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||Michigan vs Notre Dame
Ann Arbor, Michigan
||8 pm Eastern
September 7th, 2013
||mid 70s dropping to low 70s, isolated thunderstorms, 30% chance of rain
Expanding Tom Hammond head from NDMSPaint. We miss you, Tom.
Run Offense vs Notre Dame
Hello, Mr. Nix, I am a center popularly described as "undersized." Let me step around you all day?
This matchup got more intriguing last week as Michigan's offensive line showed pretty well running zone stretches and Temple went for 4.6 YPC against the Irish. In the aftermath, Louis Nix seemed frustrated at his lack of impact after eating double-team after double-team. This spawns questions: were people not doubling Nix before? Are people aware that doubling nose tackles is standard practice in many offenses? Was it just the sweltering heat that deflated Nix's performance? I don't know, man.
A big chunk of the Temple ground game came on scrambles we'll address in the next section. What didn't was a result of effectively double-teaming Nix, avoiding Stephon Tuitt, and getting Notre Dame's middle linebackers confused. Temple used a lot of packaged plays in this one, which caused the Irish MLBs to look clueless as they sucked up on runs that turned into quick seam routes they vacated. Expect Michigan to do something similar, whether it's more packaged plays—Michigan has run them on occasion in the last couple years—or a variety of counters and screens that exploit a couple of guys in Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese who don't play like the veterans they are.
Also of note: hyper-touted recruit Jaylon Smith is one of the starting outside linebackers for Notre Dame. He's a true freshman who replaces the retired Danny Spond, and may be vulnerable to either getting optioned or just straight-up blown up by guys who have been in college a bit longer.
[NOTE: Notre Dame's 3-4 is going to look a bit like a 4-3 for maybe half the day, as Michigan will have a tight end and Notre Dame will screw down their strongside linebacker (either Prince Shembo or Ishaq Williams) over the tight end. They'll still two gap when they're in that front; sometimes they will go 4-3 with 320-pound Stephon Tuitt moving inside.]
For Michigan, it's Fitzgerald Toussaint's time to grab a death lock on the feature back job or slog through another middling game that opens up the freshman floodgates behind. In this one, I'll believe a freshman gets tasked with defending blitzes from a 3-4 ten seconds after it gets Gardner splattered into goo. Except for short yardage it'll be Toussaint, and then Justice Hayes if he needs a blow.
As for the line, it showed as well as it could against CMU, repeatedly crushing the Chips off the ball to the left side of the line. Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow showed an affinity for the scoop blocks that make the stretch go, and Miller in particular showed the agility you need. That's no surprise since he was recruited by Rich Rodriguez. Michigan will do plenty of that in the hopes that Taylor Lewan can win his one on one matchup and Nix will be left behind, panting. Note than in three-man fronts, Glasgow will be releasing immediately and it'll be Miller and Kalis trying to combo Nix. Not as effective, likely.
Michigan's tight ends are a key. They've got to be able to either block Smith or outrun Shembo/Fox/Calabrese to be effective. Funchess had a tough outing against CMU, and AJ Williams could have been better. Michigan wants to hit the edge, and the tight ends will have to help them get there.
What happens? I don't know. Seriously.
Key Matchup: Nix versus Miller/Glasgow/Kalis. If Michigan can get a stalemate here that's a win. Temple did handle him.
[Hit THE JUMP for my diabolical revenge on Jack Swarbrick, and other stuff.]
Pass Offense vs Notre Dame
This is where we'll address those scrambles. Connor Reilly is a decently athletic guy who got sacked once by Stephon Tuitt for a loss of four yards. On his eleven actual rushing attempts, Reilly acquired 69 yards to lead his team. Temple is a full-on spread that took advantage of that fact with a number of called QB runs, but a large chunk of that was Reilly breaking the pocket and taking off. Notre Dame had little gap integrity. While they've undoubtedly spent the last week fixing that as much as they can, that's a long way to go in a week and neither inside linebacker is a good option to keep an eye on Gardner like Te'o was with Denard last year. Expect Gardner's mobility to be a major factor.
When the passing game actually involved passes, Notre Dame gave up a bunch of yards but did it slowly. Reilly completed exactly half of his 46 attempts and acquired 228 yards, which is only five yards a pop. As a team, Temple moved the ball effectively for most of the game. Only three possessions failed to gain 20 yards and Temple had five consecutive drives in the middle of the game that went:
- 9 plays, 65 yards, missed FGA.
- 12 plays, 54 yards, missed FGA.
- 9 plays, 78 yards, touchdown
- 5 plays, 31 yards, end of half
- 14 plays, 53 yards, turnover on downs
By the end of the game they'd acquired 362 almost entirely non-fluky yards and Notre Dame had gotten two TFLs.
The TFLs indicate where Temple did its damage: underneath. Temple's long completion of the day was a 26-yarder, and that was a catch and run by a 5'9" guy. The Notre Dame cornerbacks weren't tested too much deep as Temple tried to keep their quarterback from getting swallowed up. A year ago, the young Irish secondary held together until the implosion against Alabama, but their schedule a year ago was an unrelenting tide of bad quarterbacks (Maxwell, Tino Sunseri, Max Wittek) and when they played, say, a Landry Jones, they gave up 356 yards on 51 attempts. There are still questions marks back there that Michigan hopes to exploit.
You know the deal with M's line: excellent tackles, question marks inside. Michigan should be able to keep Gardner clean against three-man fronts, as Nix is not much of a threat and linebackers coming up the middle loses a great deal of its impact without Te'o. The danger for Michigan is what happens when Shembo slides down and ND fires Tuitt at Kalis or Glasgow. That's an interior matchup in which it's harder to get rush, but Tuitt may be able to bull back into the pocket consistently without giving up running lanes. Shembo gave Schofield some problems last year, illegal hands to the face or not. Getting better production out of that matchup will be important.
Gardner will throw to Jeremy Gallon, who was open all day against these same corners a year ago. No one could throw the ball to him, but he was open. Funchess will probe the linebackers in the middle as long as he can blow up Smith in the run game, and Dileo will be a guy who slides open consistently. Michigan should move the ball as long as Gardner's developing tendency to throw bad interceptions does not get totally out of hand.
Key Matchup: Shembo versus Schofield. If they put Tuitt on Lewan that should end up with a few bull rushes and not much more; Tuitt is so heavy right now that it's hard to see him as an effective edge guy, at least not against an NFL-level tackle. If Schofield handles Shembo then Gardner has time to throw, or run, and things that are good happen.
Run Defense vs Notre Dame
Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, and a guy who won't be contributing: Everett Golson
Notre Dame gashed a very bad Temple defense that frequently blew assignments or did nonsensical things—on the Carlisle 45-yarder to open the playside DE shot inside, resulting in a hole you could drive a dump truck through without anyone on the line really have to do anything. Meanwhile, Michigan shut down a very bad Central Michigan offense that lost its top tailback four carries in. Question linger here.
Notre Dame lost Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, replacing them with even more hobbit-like spread backs. Amir Carlisle is a USC transfer who seems to be the #1 option at the moment. Think Ideal Justice Hayes here: not a great between-the-tackles runner, athletic, dangerous in space, a guy you do not want getting to the second level quickly. Cam McDaniel is similar in size, less athletic but reputedly more of a gritty feisty gamer. For some reason. Neither figures to acquire much in the way of yards after contact. George Atkinson is an explosive kickoff returner in the De'Andra Cobb mold: a lightning bolt without much else to his game.
If Notre Dame wants to find power in their tailback crew they'll have to dip down to freshman Greg Bryant, a five star last year. He's a bit bigger at 200 pounds; he had two carries against Temple. I have serious doubts true freshman tailbacks play much of a role in this one, though, what with all the passing and rushing of passers.
Finally, Rees is a downgrade from Golson is in this department. Golson had almost 300 yards a year ago even accounting for sack; Rees has –71 rushing yards for his career. He's a statue, and that takes a chunk out of Brian Kelly's playbook.
Notre Dame's line is veteran. The left side returns intact with fifth year seniors; right guard Christian Lombard also returns. Two sophomores step in, with Nick Watt entering at center and Ronnie Stanley at right tackle. Stanley did not redshirt, so he's as experienced as Kyle Kalis. Lombard moved inside from right tackle to make way for Stanley and still got burned; that optics there speak to potential weakness.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan has a deep front seven. We can definitely say they are deep. Talent is still something of a question. They're trending up after game one, at least.
With Michigan probably in the nickel most of the day, the line will have to hold up despite Michigan lifting the nose tackle or three tech for a large portion of time. I would expect the nose tackles to have a minimal role for many reasons. This will leave Michigan undersized but quick, hoping to disrupt the right side of the line enough to compensate for a couple mashing occurrences on the right.
When Michigan does end up in a 4-3 under, they will at least hold their own against the Irish. ND squeezed out just 94 yards a year ago, and unless that was all Will Campbell (it was not all Will Campbell) you'd think the status quo basically holds.
Key Matchup: Michigan versus third and short. Michigan has been very good at bashing Brian Kelly teams off the field when they try to pick up short yardage. That needs to continue.
Pass Defense vs Notre Dame
Like the previous section, both teams blitzed overmatched opposition last week. Michigan sacked CMU five times and held the Chips to 5.1 yards an attempt; Tommy Rees put up 15 YPA, three touchdowns, and no interceptions against Temple.
Ah so, Tommy Rees. Rees flayed Michigan alive two years ago when he wasn't handing out horrible turnovers, which he was doing all the time. Like Turnover Santa he was, and Michigan had been very good. (Denard would return the favor next year, but let's not talk about that.) After being supplanted by Everett Golson last year, Rees played relief pitcher, coming on to secure wins against Michigan, BYU, and Pittsburgh. He had 59 attempts, completed 58% of them, and acquired a solid 7.4 YPA. He also threw two interceptions. That INT rate was identical to his sophomore year, FWIW.
Against Michigan he was 8/11 for 115 yards, with 38 of those coming on an armpunt to Tyler Eifert on which Eifert was just much more enormous than the Michigan corner futilely trying to check Eifert; he led ND to its only touchdown drive of the game.
ND has a couple of weapons at receiver. Davaris Daniels is supposed to be full-go for the Irish and looks to confirm his emergence into a major threat. As a redshirt freshman last year he had 31 catches for nearly 500 yards, and he was about to crack a hundred on four catches in the opener when he pulled up lame just before Rees would have hit him for a long touchdown. With TJ Jones following up on a strong junior season with 6 catches for 138, Notre Dame has a quality 1-2 punch. Meanwhile, junior Troy Niklas projects to be Notre Dame's annual huge fast white tight end. He scored on a 66-yarder against Temple and was athletic enough to start four games at outside linebacker as a true freshman. He has not emerged into a productive guy yet largely because of Eifert's presence. He'll be an X-factor.
Notre Dame's line kept Rees clean against Temple save for one embarrassing sack Lombard gave up to a Temple DT who looked slow and bad even as he was owning Lombard and running Rees down from behind. Jibreel Black could give him a lot of trouble. ND's right tackle is a true sophomore, which may indicate that ND felt it had few options other than him last year. ND was quite good at preventing sacks a year ago, so the left side is solid. Hopefully Michigan can probe the other three guys.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan gets both starting safeties back just in time to stare those guys down. Thomas Gordon is full go after a one-game suspension; Courtney Avery is still recovering from a scope and will split time with Jarrod Wilson, according to Hoke.
Michigan figures to spend most of the game in nickel formations, which will probably bring a true freshman onto the field whether it's Channing Stribling or Dymonte Thomas. In the former case that means Blake Countess folds inside; in the latter it's Thomas at the nickel spot. It looks like it'll be Stribling getting a stiff test, which worries me. If a nickel screws up it's usually a first down. Getting burned on the outside can be much worse.
I assume they will shade Gordon to the nickel, just to spread out the uncertainty. Taylor and Countess are good physical matchups for Daniels and Jones and Michigan probably won't be doing anything super aggressive unless they find they have to as Michigan tries to force Notre Dame into long marches on which Rees can screw up.
Key Matchup: Stribling/Hollowell vs Jones/Daniels. The third corner is going to get a "Welcome to College Football" experience. Hard to see that guy holding up the whole game without getting burned.
After some considerable week one struggles for the Irish this looks like a potential advantage for Michigan. Starting kicker Nick Tausch sent an ugly duck up on his first attempt of the season. While that doesn't seem like a huge problem for a guy who was 16 of 20 before that attempt, the announcers muttered grimly about how he had been doing that all day at the practice they'd attended and Tausch was immediately yanked for Kyle Brindza, who missed his attempt as well. Bizarrely, Tausch got the first shot at the starting job despite Brindza going 23/31 last year.
Meanwhile, Brindza has been drafted to punt despite never having done such a thing before. In his first game he averaged 41 yards an attempt and blasted two short-field punts about ten yards into the endzone. He's not exactly fine-tuned at this point.
The Fig Things got a couple decent returns from TJ Jones and Stouffer was pumped after viewing him with his eyeballs; he's yet to do anything amazing on the statsheet. This is the main area of concern for Michigan after Matt Wile demonstrated an uncanny ability to put every kickoff in the corner of the endzone. If Michigan has a punter who punts it a long distance and their gunners do not gun quite as effectively as they did in the central game, Michigan is vulnerable.
But their kicking game is very solid in both phases and Norfleet broke a couple of returns against Central. Brindza (probably) doesn't have anything approximating a rugby kick, so Norfleet will get his cracks.
Key Matchup: ND kickers versus the yips.
You can decide whether this is me about the series ending or a Brian Kelly purpleface tribute yourself.
- Michigan can't stop the run in the nickel.
- Rees can bomb over the top with the safety uncertainty and third corner being problems.
- Nix be in our base.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Borges finds ways to exploit Jaylon Smith's froshosity.
- Notre Dame bogs down when the field gets short due to a lack of MANBALL and a stationary QB.
- Special teams becomes a factor.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for Safety Ack, +1 for It Is The Notre Dame Game So My Fear Is Always Incremented Irrationally, +1 for We're Favored, Which Means We're Doomed, –1 for Manti Te'o Ain't Walking Through That Door, –1 for And Tommy Rees Is, –1 for Chaos Special Teams Are The Other Team's For A Change, –1 for QB Mobility Differential, +1 for Freshman Outside Corner Uh, –1 for Projected Redzone Efficiency Gap, +1 for Those Guys With Excessively Elaborate Facemasks)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for I'll Show You A Real Rival On The Bottom Of My Foot, +1 for Win This And Next Year Is To Win The Modern Series, +1 for To Hell With Notre Dame, +1 for Win This And It's Penn State Vs Going Into November Undefeated, +1 for I Reiterate: To Hell With Notre Dame)
Loss will cause me to... shrivel into a ball and desiccate.
Win will cause me to... purchase 86 figs, name one of them Jack Swarbrick and the rest after the ND roster, line them up in football-like formations, laugh maniacally as one by one I pick them up, rend them stem to stern while pretending they are begging for their lives in pathetic high-pitched voices, and demonstratively eat them, screaming "HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW, SWAR-DICK?!?!"
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
The best thing to say in these situations is "I don't know." Just look at the record of favorites to confirm. This is almost always a game in which both teams seem approximately even going in and then anything can happen… except something sane.
But I have to say something, I guess.
I think Michigan will be able to move the ball more consistently, with Gardner's legs bailing out Michigan on several drives. Notre Dame will be sputtery, more explosive downfield but also inefficient at third and short and in the redzone. Michigan should play it relatively conservative, testing out the right side of the ND line with nickel rush packages and keeping Stribling and Wilson out of harms way as much as possible.
Something breaks in the Michigan secondary, and woe is experienced, but in the end Gardner's ability to turn redzone opportunities into six points will outpace Notre Dame.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- The offensive line does surprisingly well against the Notre Dame line. Toussaint has some gashing runs on his way to a moderately efficient 100 yard day.
- Tommy Rees is frustratingly good, and does not explode into a turnover festival.
- Special teams is a decisive advantage for Michigan, as Notre Dame gives up field position in a couple different ways and Norfleet busts something.
- Michigan, 32-25