclimation. Projected strongside defensive end Brandon Graham has missed most of the first two weeks with an ankle injury but was healthy enough to provide a little bit of pass rush -- virtually Michigan's only -- against Dennis Dixon last week and will hopefully find his way on the field full time, allowing Shawn Crable to resume his outside linebacker role. The rest of the line has been disappointing against spread option attacks, but Notre Dame's offensive line has been somewhere beyond disappointing. Somewhere *way* beyond it. Like in the realm of Michigan as a team. (Zing!)
On the other hand: the linebackers have been awful and the gashing consistent. Armando Allen is a fast little bugger, if one who has been consistently doomed by eight guys in the box and the turnstile in front of him. Notre Dame will not have negative rushing yards this day, and there is always the possibility of effectiveness when Chris Graham is on the field. (Jonas Mouton's potential return could help matters, but he's just a freshman.)
Pass Defense vs. SSONIINI
Everyone's praising Jimmah's poise... for some reason. Hell if I know why. There's a whole post on this: he didn't throw downfield against Penn State until the game was well out of reach and the backups were in; every completion was a swing or a screen or a long handoff save the occasional five-yard-out. He was sacked six times, led Notre Dame to no points, and only reached 144 yards passing with some garbage time YAC. Poised he may be. Good he is not.
So it's fortunate for him that he's going up against a Michigan secondary that has given up four long touchdowns in two weeks largely because it decides not to cover guys or enjoys falling down once they catch the ball. Notre Dame has promised to open up the playbook and they probably will: attempting to flail its way to first downs with ND's promised Nasty Power Ground game is not likely to work, so their best chance to score will be eating up big chunks of yards against Michigan's befuddled cornerbacks and safeties.
Again, I cannot tell you what happens here. Notre Dame has no good receivers. David Grimes and George West are s
light and slightly athletic; Robby Parris is sort of a Samardzija type, and Duval Kamara is an enormous freshman. None has established anything. Clausen enters his second career start with about four passes downfield to his name. The Michigan secondary seems equally crappy. One thing I do figure: the ND offensive line once again proves to be an achilles heel, severely limiting ND's chances of hitting a long play.
Key Matchup: Tim Jamison and Shawn Crable versus Various Offensive Linemen. Jimmah has proven he can hit guys running open by five yards in high school; Michigan secondary will provide these targets; pressure will make or break the ND passing game.
If Notre Dame punter Geoff Price was a thunder god from beyond time, he could battle Zoltan the Inconceivable to a near-standstill. He is but a man, so this is not possible, but you can still expect many booming 50-yarders followed by limp returns.
Punt returner Tom "You May Not Know This, But I Have Boxed From Time To Time" Zbikowski's inability to wrap up and tackle doesn't affect his returns; therefore he is good at them. He's capable of breaking one off if Zoltan decides, in his mighty wisdom, to let off one of the line drives that he occasionally fires.
Kicker Brandon Walker has two short field goals to his name; little is known about his proficiency.
Key Matchup: Zoltan/punt cover versus Zbikowski who is a boxer. Michigan cannot give up cheap points if their defense in intent on being cheap points incarnate.
- The coaching staff clearly has no faith in Mallett's ability to read defenses.
- Demetrius Jones wanders in to take a spread option snap. (Note: WOTS is that Jones is no longer with the team and may be looking to transfer, so this may not be a possibility.)
- Hart limps off the field.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Clausen's poise is limited to passes within five yards of the LOS.
- Michigan dominance on the lines is established early.
- We finally get a couple accurate deep balls.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for We Suck, -2 for They Appear To Suck Worse, +1 for We Could Just Pack It In).
Desperate need to win level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -2 for This Season Is Basically Over Already, +1 for But It Would Be Nice To Shift The National Ire Onto SSONIINI, +1 for Mike Hart Deserves Better, +1 for Charlie Weis Deserves Worse, +1 for You Realize I Have To Watch These Things Over And Over Again, Right?)
Loss will cause me to... increase pace of "Profiles in Heroism" series.
Win will cause me to... create "Jimmah Clausen for Heisman" YouTube highlight reel.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
There are portions of Michigan's team that are not resolutely awful: the run game. The receivers. The offensive line. And maybe the defensive line could squeeze its way into competence when it faces off against the Irish turnstiles.
Meanwhile, no part of Notre Dame's team has really looked good except maybe the secondary if you believe the Irish have finally taught Tom Zbikowski to cover and tackle and those corners to not flail horribly. I think the easier explanation is this: Morelli and Bennett suck and their teams knew that they could just pound ND and its swing-mad offense into oblivion. This is a version of the gameplan against Penn State at any point in the Zach Mills era. They suck on a level Michigan probably does not.
So... yeah, this is a game Michigan should win. A freshman quarterback, a defense that looks epically awful, and Angry Michigan Safety Hating God could conspire to throw this one to Notre Dame, but it would require two or three disastrous plays for that to happen. Chances of that: 30%. Outside of disaster, though, Michigan's advantage on both sides of the LOS should be the deciding factor.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Hart beats Notre Dame to death with their own limbs. Also goes for 165 and two touchdowns.
- Mallett throws two picks; so does Jimmah.
- 24-17, Michigan.