The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
via reader Brian Hale
Take his and graduate 'em, take yours and graduate 'em. It's not noble to take guys with two good parents and a Catholic-school education and not screw them up. That's one of the things that's always bothered me about Notre Dame's smugness. They've positioned themselves as the nationwide destination for kids who end up at places like Oaks Christian, and when these kids fail to screw up they take pride in it. Michigan, meanwhile, has been more willing to take on potentially troubled kids. Not as willing as some other schools, but willing.
This is always spun as a negative when you get a Feagin situation. When you take kids out of Pahokee or Detroit or Delray Beach who did not go to a good high school and didn't have a stable home life and are just looking for a way out, some of them are not going to overcome their backgrounds. It's tough to do that. It's no accomplishment to graduate Craig Roh. That kid grew up like an enormous, athletic, magnificently-eyebrowed version of me; he's going to graduate no matter where he is. It's a risk to stick out your neck for a talented kid who went to a school with textbooks from 1978 where dropouts are more common than graduates.
The reason I bring it up is an epic article on Pahokee, the home of three current Wolverines, in the Daily. I've been reading the Daily for twelve years now and it's without question the best article to appear in it in that time frame. It wouldn't seem out of place if you threw it up on ESPN.com in one of those fancy presentations they give Wright Thompson. It highlights the environment these guys come from:
He pops in one of the myriad discs. It’s a guerrilla-style video called “Palm Beach County: Gangstas and Thugs.” Local gun-toting gang members flash across the screen, beating each other senseless and shooting AK-47s into the air.
“That’s my cousin; he’s in jail,” he says pointing, to the screen. “Oh, and that kid’s dead. He was 17.”
Trouble in such places is easier to get into than avoid, and honestly working with these kids so that they get out of college and go somewhere else is a calling beyond giving kids who went to Catholic school calculus exams. Michigan has to live up to that charge, of course. In four to six years we'll have Rodriguez's graduation numbers, and in five more we'll have some sense of how the institution has served them. I'll be watching it carefully. I hope—and think—Michigan will do right by them. They are owed that.
No, you can't do that. Apparently ABC never showed the Armando Allen taunting penalty, but the News got a shot of it:
a. Specifically prohibited acts and conduct include:
1. No player, substitute, coach or other person subject to the rules shall use abusive, threatening or obscene language or gestures, or engage in such acts that provoke ill will or are demeaning to an opponent, to game officials or to the image of the game, including but not limited to:
(b) Taunting, baiting or ridiculing an opponent verbally.
(c) Inciting an opponent or spectators in any other way, such as simulating the firing of a weapon or placing a hand by the ear to request recognition.
Ssssh-ing the student section is an obvious flag that will get called 1000 of 1000 times. It doesn't matter if he said anything or not. Weis being an ass in the postgame (no, seriously, watch his bitchy press conference… what a horror it would be to have such a thoroughly unlikeable person* in charge of your football team):
"Armando was really distraught at the end of the game, because he felt that he got called for a 15-yard penalty for going 'shhhh' when he got to the end zone," Weis said. "Now I guess, technically, that's taunting, but he felt really bad about that and I told him we're all part of this loss and don't put it all on your shoulders."
Indeed, it is "technically" taunting in the way Michigan's pass to Mathews was "technically" a touchdown. Meanwhile on that same play, Clausen was doing a fey little dance that could have drawn another flag. Why must Weis recruit these thugs? Why can't he have nice boys like Greg Mathews, who politely handed the ball to the referee after his gamewinning touchdown?
A note on one of the other ND refereeing complaints: Theo Riddick did touch that kickoff, as was extensively discussed on Sportscenter, so running two seconds off the clock was appropriate. And when Tate caught the ball on the last play of the game and got tackled with one second left, the key distinction to note is that the official timekeeper doesn't stop when he thinks the play is over—not his job—but when the referee signals him to. You can clearly see that the referee signals to stop the clock well after :00 is hit. (Yes, maybe that's a conspiracy too.)
*(dollars to donuts that caused any West Virginia, Michigan State, or Ohio State fan reading it to have a head asplode moment, but… seriously. Watch the video. There is no comparison between that and corny jokes and twang.)
Tempting fate. If Michigan loses the next two weeks you can stick my head in a blender for what I'm about to do.
Let's talk about Michigan State, Michigan's first road game of the season and next opponent against whom the spread will be in the single digits. State lost to Central Michigan in quintessential "Sparty, No!" fashion, but don't let the flukes at the end of the game overshadow the overall theme of the day. A worried The Only Colors explains:
While hanging our heads obviously doesn't do any good, I really have a hard time seeing Saturday's outcome as a fluke. Sure, the events of the final 30 seconds all broke in the Chippewas' favor. But we'd been outplayed by a significant margin for the 59 minutes and 30 seconds that preceded those 30 seconds--outgained by 74 yards and outconverted by 8 first downs. And when it mattered most, we couldn't stop them. Central gained a total of 147 yards to reach the endzone on both of its final two non-onside-kick-commenced drives. We were lucky to be in position to win the game with 30 seconds to go.
Maybe CMU's a top-40 team and this loss isn't quite as bad as it looks right now. But they certainly didn't look like a top-40 team against Arizona a week ago. And you have to beat top 40 teams at home to get to a New Years Day bowl.
That is a strong indication that internet skepticism over a team that was outgained in conference play last year was better founded than the assembled Big Ten Media's assertion that Michigan State was the third-best team in the conference. Not that we needed anyone to tell us that the internet tends to do better research than newspapers. State should get better as Kirk Cousins solidifies his hold on the starting quarterback spot, but after some initial optimism in the comments that post bogs down into pessimism about a ton of things, most prominently the pass rush.
Compounding things for State in their matchup against Michigan: Central Michigan is headed by the Rich Rodriguez coaching tree, also known as Butch Jones, and quarterbacked by Dan LeFevour, a mobile, accurate quarterback that's a more veteran but less hyped version of Tate Forcier. LeFevour was 33 of 46 for 328 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. The State game now looks very winnable.
The move? Freshman Cameron Gordon's seemingly inevitable move to linebacker may be a fait accompli according to MGoPoster Jaggs:
Was at the ND game this weekend and my dad ran into a guy purporting to be Cam Gordon's dad (I have no reason to doubt it was him). The guy told my dad he was a father of a player on the team etc, and my dad asked him who he said his name which my dad forgot but remembered the guy said #84 a linebacker. A quick search of the program and mgoblue.com shows Gordon as the only #84 so sounds like Gordon.
Quick check shows 86 points, which isn't much, but also that this guy's been registered for eight months. Credibility rating: at least moderate. We're still looking for confirmation and will provide it if/when it comes.
Yeesh. I think this was just an mgolicious link. The numbers say, I don't know, something:
3. Inbound links checked daily. The day before I visited, logs for the Chronicle’s WordPress site reported that it had drawn 277 visitors from a local sports blog, 28 from a local school blog and 23 from annarbor.com, the reincarnated Ann Arbor News.
Probably what it says is that AA.com's traffic is far more dispersed, where this site is basically a single framework with varying content presented.
9/12/2009 – Michigan 38, Notre Dame 34 – 2-0
When Michigan headed in at the half down only three because of a confluence of events I saw splattered across "Life on the Margins" in the near future, I wrote the game off. When Michigan turned first and goal from the one into a missed field goal, I wrote the game off. When Armando Allen ran the ball into the endzone and Clausen did his fey little "butt dance," to steal a term from MVictors, I wrote the game off. When LaTerryal Savoy dropped the touchdown pass* that would have given Michigan the win, I was annoyed.
Some things, among them faith and love, reveal themselves only after they form, when some other event makes it clear you have had powerful emotion X about object Y for an indeterminate amount of time. Love tends to brew a long time and reveal itself in spectacularly inopportune fashion. Faith… well, if you let X equal faith and Y equal Tate Forcier, the process is considerably expedited. For the author it came to its enzyme-aided conclusion sometime between Junior Hemingway's second touchdown against Western Michigan and the wild bumper-car rollout that ended in a dart to Savoy and first and goal.
When, exactly, is impossible to tell. Like Denard Robinson, attempting to observe it changes it. But here it is rewarding us with all sorts of dopamine and serotonin and other whatnot on this finest Monday of all Mondays in a fairly long time.
What is up, faith. I am feeling goooooooood.
Rich Rodriguez had spent twenty years earning a little faith as his teams performed, time and again, above their talent level. But the instant he decided to extract himself from what seemed like a poisonous relationship with the rest of the West Virginia athletic department, all of it evaporated.
Almost from the instant Rodriguez arrived on campus the media—first from West Virginia and then locally—painted him as a mercenary, a swearing robot, a rube. It's been covered here a thousand times before so let's just focus on the giant flashing insanity: Rodriguez took a metric ton of crap for breaking his contract, something literally any coach who's ever moved jobs has done. Something that the contract has explicit buyout provisions for. Something that universally-loved John Beilein did one year earlier.
When 3-9 followed the amplitude went up by an order of magnitude, culminating in the Free Press hit job the nation knows and loves. Faith did not exist except in battered, weary pockets. This pocket wavered. It would be impossible not to.
In this space I've alternately mocked and panicked at the idea that external forces or internal dissent could strangle the Rodriguez era in the crib and set Michigan on much the same path Notre Dame has traveled these last 15 years. The parade of inept coaches, inept coaching searches in the frequent interregnums, and mostly unrelenting failure during the brief periods in which the school is not searching for a new inept coach could easily have happened here. Michigan was in the process of chaotic, inept coaching search number one when WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong and Pat White's thumb dumped one of the premiere coaches in college football in Bill Martin's lap and Martin jumped at it without thinking it over.
The public reaction since threatened to undo that stroke of fortune and set Michigan into the spiral that consumed South Bend. The danger was that all those sneering generalists who glanced over from their NBA game to snort "lol" and moved on would actually impact Michigan's ability to reason.
Did it? Will it? It's impossible to tell. Rich Rodriguez and Tate Forcier plan on making the question moot, and have already gone a long way towards doing so.
This is Michigan now, a strange collection of 3.8 GPA kids from New Jersey and Arizona and locals who grew up loving Michigan and kids with dreads from poor, broken places mostly in the south who have one way to get out. Receivers who score game-winning touchdowns and almost lose their cool before apologetically handing the ball to the referee, sir. Woop-gone cuts when the defensive end beats you to the corner in cover zero. The fetishization of work to the point where the S&C coach is the target of adulation so intense that you can call something "Barwis Porn" and not be 100% joking. Hype videos and piped in music. Shotgun hurry-up and quarterbacks slipping by linebacker kill shots. The circle of terror, chest bumps, awkward press conferences, a tear here and there. This is it. This is block-M Michigan.
It's not all great. But take it from a guy who remains a programmer in spirit: life is tradeoffs. Give Rich Rodriguez six dwarves, some baling wire, a walk-on safety from Curtice, Ohio, and someone to spatter paint all over everything and we're good. This is a program of moxie and MacGuyver.
While Terrelle Pryor labors in an offense that has him throw 25 times and run nine against USC, previously run-manic Rich Rodriguez has taken his collection of half-man-half-velcro tight ends and pounding fullbacks and moosebeast tailbacks and forged them into a machine that, for two games at least, is the explosive equivalent of his White-Slaton heyday. He has integrated this crazy wheeling Jackson Pollock of a quarterback to the tune of 70% completions, five touchdowns, and one interception in his first two games in college. In the process he's made the men who looked at twenty years of wildly successful offenses, wildly successful programs at every level of college football and saw nothing but an inflexible, lucky hick look like fools.
He's repaid the faith shown him by his team, by the guys who stayed and waved their arms madly and jumped up and down last week when the students took up a "Rich Rodriguez" chant and did not stop until most of the stadium was doing it. They stayed, and they're on their way, and it doesn't take much faith to say: this is Michigan now.
via reader Nick Stratton
*(It would turn out to be tipped but from the stands all I saw was a ball hit Savoy between the eight and the two and ricochet away; the crowd's reaction was such that I thought Notre Dame had somehow intercepted it for a split second.)
BULLETS THAT CHANGE DIRECTION SIX TIME A SECOND
- 10,000 cocktails to the guy working the replay board who got the Armando Allen screen touchdown on the board almost before the play was over, thus causing the stadium to explode and Rodriguez to take a timeout that would eventually save Michigan four points. Those four points were the final margin of victory and while there's a chance the replay would have come down on its own, the quick thinking of that guy made it inevitable. Someone ferret out this guy's name so he never has to buy a drink in town again.
To really discuss what's wrong with Weis I have to dig into the poker metaphors. If Carr was a weak-tight calling station—a guy who doesn't take many risks and can be easily dissuaded from taking them—Weis is a loose-aggressive donkey—a guy who just bets and bets and bets and rides it. The LAG (loose-aggressive) is a better player, much tougher to win against, but is prone to huge, fatal mistakes. So the problem with that second-and-ten bomb was not that Weis threw, it's the sort of throw he called for. Running or whatever strips Michigan of its timeouts and has relatively little value compared to a first down. A first down just about ends the game. I had a perpetual frustration with Carr's playcalling in similar situations because it was run run run punt almost without fail, or possibly run run third and ten pass punt. So a slant or a hitch or some sort of high-percentage pass that can break for a first down is a great call.
The bomb is going all in with a middle pair after you get a couple overs on the flop. (I was in the World Series of Poker once!!!) It might work. But if it does, it's not because you're a good poker player.
Weis is a guy who thinks "they'll never see my 4-6 unsuited coming." And he thinks it all the time. I know, I know: Gus Hansen exists. The thing about poker on TV is that it throws out all the "boring" hands and therefore disguises Hanson's insidious brilliance. I've seen all of Weis's hands. He's not Gus Hansen. I mean, even if you're going to throw that, why throw it against Warren instead of the guy you've been torching all game?
- On the other hand: I haven't seen anything from Rodriguez yet that makes me think similar thoughts. I have instant go-punt reactions on all fourth downs and get very upset when the coach in question defies an obvious one and haven't been very upset with Rodriguez yet. He may call a hotel a "ho-tel" but he's a better poker player than Carr or Weis. Even when Michigan was up eleven, it seemed like they needed one more touchdown to win, and it appeared Rodriguez thought the exact same thing.
- Speaking of Beilein: there have been persistent rumors that Beilein and Rodriguez have a frosty relationship, but one of the things I caught as I watched the team leave the field was the two coaches meeting around the forty yard line and sharing a deep, lingering man-hug. I don't think that rumor holds much water anymore.
- I'd been bitching about Forcier thinking he's in high school on many of his runs. Often he had an opportunity to cut upfield for solid yardage but instead tried to pop outside a corner or safety and turned it into a three-yard gain because he can't just outrun members of the opposition secondary anymore. (There's a play in UFR last week where I question whether a similar incident was a good idea.) So, yeah, a little smug on that touchdown run after I went WOOOOO a lot.
- Cissoko… man. I've seen a fair number of people defending him but he was bad. Maybe I'll think different after the UFR but the guy got torched. Hopefully that's an effect of going up against two crazy good receivers and a quarterback who wasn't so terrible himself. I don't think so, though. He was lost.
- I really hope I see even more holding than they called on UFR because Clausen had all day basically all day. I vastly underestimated the pressure he'd face; when he did get pressure he just chucked it OOB. So I was kind of right about that.
- Brandon Minor is way better than any other back on the roster. Q: why did Michigan go away from the up-the-middle gashing that worked so well in the third quarter? Notre Dame was clearly vulnerable to runs that went directly at them but did well against the stretches.
- Warren, on the other hand, basically lived up to the hype this blog perpetuated.
- It's amazing how vastly different real live Notre Dame fans are from their internet fanbase. The worst thing you can say about them is that a disproportionate number look like they're huge Steve Miller Band fans. The worst things you can say about Notre Dame fans on the internet would take thousands of words to describe.
Charlie Weis caused the potato famine, says one Irish fan. Also check the Chips shirt.
MVictors wasn't in the press box for this one and thanks God for that stroke of luck. Also check the spectacular Brandon Graham mugging picture and the guy in the comments who claims Armando Allen called the student section "faggots" to draw his flag. Can anyone in the front of the student section confirm that?
Central Michigan beat Michigan State on a 42-yard field goal with 3 seconds left. As the game’s final minute ticked away before the start of the game here, news media in the press box gathered around televisions to watch.
Central Michigan initially missed a potential game-winning 47-yard field goal, but got to try the kick again after Michigan State was penalized for being offside. The announcement of the penalty that set up the game-winner prompted clapping and an announcement in the press box.
“Cheering is not allowed in the press box,” the announcer said, “but it is right now.”
Something something pride something fall.
I grabbed a bunch of complaining from ND Nation in anticipation of a flush, which did happen.
Via MSC, the Mathews catch and the aftermath:
The final three plays of that drive are also on the tubes in high definition; there is also WOOOOO stadium video of considerable length; skip to 6:20 for the big one:
UPDATE: oh, and here's the hype video for the last game, which was perfect. They should use it again next week with the Forcier-to-Mathews throw at the end.
Sometimes you're really fucking on, Tate Forcier.
And you can't have one without the other…
Everyone here has paid their dues, and they were not in vain. Drink, be merry, spawn a new generation.
As always, check out the Live Blog Chaos Mitigation Post for information on what this is and why your comments aren't showing up (it's moderated and if every comment published it would be unreadable).
|WHAT||Michigan vs #18 Notre Dame|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 EST, September 12th, 2008|
|THE LINE||Notre Dame -3|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC|
That's from Chesterton Lep, by the way, who is far more insane than even our recent influx of MS Paint Van Goghs. Insane doesn't actually do it justice.
Run Offense vs. Notre Dame
This has to be crushing victory for Michigan, for now, and for the season. Irish beatwriter Brian Hamilton:
"The defensive line just has question marks all over, whether it's because of youth or that they're generally unproven as performers. And since the Irish haven't been particularly stellar at stopping the run the past couple seasons as it is, it's a concern."
Though Brian Stouffer suggested that Ethan Johnson was a hybrid DE/OLB, that's apparently a matter of some debate. What isn't up for debate is that the Notre Dame front four is way smaller than even Michigan's, and probably about as young. This is from the Irish Eyes publisher:
Junior Ian Williams and sophomore Ethan Johnson are a talented pair, but both struggled vs. the Wolf Pack’s veteran front line. Irish defensive ends Kerry Neal and John Ryan are undersized on the right side (quality pass rushers that can struggle at the point of attack) and Notre Dame features a redshirt freshman at left defensive end who played in his first collegiate game last Saturday.
So that's a guy largely responsible for McGuffie mania, a guy I saw on skates against Nevada, and then small, production-free defensive ends. So maybe it's not a surprise that Notre Dame's tackle distribution is extremely encouraging for a team that seeks to pound the ball. It mirrors what happened last year, and last year the Michigan ground game had perhaps the easiest time they'd had against any opponent in South Bend:
After week 1, just as in 2008, the leading tacklers for the Notre Dame fighting Irish are both safeties: Kyle McCarthy with 7 and Harrison Smith with 5. DE Kerry Neal isn’t even on the stat sheet, Brian Smith, while making 2 very big plays, didn’t make a single other tackle, and Ethan Johnson had 1 tackle all game. Convince me that Michigan (sucks!) wont just run a “9 yards and a cloud of dust” offense against ND all freaking game.
Sorry to link to the short-bus section of the Notre Dame blogosphere, but the tackle distribution is a point of interest.
Notre Dame folk are pointing to Nevada's raw rushing numbers and avoiding the big flashing item of concern: in the limited attempts offered Nevada's clunky tailback he averaged 6.3 YPC. Wolfpack QB Colin Kaepernick averaged 7.5 yards per carry (sacks removed). Total YPC: 6.4. #2 rushing offense of last year, sure, but also a WAC team. In three games against BCS opposition (Texas Tech, Maryland, and Missouri, last year's #61, #71, and #31 rushing defenses) the 2008 Wolfpack averaged 5 YPC (again, sacks removed). Notre Dame's defense was way, way worse than a motley collection of basically meh BCS run defenses. And this was not an artifact of a big lead. Nevada gashed Notre Dame time and again in the first half.
Couple that with last year's Michigan game, which featured virtually the same lines on both sides of the ball and one tailback that proved considerably less effective than the guy Michigan will deploy with gusto on Saturday, and you have a strong argument for Michigan to crush Notre Dame on the ground. This, by all appearances, is not a good run defense.
On the other side of the ball it's mildly concerning that against Western Michigan, a team replacing almost the entirety of its defense and three-quarters of its defensive line, Michigan bogged down a bit. There were numerous holding calls and they could not break any long runs aside from Denard Robinson's moment of magic—not exactly something the coaches drew up. Michigan's offensive line was missing the form they had late in 2008, but that may be an artifact of Western's aggressive scraping. If Notre Dame tries the same thing Michigan will be more likely to take the obvious countermeasures that were wide open against the Broncos.
The mostly healthy return of Brandon Minor will help, and Notre Dame doesn't have anyone as fast as Denard Robinson. This should be a huge advantage for Michigan; if it's not it's hard to see a Michigan win.
Key Matchup: Molk and guards versus Ian Williams and Ethan Johnson. Molk cannot have another game where he struggles and ends up with a couple holding calls. Ethan Johnson was on skates against Nevada and Ian Williams spent last year's Michigan game watching McGuffie run by him from the ground. Michigan needs to dominate this matchup.
Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame
There appears to be one, which is a nice change from last season. Tate Forcier was deadly accurate in his first game as a Michigan quarterback, and that should prove no fluke going forward. The downside of the freshman was entirely in missed reads against both run and pass and a couple of runs that were not as first-down oriented as they should have been.
So it sort of sucks that TAH-NOO-TAH has bumped aside Judas/mole Corwin Brown. Brown spent the last two games against Michigan in a cover-two umbrella and hardly ever blitzed or even put a seventh guy in the box. If Michigan hadn't fumbled six times in last year's game, boy howdy, we might have come within 18 points thanks to Brown's never-ending ability to sit back and calmly consider a situation for three or even four quarters. Tenuta just blitzes from everywhere.
This could go either way. Nevada took a couple of huge sacks and suffered a lot of QB pressure when they went to play action. Play action is an awkward thing in the pistol that requires the quarterback to turn his back away from the line of scrimmage and then end up sucking linebacker if they blitz right. Michigan won't let that happen; their offense never has the quarterback turn away from the line of scrimmage and bases its play action on the zone read, which necessarily occupies one of the defensive ends. But Nevada's passing game had a lot of experience. Michigan has little, and the guy who made the big plays last week is probably on the shelf. One way it could go is Forcier getting buried.
The other way mostly relies on excellent pickups from the backs—Carlos Brown had a couple crushing pickups last week and Brandon Minor is a fine blocker in his own right—and the idea that Forcier is, yes, Drew Tate, a guy extremely comfortable moving around and finding people downfield when the play breaks down. It's dangerous to blitz Pat White and it might be dangerous to blitz Forcier, albeit in a totally different way. If he evades the wave of defenders and breaks out to one side, we've already seen he can direct traffic to good effect.
Notre Dame's secondary is supposed to be pretty good. Safety Kyle McCarthy was the perfect idea of consistency in last year's Michigan game and returns; David Bruton, who was even better, is gone. He's replaced by Harrison Smith. (Notre Dame's version of "Robinson" is "Smith".) Darrin Walls returns from "personal issues" (read: academic issues) and Notre Dame has a stable of highly rated recruits with good experience plus senior Raeshon MacNeil. Unless Darryl Stonum—who was ranked one spot behind Mike Floyd by Rivals—suddenly lives up to the hype, Michigan's not going to get deep much unless it's Kevin Koger or one of the slots on a wheel route.
Those guys will be the key, IME: with Notre Dame blitzing its ass off Michigan will have opportunities underneath and down the seam. A couple of deep Koger completions can turn drives into points.
Key Matchup: Forcier versus his Self-Conception. Tenuta is going to send the kitchen sink and several times Forcier will be forced to scramble out or take a hot read or just do something smart. He did a lot of smart against Western; in high school, though, he responded with a bunch of picks when his offensive line fell off the map.
Run Defense vs. Notre Dame
The Notre Dame run offense exists as a sidelight to the passing game. Against Nevada, Notre Dame had two sorts of plays on the ground:
- Successful runs that exploited Nevada's "explosive" (read: irresponsible) defensive ends and got Allen or Gray in vacated space.
- Things that went about two yards.
That's something of an exaggeration, but… eh… not a huge one. Notre Dame's starting fullback is out and their backup is a converted tailback. As mentioned this morning, Notre Dame plans on rotating through the left side of its line, which is… um… bats, isn't it? Who does that?
As far as the rest of the line, realistic expectations are modest. Hamilton again:
I refuse to believe that offensive linemen who have been around for four or five years suddenly, all at once, in one offseason, go from mediocre to great. It just doesn't work that way. If the offensive line is consistently average, at least it's consistent. If it backslides to the way it's played at times last year and two years ago, it's going to cost Notre Dame a game it shouldn't lose.
It'll be up to Michigan's defensive line to actuate that backslide. That defensive line is not deep, but the first-line guys they run out are all seemingly competent, though Craig Roh remains a wiry true freshman and could find himself targeted when Notre Dame brings in more than one tight end. Which will probably be lots, more on that later.
Notre Dame had an even breakdown of draws, the inside zone, a counter, and an outside toss before they went zone nuts in garbage time. I know Weis will probably pull out 1,000 elephants and a dancing bear against Michigan, but Notre Dame's basic array of running plays won't be anything Michigan hasn't seen. You can put your practice time into one thing or the other and it's clear which phase Weis favors. With Aldridge out and Rudolph putting in a poor blocking display in the first game, Michigan should be able to handle Notre Dame's ground game without committing an extra man. Maybe.
Key Matchup: Obi Ezeh versus Armando Allen. Unless something funky's happened with Notre Dame's offensive line they aren't going to do a whole lot of crushing run blocks, but they will use a ton of misdirection, play action, and draws in an attempt to free up their bombs and exploit opponents set on stopping them. Ezeh displayed several instances of unnecessary hesitancy against Western and could be ripe for exploitation. In space, he must tackle.
Pass Defense vs. Notre Dame
Mmmmm. WAC snacks:
You've probably heard the obvious counterpunch to that re: Nevada, which finished 119th of 119 in I-A pass defense by a landslide last year and then lost two starters from the secondary. Clausen's day wasn't exactly unprecedented. Chase Daniel went 23 of 28 for 405 yards and four touchdowns. And, okay, Chase Daniel is pretty good. But when Louisiana Tech and UNLV combine to average 8.5 YPA and have five touchdowns to no interceptions… well… you're bad. Hawaii wasn't much competition, either. So the jury remains out for a guy whose four games before the WAC parade looked like this:
It is hereby stipulated that if Michigan gives up a 70-yard bubble screen and an awful underthrown bomb that features Purdue-level tackling, Michigan loses. Those things are in some doubt. I assume it's also stipulated that if Clausen throws two picks and half a touchdown, Notre Dame loses, and that's the average there in Notre Dame's last four games against plausible competition (and Syracuse).
If the Nevada game is an indication, Michigan's inability to go to a nickel package isn't likely to be much of the factor. The Notre Dame opener saw a severe reduction in three-wide sets:
In their place were a ton of standard I-form packages and 2TE ace sets. With Aldridge out, expect ace sets to be even more prevalent. Michigan should be able to match up pretty well against Notre Dame's big two receivers without dipping into the nonexistent corner depth. Not that they'd go to said nonexistent depth anyway: with Stevie Brown at strongside linebacker, the threat of a Robby Parris or Duval Kamara—both ponderous possession sorts—isn't the sort that demands a zippy cornerback. Any personnel grouping other than the base is unlikely.
Okay: base personnel versus base personnel. Advantage: hell if I know. Before the season I was seriously down on this matchup but after watching four different members of Michigan's defensive line tear through the Western offensive line—a veteran unit extremely well-versed in pass blocking—and Donovan Warren try to get a grip on his new super powers, I actually think this tilts more towards neutral.
The main concern is when Notre Dame does something like, oh, I don't know, keep nine guys in to block and run a one-man route with Golden Tate. Everything was going swimmingly in the Western game until they pulled a similar stunt and though the burned corner doesn't figure to play on Saturday unless disaster befalls the secondary, free safety Troy Woolfolk also picked up an ugly –3 in UFR for his part in the play.
Michigan need pressure from the front four against regular (non max-pro) sets, and eventual pressure against the max pro. All of Michigan's guys this year are high motor sorts who will get after the ball; no Terrance Taylors or Will Johnsons who aren't much use against the pass. When the starters are in, Michigan should get pressure, and Clausen still hasn't proven he can deal with pressure.
Key Matchup: God, I've waffled on this a thousand times. I'll settle with Corners Man Up Against Floyd And Tate, as Notre Dame will attempt to take the Michigan defensive line out of the game with max protect a lot and in those instances it will be up to Warren and Cissoko to not get burnt toasty.
This is a virtual unknown for both teams except when Zoltan rolls onto the field ready to shoot lightning bolts down the opponent's face. So… advantage Michigan there. Both kickers are almost totally untested. Jason Olesnavage does have a pretty 44-yard field goal to his credit, and it sounds like Michigan's kickoff guy is considerably better than Notre Dame's. Slight advantage here to Michigan.
Key Matchup: HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.
- Receivers are shaking free from the cornerbacks even a little.
- Rodriguez doesn't have a TAH-NOO-TAH counterpunch.
- Notre Dame's offensive line looks competently coached for a change.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Notre Dame's defensive line is just as prone to skate backwards as they were last year.
- Rodriguez has a package that neutralizes the blitz.
- They don't double Brandon Graham.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 Hey That Touchdown Last Week Looked Familiar, +1 for And Wow We Are Going Up A Team That Would Win The WAC, –1 for …But Is Still Coached By Charlie Weis, –1 for …And I Can't Emphasize This Enough, –1 for… Seriously, +1 for …Okay Maybe That One Was Excessive, +1 for Major Quarterback Experience Deficiency, –1 for But Our Defensive Line Should Consume Their Souls, –1 for And I Know We Worked Harder, Apparently, You Dolphin Puncher, +1 for It Takes Time To Dig Out From 3-9.).
Desperate need to win level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5, –1 Sort Of Playing With House Money, Right?, +1 for Yeah, Sort Of Not, +1 for Boy All That Hot Seat Talk Would Go From Frustrating To Entertaining, +1 for I Love Me Some This Week In Notredamenfreude Fodder, –1 for Home Dog And Close Loss Is Understandable, +1 for This Week Always Reminds Me That Internet Notre Dame Fans Should Be Shot Into Space.)
Loss will cause me to... probably curse Angry Michigan Safety-Hating God.
Win will cause me to... start thinking New Year's Day.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I think I changed my mind from earlier in the week, when I predicted Notre Dame victories a couple of times. The main reasons for this reversal:
observation of the ND DL against Nevada coupled with a closer look at the stats and the words out there.
minute UFR evaluations of Donovan Warren.
minute UFR evaluations of Michigan's starting DL and the pass rush that comes from everywhere.
Given the data the biggest mismatch in this game is not the Notre Dame passing offense against the Michigan secondary, but the Michigan ground game against Notre Dame's defensive line. I think Forcier can make the blitz backfire just enough and Michigan will pop more guys free than Notre Dame. Clausen's potential improvement is the wildcard. If he's actually as good as he's looked against the WAC, Michigan loses. I don't think he is.
In a game where both teams figure to get to the quarterback a lot, it's about coping with that. Michigan's run game is better prepared to do that than Notre Dame's, and Tate Forcier might not be too far off Clausen with his "scrambling" and "playing for a high school that did something other than win 63-7."
I reserve the right to change my opinion ten minutes into tomorrow's game. I've already waffled once this week, and I have almost no faith in the predictions I'm about to put on the line. But I do have a little.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan does some crazy trick play stuff.
- Michigan tailbacks crack into the secondary lots, with Minor, Shaw, and Brown getting a near-equal distribution of the carries. Quarterback runs are down considerably.
- Notre Dame gets a bomb to Tate; Floyd is contained by Warren.
- Brandon Graham gets two sacks.
- Michigan, 27-23.