"What (Michigan coaches) told me is that they're focusing on point guards right now, but if anything opens up, they'll definitely come back on and recruit me as hard as they were," said Towns
|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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
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:
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:
Insert here obvious joke about how the "Detroit" package consists either of ten third-stringers and no center, or seven wide receivers.
Man I hope you're right, Brian. Especially about our running game. I've lost track of the number of times that I expected us to run the ball well and flamed out.
unleashing of MINOR RAGE
Forcier did not look to be very careful with the ball while scrambling, and I am fearful that a good blitz could cause a fumble or two.
Good observation. I've not seen anyone mention that yet.
Agreed . . . carries it like a loaf of bread. That's the only downside to his style of play. Of course, the flip side to that option is tucking and running and missing the potential for a big play.
Can't decide which one is better right now.
in donovan warren.
I think you will after this game. He is capable of shutting down Floyd if he keeps it together mentally.
I find your lack of faith... disturbing.
In space, no one can hear Zoltan drop-kick you into an event horizon. Bitches.
+1 for your event horizon reference.
Its ND week:
I posted this in one of the 100 reasons to hate ND, but wanted to make sure those who did not see it, have to suffer like I did.
I have an original idea...
Or maybe it came from Bo Schembechler?
6 yards and a cloud of dust...
Clausen never sees the football.
Wolverines win 24-10.
I predict a long, time consuming, spirit crushing drive in the 4th quarter straight out of Bo's 1971 playbook to put the game away. Before that though, Tate pitches it to Carlos who reverses it to Denard who passes back to Tate who passes it back to Denard, FUMBLE! Zoltan kicks it to Koger BUT HE'S RUNNING THE WRONG WAY! Odoms makes a safety saving tackle, forcing a fumble which is recovered by Ecker, ZOMG ECKER is all alone rumbling down the sideline with only one man to beat, ECKER LATERALS TO BREASTON, lateral intercepted by the Leprechaun who punts it to Desmond, TD MICHIGAN.
Oh man, I want this win sooooo badly.....
Brian's record for correctly picking the winner since he's started doing this, and if he tends to pick michigan more or less than they actually win?
We need an UFR of his UFRs!
my predictions suck.
I was starting to get a weird feeling reading your analysis. I believe it's called confidence. Now that I've snapped back to my senses, I've realized that I need to take my relationship with UM football a little slower right now.
So we had a great first date last week with UM football, but we shouldn't call back right away; we will seem too needy. We also might need to accept that Michigan is just not that into winning yet.
Thats comforting...Couldn't you just LIE and say your awesome at it?
A grown man shouldn't be that obsessed with cats. Get yourself a dog for Crissake!
saw that coming...
We are Michigan grads, I do not approve of such unsupported assertions. This analysis is the highlight of my day, and I will not accept broad claims against it without a cite.
Minor RAGES. Mathews and Odoms loom large. Stevie Brown comes up with an interception.
Michigan by 10.
Nice as always Brian.
A question for the knowledgeable sorts on here. Do ND's relatively light in the pants line and Tenuta blitzes make the use of fullback runs more or less a probability?
I've played with it two ways in mind.
1. A light line has a bit more difficulty getting off the initial block so a quick hit to a hole with the fullback could see daylight.
2. Blitzers are quick into those holes, and besides a light line can get pancaked or shoved aside allowing for bigger holes for the running back to assess and hit.
I believe RR used the fullback well at WV with Owen Schmidt (sp?) - so I'm curious if that could be a good weapon here.
he's started something over 20 games at notre dame...make a guess how many times his efficiency has been over 100 (aka "average" quarterbacking). i know - efficiency is a freakshow stat, but go ahead, guess...
hawaii, 2008, and
that's it. that's the list.
shit, you can even look at last year's game - 10 of 21 for 147, 2 tds, 2 picks, 63.1 efficiency. threet FAR outplayed him. sherikillme wasn't even that far behind (3 for 5, 54 yards, 2 picks, efficiency 57.1). you might say i'm not impressed.
Good post. To see how that stacks up I went ahead and looked at Henne's first two seasons. 26 games and he had a QB Rating of 100+ five times his freshman year and five times his sophomore year.
Somehow, some way they get it done...call it redemption, resurrection...it happens b/c they are in the Big House (the new improved louder Big House!)....The power of the Forcier makes enough plays and keeps drives alive...Shoelace, the legend grows with another sick play and the D line gets to Jimmah enough to offset the 2 big pass plays that our secondary will give up....
Otherwise i am wearing my buddy's ND gear in our Norcal golf outing in 2 wks.....I will be sure to post his pict in my Meeechigan gear when we take the Irish down!
but I just wanted to say that this preview was all that I hoped it would be and more.
Just great analysis presented in an entertaining, bot not so much that it detracts from the points, way.
Thank you, and let the outcome of this game bring on well deserved muppets (which were absent last week ???).
...except for big wins...it's like a gatorade dumping.
The win seemed pretty big, given the various circumstances: lack of recent opening day wins, lousy season last year, practice allegations.
... in no particular order:
1. MINOR RAGE (equals ball control; win TOP).
2. Jimmay throws a pick or fumbles in the first quarter, and is sacked two-plus times in first half.
3. Shoelace busts a 30+ yard run in the first quarter.
4. UM gets up by 10+ points by halftime.
If this happens, Charlie Frontbutt will ab-so-fuckin-lootley go apeshit in the locker room at halftime. Jimmay and the rest of the first string will tighten up, and if they have to come from behind the D of GERG will start to zone blitz like banshees. By the fourth quarter Jimmay will think Touchdown Jesus is really the goalpost.
Prediction: UM 31 - ND 17
the key here is long, clock controlling drives that hopefully end in either a TD or FG. It seems the run advantage Michigan should have will allow this to happen. Keep the ND offense on the bench. They can't score on long bombs if they're watching from the sidelines. And the longer they're idle, the more it hurts their tempo and sync as an offense.
Great analysis as usual Brian. Everyone seems to be on the same page - see how many time Jimmy can hook up deep and see how many times we can break into the secondary.. It just never seems to go that way. We have 2 data points on Tate and they are good, I just hope he doesn't get pick happy and continues to make the short throws. I feel good about our chances and this is a huge game for the year/coach Rod's acceptance (understatement).
I just feel like we're going to make 2-3 huge (40+ yards) plays against them and hope they don't burn us deep.
I can't wait to get into the stands, 'cause the crowd will be into this one big time.
Any thoughts on ND's linebackers... Tenuta's D usually puts a lot of pressure on linebackers to fill gaps and make plays. I think we'll see a lot of Te'o.
Also that Brian Hamilton guy is hilarious. That Q & A reads like a ND fan punched his sister or something.
Or like he has recently changed jobs from a ND market to a UM one.
we'll want to block #5 lest he dismembers someone. my hunch is he'll see some more time than in the Nevada game.
He has a very strong chance of seeing many meaningful snaps
I don't know what to expect, but I would rejoice with a win all night long.
Game Time. GO BLUE!
Bold prediction. Hopefully he's right.
Not only can our quarterbacks actually throw on a line and at the same-colored jerseys, but they are also far fleeter of foot than last year's group. This factor, if successfully utilized against Tenuta's blitzes, cane be the difference-maker. A dink-and-dunk style short pass can turn into 30 yards. I also see our quicker defense putting great pressure on ND's stodgy O-line.
Then why do I keep seeing this thing all come down to the kickers?
Ohyousavage pops one from 38 yards or so late in the game, and it's MEEEchigan 27-25.
Brian please do better than labeling dumb things "short bus". It's belittling and insulting to people with mental disabilities and their families. The way you use that slur implies that people with disabilities are incapable of brilliance. I can tell you from personal experience that is false.
Intelligence comes in many forms. My brother, who is autistic, could not speak until he was five years old. Fortunately, he eventually progressed to the level where he could be mainstreamed in a public school taking modified classes with neurotypical peers. He still has trouble multiplying, dividing and with certain general reasoning problems, and yet he is genius artistically. He's twenty years old and represented by one of the top art galleries in New York City, anything he sells goes for thousands of dollars. I joke to my friends that I'm going to steal a couple pages out of his sketchbooks and sell them and get us beer money for the year.
I'm sure there are people on this blog and on the very football team we cheer for who've at one time taken special ed classes. Really, the "short bus" insult is no better or different than calling something "gay". The phrase is marginalizing and just plain wrong. Please find a better way to insult dumb people.
It's hard to reply to this comment without sounding like a jerk, and you do a good job of explaining why you find the term "SB" offensive.
That said, it wasn't used to degrade a person with disabilities. It was directed at low-end Irish bloggers. I *think* there's a difference.
Anyway, one thing I like about the hurly-burly of the blogosphere is that you see things in print that you'd never see in the staid, hallowed halls of traditional journalism. You know, like the Freep.
I don't think that just because you use certain words, you have bad intent. If that sounds sort of gay, well, not that there's anything wrong with that...
And nice avatar, by the way.
Yes, it was directed at dumb Irish bloggers, but it's an epithet that relies on negative and false stereotypes of people with disabilities.
You see it as an epithet, not everyone does. My high school was one of the first in SE Michigan to mainstream students with disabilities (mid 1970's). We often shared a lunch table. Interesting conversations, a LOT of mustard, and no hot chicks bothered us.
But darn it if some from out of the area didn't arrive on a short bus. It sure didn't make me think any less of them...
I downvoted you, so go ahead and ignore me. The reason: I thought this should have been handled by a private email rather than a public posting.
Go Blue, by the way, and hopefully Michigan gives the Irish a LONG BUS ride back to South Bend...
No. I don't think you get it, Brian used short bus as an insult, you said so yourself. It refers to an actual subset of the population. Ergo epithet. I'm not arguing intent, I'm arguing effect.
Sometimes I wish the up/downvoting wasn't anonymous so I could know who I should ignore in the future.
I think (fear?) that we out-play ND but one unfortunate interception or other sort of drive killing freshman mistake costs us the game in the 4th Q. Howevah, the more optimistic part of me says that as long as Cissoko doesn't re-aggravate his nerve issue, that the secondary will hold tight and and our D-Line makes plays that give our offense a short field the majority of the day and we win by at least a touchdown.
with Minor, Brown and Shaw.
Tenuta's blitzes will certainly have their moments, but I sense such a strategy might also place the Irish in an high number of unwanted situations.
With ND linebackers heading upfield to sack Forcier, man, Koger and Webb could have a huge day from passes down the middle of the field.