The time has come for the annual offseason series in which I provide a semi-analytical preview of Michigan’s opponents. Because of the relatively late start, I don’t think I’ll get around to writing up every team. So for those of you interested in Central Michigan and Akron, here is a super condensed version:
- 2012: 7-6 overall, 4-4 MAC; beat Iowa.
- Offense: QB-by-committee as of spring; senior tailback is 1,000-yard rusher; top wideout averages 20 yards per, which is Hemingway-like. O-line lost primo tackle Eric Fisher to the draft.
- Defense: Injured d-line, solid linebackers, meh secondary.
- Kind of like: A stiff punching bag.
- vs. Michigan: Would be a good opportunity for M to practice running power with new RBs. If the coaches anticipate needing Shane Morris this season (hint: they probably do), his redshirt should be burned here.
- 2012: 1-11 overall, 0-8 MAC; saved UMass from winless season.
- Offense: Crap.
- Defense: Crap.
- Kind of like: Crap.
- vs. Michigan: Assuming Morris loses his redshirt against CMU, this should be treated like a second spring game, i.e. give the starters a series or two, then bring in the backups.
My tears are real. You're not.
I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking you’ve probably done something wrong if you’re coming off a 12-1 season and the only things people talk about are fake girlfriends, "poor academic judgement," and flighty defensive tackles. Not to mention those rumors about your head coach possibly ditching you to be with someone else at some point.
Well. Let me assure you that it’s not you. You’ve done nothing wrong. It’s not your fault love letters are most effective when written in 140 characters or less. It’s not your fault you’re not allowed to “retweet” someone else’s homework. It’s not your fault Eddie Vanderdoes thinks @BruinBoobs is a way better follow than @NotreDameBoobs.
And speculation about Brian Kelly’s imminent departure to the NFL is just hurtful gossip perpetuated by rumormongers who think that anything they say on the internet can be deleted before they get in trouble.
You see, a pattern emerges: Twitter is sabotaging your way of life en route to bringing down Western society.
Damn it all to hell.
Notre Dame’s 12-1 season was made possible by luck, good defense, a positive turnover margin, and absurdly bad refereeing. They lost to Alabama at the end of the season because, incidentally, they didn’t have any of those things.
Conventional wisdom says that Notre Dame can’t replicate that level of success this year because the things within their control won't be any better, and the things outside of their control will most likely be worse.
The defense will be great once again, but when you were No. 2 in the nation in points allowed there’s not a whole lot of room for improvement. Offensively, the Irish under Kelly have never been anything special. With question marks at nearly every position -- including QB now that Golson has been suspended -- it’s hard to see them doing much better in terms of yardage, and it’s even harder to see them hang on to that low turnover rate.
The schedule is relatively similar to the one they had last year. They host Michigan State, USC, and Oklahoma, and significant road opponents include Michigan, Pitt, and Stanford. As college schedules go, that's pretty rough, and they don't get any real body-bag games to take a breather.
Their defense will keep them in every game they play. Their offense will need a lot of luck, however, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels like they used up the entirety of their five-year allowance last season.
This potato is really hot.
Golson is out. That leaves Rees, Hendrix, and incoming freshman Malik Zaire to jockey for the starting spot. Reports indicate that Rees has won the job already, which makes sense, but a lot can happen between now and September.
Rees, in case you've forgotten (how dare you!), is the prolific passer who started two years ago in Under the Lights. In fact he was so prolific he outshined Denard in the “throwing to the other team” category. I guess it's kind of his thing -- his first career pass against Michigan was a flea flicker interception to Jonas Mouton.
On the other hand, he scored the only touchdown of last year’s game against the Wolverines on a QB run, of all things.
If Rees starts, Michigan’s secondary will get a stiff but manageable early season test. Stiff because all things considered Rees is pretty decent. Manageable because the matchup nightmares that Notre Dame usually seems to have -- Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert -- are no more. Davaris Daniels (31 rec, 490 yards, 15.8 ypc) is the only potential weapon they have. We don’t know much about him because he wasn’t given too many opportunities last year. That’ll change with Rees at QB, and then we’ll see whether he’ll blow up like Jeremy Gallon or get beaned in the helmet like any Michigan State receiver not named Aaron Burbridge.
Formationally we’ll probably see a lot of shotgun and one-back with receivers spread all over the field. When Rees started in 2011, the run-pass split was slightly in favor of pass (33:36 attempts per game), but that was with guys like Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray. Expect that ratio to be biased more towards pass this year; I don’t think they can afford otherwise.
That's because the Irish run game will be thin. The starting O-line is solid, returning both tackles and a guard, but their depth beyond that is as dire as last year’s Michigan line. Any injury could spell the end of positive yardage on the ground, especially considering that there is really only one experienced running back on the roster, George Atkinson III (51 carries, 361 yards, 7.1 ypc, 5 TDs). No one seems to know whether he’s durable enough to last more than 10-15 carries a game. He could be 2011 Toussaint, or he could be a 2012 Toussaint. Either way, he's their only guy as of now.
At least having a competent and somewhat experienced pocket passer plays to Kelly’s strengths as a playcaller, so Notre Dame should be fun to watch regardless. Drives will end quickly and spectacularly, and Kelly will have plenty of opportunity to practice his Grimace impersonation.
What would an Irish defense be without Tragic Hero/Victim Manti Te’O? A lot less annoying/entertaining to hear about, and still very good. Expect to see them hanging out in opponent backfields on a regular basis.
Notre Dame defensive cordinator Bob Diaco runs a 3-4, which looks a lot like Greg Mattison’s 4-3 under but with slightly different names and concepts. The nose tackle in the 3-4 lines up directly over the center and is a monument to the law of inertia. The defensive ends are a lot like Michigan’s 5-tech and 3-tech; OLBs are like SAM and WDE; ILBs are like Morgan and Ross.
Responsibilities are interchangeable between a lot of positions because the front seven is built for a variety of zone blitzes. The secondary is the same.
So who should we worry about? All of the defensive linemen, to start. There’s DE Stephon Tuitt -- you know, shredder facemask -- who is a 6-6, 300-lb monster who had 12 sacks last season. There’s 6-3, 340 lb DT Louis Nix who has orbiting satellites. And there’s DE Sheldon Day who is kind of like Brandon Graham. Five offensive linemen are probably not enough to block these guys.
Then you kind of have to deal with the linebackers, a unit that returns everyone but Te’O. OLB Prince Shembo (51 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 7.5 sacks) is the guy to watch out for, but no one is really a slouch. Most of them are seniors. Most of them are very good. This is depressing to write about.
The secondary is really the only group with exploitable potential. Last year they were a freshman, a converted running back, and a converted receiver; this year they will be a sophomore, a converted running back, and a converted receiver. They held up just fine in 2012, however -- few opposing QBs had much time to do much of anything before eating turf -- and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to shore up the coverage thing should the front seven fail to generate pressure, if ever.
This team is kind of like: Roger Federer after a strenuous biceps work-out. Wimpy forehand, wicked backhand.
Vs. Michigan: One thing Michigan failed to do last year was sufficiently test the fragile Irish secondary. The Wolverines are much better equipped to do that this year, with the only problem being that secondary will probably be a lot less fragile. Still, it’s probably better than running into 300-pound defensive ends, am I right?
The way the two teams match up against each other gives every indication that this will be a very low scoring game, but crazy things tend to happen under the lights.
- Wins: Temple, @Purdue, Arizona State, @Air Force, Navy, @Pittsburgh, BYU
- Tossups: @Michigan, Michigan State, USC, Oklahoma, @Stanford