Run Offense vs. SSONIINI
With a 90% chance of heavy rains and wind tomorrow, this may be the game. Notre Dame lost second round pick Trevor Laws and some less heralded players from a defense that gave up 289 yards on a whopping 61 carries last year; Michigan returns… uh… Steve Schilling. And maybe Brandon Minor, who had 17 carries for 82 yards in late game action.
In action to date: Michigan was terrible against Utah but stepped it up—sort of—against Miami; Notre Dame allowed pass-heavy San Diego State to run for 4.7 yards a carry a week after a I-AA team shut them down. Safety Kyle McCarthy led Notre Dame with 14 tackles; safety David Bruton was second; corner Terrail Lambert was third. Over a season having three members of your secondary leading the team in tackles would indicate some unspeakably bad linebacking, but against San Diego State it mostly means they threw three times more often than they ran.
You can’t throw a rock in this down without hitting someone wailing about the Michigan offensive line’s lack of depth, experience, and talent, but the hidden story is that Notre Dame’s defensive line is in close the same place. Senior Pat Kuntz tries hard but spent last year’s game on rollerskates and is only in the lineup because the other alternatives are true freshmen. The same goes for the uninspiring combo of Justin Brown and Morrice Richardson on the other end. And NT Ian Williams was a good recruit but remains just a true sophomore; Brian from House Rock Built was pretty meh about his performance to date. I don’t see any walk-ons or anything, but there isn’t much: two freshmen are behind the starting trio at end and Paddy Mullen is the nominal NT backup.
Meanwhile, the linebackers seem okay. Maurice Crum—one of those Brooks Bollinger Memorial Eighth-Year Senior guys—is back after racking up 84 tackles last year; only 4.5 of those were for loss. People seem excited about sophomore Brian Smith after a promising freshman year; the outside linebackers are eh.
There’s not much here to base a prediction on other than 15 San Diego State carries that went well but could have been anomalous due to small sample size and were certainly more effective than they would have been if SDSU ran 75% of the time instead of threw.
Meanwhile, Michigan moves in fits and starts, gashing people when the little bastard guys get the corner or slice up into gaping zone holes and getting zero or negative yards when someone on the OL makes a critical mistake—which is often. You’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.
Key Matchup: I’ve hinted at this before, but here it is: IMO, the most important individual matchup in this game is Michigan center David Molk versus Irish NT Ian Williams. Both are in their second year in college—Molk redshirted, Williams did not—and both have gotten meh reviews so far, though neither has put in enough playing time for early impressions to be anything near conclusive. Against Utah, Molk got buried into the backfield the few times Michigan tried traditional zone running plays; against Miami Molk sealed off the DT to the playside time and again. Williams, meanwhile, had an impressive tackle count his freshman year and checks in at 310.
If he can drive Molk backwards we’re in trouble; if you can single block a nose tackle in the 3-4 you are destined for success.
Pass Offense vs. SSONIINI
N/A, next section.
What, seriously? Okay: Notre Dame lost Tom Zbikowski, who may have engaged in judo or MMA or something, I can’t remember, to graduation and rising star cornerback Darrin Walls to a “personal issue.” So they’ve got Terrail Lambert, who Michigan fans have a special Manningham-related soft spot for, and Raeshon McNeil, Notre Dame’s only four-star+ upperclassman not on the OL, at corner. At safety they’ve got David Bruton and the aforementioned McCarthy.
That’s turnover to an extent that makes last year’s stats mostly irrelevant. Against San Diego State’s short passing game they were good-ish, allowing SDSU QB Ryan Lindley 274 yards but requiring him to throw 59 times to get there.
Michigan, meanwhile, got a lot of guys open last week and missed them all by hilarious margins. Steven Threet is your starting quarterback; he’s got a decent arm and has made mostly good decisions thus far but he’s been terribly inaccurate. There was one beauty deep ball to Junior Hemingway in the Utah game, and a couple other decent throws then. Against Miami it was all wrong.
Key Matchup: Threet versus Jesus, Man, Just Throw To Them. Notre Dame players are kind of irrelevant if Threet doesn’t hit some guys.
Run Defense vs. SSONIINI
The run defense is not as good as you might think it is, as the avalanche of sacks the team has unleashed distorts those numbers considerably. Miami’s lead back averaged 3.7 yards a carry and Utah’s main two guys combined for 94 yards on 21 carries, 4.5 per. That’s slightly harsh because both teams occasionally used their quarterbacks as runners and got stuffed doing it, but the point stands: this is not the country’s fourth-best rushing defense.
Of particular concern was a series against Utah where their thudding power back ran Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draws over and over and picked up big chunks of yards doing it. Michigan switched Johnny Thompson and Jonas Mouton in at linebacker and both seemed to outperform the Utah starters, but that concern is still there when going up against a team that promised to “pound the ball” behind a newly gargantuan offensive line. Notre Dame does have a couple of Matt Asiata-like beef machines in Robert Hughes and James Aldridge; the specter of those ISQD disturbs.
The numbers above were garnered against San Diego State, which
- was the third worst defense in D-I last year,
- gave up considerably more YPC to a I-AA team in the opener, aaand
- literally had its entire starting DL out with injury.
Also they had possibly the worst offensive line this reporter has ever seen and brought the line coach back. WTF.
If Notre Dame wants to run the ball, that seems amenable despite the issues against Asiata.
Key Matchup: Ezeh and Thompson tackling Hughes and Allen. Michigan linebackers have rarely delivered a blow this year, allowing opposing running backs to gain 2 or even 3 yards after contact with disturbing regularity. Hughes is the kind of guy who thrives on that to keep his YPA up.
Pass Defense vs. SSONIINI
This is where the avalanche of sacks comes in. Against Utah, Tim Jamison was unstoppable. Against Miami, it was Brandon Graham. Michigan is now second in the nation in sacks and goes up against that same Notre Dame offensive line, which managed to keep Jimmah clean for the first time ever against San Diego State but now steps up the level of competition considerably.
We have the metrics mentioned above in the run game to denigrate the Notre Dame line, and there are also these items when it comes to the pass:
- the left tackle was a crappy guard last year
- an already lumbering line was asked to put on 20-40 pounds each, so they could pound it.
It’s doubtful the sack parade stops this week.
Meanwhile, Jimmah(!) Clausen looked like an actual quarterback against San Diego State, hitting a bunch of slants and outs and flies and the like, completing 21 of 34 for 237 yards. Three touchdowns were offset by two interceptions, and to Michigan it doesn’t really matter if those interceptions were because Clausen screwed up (he might have) or Irish wide receiver Duval Kamara sucks and flails around like a six-year-old girl sometimes (he does), because it’s likely Kamara is still a major target.
Other guys of note: David Grimes is “solid” to Notre Dame fans and “wholly average” to everyone else; think Ron Bellamy minus-minus. Golden Tate was actually very impressive against SDSU, smoking one of their corners on a 38-yard go route touchdown and nearly making a spectacular diving catch on another bomb later; freshman Michael Floyd has a bunch of recruiting hype.
On the other side of the ball: the pass coverage has been poor underneath but decent deeper except when someone screws up and lets an opponent wide receiver run free through the poppies; Michigan has had difficulty tackling little quick guys underneath but Notre Dame doesn’t have any of those except maybe Allen, who figures to feature heavily in an extensive screen game.
Key Matchup: Graham and Jamison versus Turkovich and Young. Clausen did pretty well when afforded time last week, and Michigan’s secondary is prone to safety breakdowns. Michigan has to balance out the number of big plays Clausen makes with his arm with big plays Michigan makes by bruising his ribs.
You will be pleased to know that Notre Dame’s punter is not going to average better than 50 yards a kick. He’s Ben Maust and he did 42.1 last year. However… dammit… Notre Dame was 13th in net punting last year.
Zoltan, meanwhile, had a big game against Miami, though that may have been more due to some fortunate rolls on short-ish, angled punts than any sort of space mastery.
Michigan has a significant advantage at kicker with KC Lopata returning after going 11 of 12 last year; this year he has made field goals of 47 and 50 yards while missing from 41. (Michigan’s missed extra point against Miami was due to a faulty hold.)
Notre Dame’s Brandon Walker was only 50% last year and missed his first attempt of this year, that from 47 yards. There was also some Yakety Sax on a botched attempt against SDSU.
Key Matchup: Kickers versus the weather. Every field goal attempt will be critical.
- Molk gets bowled over.
- The fatties on the right side of the ND OL start bashing Michigan backwards.
- We don’t see more Cissoko/Woolfolk so Harrison can stay at safety.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan’s defensive line turns in a repeat of FBD II.
- Corollary: and Clausen looks just as bewildered by the idea of these chaps hitting him as he did last year.
- Michigan linebackers are sniffing out the screens.
- We complete a pass.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Wow We Still Suck, –1 for Wow They Still Suck, +1 for I Don’t Believe In Ghosts But I Do Believe Notre Dame Stadium Is Full Of Them And They’re Douchebags, +1 for Walk-on May Be Starting At Left Tackle, –1 for …And He’s Probably Better Than Sam Young, –1 for Weis E Coyote, +1 for We Literally Did Not Complete Two Passes Downfield Last Week.).
Desperate need to win level: 8 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Eff It, We Must Go To The California Raisin Bowl 7-5, +1 for Notre Dame Is So Annoying, –1 for General Ennui 2008, +1 for Vast Irrational Hatred Of Charlie Weis, +1 for …It’s Not Really Irrational But It Is Vast)
Loss will cause me to... really struggle to find six wins on the rest of the schedule.
Win will cause me to... enjoy deep draughts of schadenfreude on ND message boards for two solid weeks.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
There is one bloody giant mismatch in this game and it’s the Michigan defensive line versus the Notre Dame offensive line. These are the same players that took to the field last year; when the dust cleared Clausen thought it was Shrive Tuesday 1936 and Michigan had a 38-0 win with Ryan Mallett at QB.
In the interregnum Michigan has acquired the services of (eeee!) Mike Barwis. Notre Dame, meanwhile, threw 40 pounds on an already ponderous Sam Young and kept John Latina, line coach of ultimate seduction, around. This seems like an idea on par with “spread ‘n shred versus Georgia Tech.”
Except, no, I lie: there is a second bloody giant mismatch in the game and it’s Michigan quarterbacks versus anything. What do you have? A souvenir shot glass from Casa Bonita? Good enough.
So… who do you pick? I figure Michigan swarming Clausen is good for a pick or fumble or three; I have also watched our quarterbacks. I figure Notre Dame will get someone deep several times because of safety malfeasance and Clausen will either have Tim Jamsion’s helmet in his chest or an excellent chance to score a touchdown that Michigan can ill afford to give up.
I mean… who knows? I don’t know if ND’s defense is going to be any good, if they can stop Michigan’s run game, if Threet will complete anything, if Walker makes any field goals, and the uncertainty is doubled because of the weather.
I do suggest, very tentatively, that Michigan is much better prepared to handle a world in which its offensive line has no idea how to block its opponent, and that the apparent thunderstorm brewing bodes ill for passing games, and that this is more relevant for Notre Dame, and I kind of expect Michigan to win.
But not very much. I expect several very high-variance things to happen and for a close game to be decided by something ridiculous.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Yes, we do complete a long pass. To Hemingway, even.
- Shaw and McGuffie get more evenly distributed carries.
- Michigan gets to Clausen five times.
- Michigan, 13-10.