2013 Opponent Preview: Notre Dame

Submitted by Heiko on June 7th, 2013 at 4:23 PM

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:

Central Michigan

  • 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.


Notre Dame

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.



Irish D-line

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.

Outlook: 9-3.

  • Wins: Temple, @Purdue, Arizona State, @Air Force, Navy, @Pittsburgh, BYU
  • Tossups: @Michigan, Michigan State, USC, Oklahoma, @Stanford



June 7th, 2013 at 4:46 PM ^

Or are we all just agreeing that no one cares about Central or Akron?

And I don't blame Manti for carrying on a long distance relationship with Jessica Alba...

NOLA Wolverine

June 7th, 2013 at 4:51 PM ^

Greg Bryant (5* 2013 RB Signee) seems pretty likely to factor into the running game this year for the Irish. He's probably about as likely to get PT as Derrick Green, taking their recruiting reviews at face value and what's on each team's returning roster.


June 7th, 2013 at 4:53 PM ^

...of another epic Michigan-Notre Dame battle. 

Here's hoping the cloaking device will be fully tuned and ready.

While we don't know a lot about how well Davaris Daniels will play, we do know that this is his dad (not Romo).

Chippewa Blue

June 7th, 2013 at 4:53 PM ^

If I have time in between summer classes I'm going to attempt to write a more in depth preview on CMU, seeing how I have first hand knowledge after watching all their games the last three years (not looking forward to the two teams I rise and fall with playing each other but such is the nature of the beast) . Maybe I'll be able to use my MACtion knowledge to try and put a little bit more on Akron if people are interested.


June 7th, 2013 at 6:41 PM ^

I've hit all my search engines, Irish site, etc., and haven't found a thing about Daniels, except they predict he'll be one of this year's breakout wrs.  Bar rumor or is this in print somewhere? Thanks.


June 7th, 2013 at 11:21 PM ^

Daniels is not off the team.  And you still have TJ Jones as well.  As I said in another post, the fall off wasn't when Floyd left because ND still had Eifert, the fall off will be this year now that Eifert is gone.

Daniels, TJ Jones, Chris Brown and The Admiral's boy, Corey Robinson (Put big money on him being the next big WR name out of ND), CJ Prosise (previous position at safety) and James Onwualu will all see time.

Torii Hunter Jr, will likely be the next slot receiver since Davonte Neals departure depending on how his broken leg heals up.

At TE is a pretty strong area.  Look for Niklas and Koyack to get most of the play time here with Welch and Huermann filling in.

I found the preview lacking in a lot of information in regards to the WRs and specifically the RBs. 


June 9th, 2013 at 12:08 PM ^

I left out a bunch of details sort of on purpose. Seth and I wrote a 3,000-word ND preview for HTTV so I thought I'd make the blog post a little briefer. 

But since you're not satisfied, here is what we wrote for the WR's and RB's (keep in mind this was written before the Golson news):

"Having a bunch of dual-threat quarterbacks is probably a good thing for them, however, because the talent at the receiver position is trending down. Biletnikoff, I mean, Mackey Awardwinning tight-end/wide-receiver-in-disguise Tyler Eifert (50 rec, 685 yards, 4 TDs) is gone, leaving Notre Dame without their number one downfield threat. They do return senior slot receiver T.J. Jones (50 rec, 649 yards, 4 TDs) and junior wideout DaVaris Daniels (31 rec, 490 
yards), both of whom will be heavy contributors. Of the two, Jones is the proven commodity, and the scuttlebutt in South Bend indicates that Daniels, who’s 6’2 and fairly fast, has a much higher ceiling if he can work out some of the inconsistency in his game.
It’s completely possible that the ongoing quarterback situation has masked the true potential of the receivers, and one or both could break out in 2013. They kind of have to, because behind them is a lot of broken bones, empty dorm rooms, and freshmen. Highly touted recruits Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson both transferred over the offseason, and no one else on the roster has had significant playing time. The Irish might have to rely on a pair of early enrollees in James Onwualu and Corey Robinson to mitigate the situation. Team Swiss Army Knife C.J. Prosise was moved to slot receiver in spring after playing safety last year (as well as outside linebacker, dime back, kick returner, tight end, special teams gunner, fry cutter, and can opener). 
But hey, that’s okay. Because Notre Dame is returning a deep stable of running backs in every variety that will be able to grind and slash the opposition into oblivion. Nope. Just kidding. Similar to situation at receiver, it looks as though the Irish are a bit lacking in this department. Gone: Theo Riddick (190 carries, 917 yards, 5 TDs) and Cierre Wood (114 carries, 742 yards, 4 TDs), who accounted for more than 80 percent of Notre Dame’s rushing output. Returning: sophomore George Atkinson III (44 carries, 317 yards, 5 TDs) is a 6’1, 190-lb slasher. He has good vision and could be deadly in the open field, but his ability to carry the ball 15-20 times a game is a serious question mark. If that’s a negative, Notre Dame turns to a roster of parts much like Michigan’s spring depth chart. Of that pile the Justice Hayes-like object is junior Cam McDaniel, who saw action at corner last year and was recipient of a fair amount of spring hype."


June 10th, 2013 at 9:35 AM ^

Appreciate that bro.  It was more for your cronies than me.  I just figured it would be remiss not to fill in the blanks.  I was at spring practice and Robinson was catching everything within a mile radius of his body.  I really can't wait to see him on the field, expect redzone and short yardage situations early this year.  I expect by the end of the year he might weasel his way into a starting job.


June 7th, 2013 at 5:25 PM ^

in the passing game is the two units you mentioned as their primary strengths on D, the lbers and DLmen. If you'll recall last season's game, it was the ability of their lbers, especially Te'o to help out the inexperienced dbs, always seeming to be wherever Denard-in his admitedly worst performance-was attempting to throw the ball.  As pointed out, they will be very strong along these two lines of defense this year, and the added year's experience from the dbackfield should help alleviate things as well.     ^And as to qbs, Kelly has been notorious for being able to find one that fits his offense.  I would not be surprised to see a second qb, by design, play against us.  Just revisiting his few years in the MAC and I seem to recall him not having a viable qb to run his offense. What's he do?  He takes his best db and probably best athlete and turns him into a very good qb.  Say what we will about this guy, but he does know who is best to run his team, and he'll find him if he has one-and given recent recruiting trends-he'll more than likely end the season with someone other than Rees running his offense unless his offensive line is able to give Tommy the time he needs to be good. When he does have time, he has proven capable of getting a hot hand as often as he has turning victory into defeat at the most inopportune times.     ^Likewise, they'll have to contend with the type of QB that Borges loves to build an offense around, and probably the most mobile he's had at that position in a predominately pro style offense.  Devin's ability to buy time while waiting for receivers to get open could end up taking its toll on ND's big guys as the game wears on.   Should be another classic that most have been except for the embarrassing losses under Davies. Good early test for both teams. 


June 7th, 2013 at 5:54 PM ^

I actually expect ND to have more trouble with Arizona State (in Arlington) and on the road at Pitt than against Sparty in South Bend. A 9-3 regular season seems about right assuming they don't have ALL THE LUCK (and terrible officiating) again like they did in 2012.


June 7th, 2013 at 5:58 PM ^

I immediatly fast forwarded (10:03) to one of my all time favorite Michigan game quotes of all time.  

"Wide open is Gallon.....They left him alone" 


I still remember standing on my couch and shouting as quietly as possible because my wife and kids were asleep.  Do I want another game like that this year?  Not sure my heart could take another game like this.  I was not able to fall asleep until about 3.  


Still debating if last second comebacks or the total throttling of a rival is more fun.  


June 9th, 2013 at 10:37 AM ^

More often than not, comebacks mean someone's playing badly more than the other's playing well.  I'll take 'em when the comeback kids are our boys, but the perfectionist in me is disappointed when it's enabled due to botched assignments or bad technique.  If anything, the difference between "comeback" and "choke" for me is, did the defense play well?  Yeah, yeah, I'm a lot of fun at parties.

It's ironic because football is much more dynamic when people are making mistakes, and mistakes will happen.  That said, I'd rather see Michigan make a statement and win this thing something like 16-3.  Leave no room for doubt who was the better team that day.


June 7th, 2013 at 7:10 PM ^

Any UTL replay is NOT COMPLETE without video of the Gallon and Roundtree receptions at the end of the case, with the ND radio broadcast (Don Criqui) overlaying the video.  And of course preceded by the color commentator (name forgotten) who was like, Denard can't hurt you with his arm.

Like there could be a single MGoBlog user who hasn't watched/listend to that joyous carnage a million times.

Painter Smurf

June 7th, 2013 at 11:58 PM ^

It's worth noting that UM ran the ball fairly well against ND last year and actually had a few sustained drives.  In fact, I took solace after last year's ND loss that the OL and RB combo was starting to gel.  Boy was that wrong.  Pitt ran well on ND last year too.  Of course it is a very good defense, but I think UM's offense can do some damage against the Irish defense.


June 8th, 2013 at 1:24 AM ^

at interior OL.  Louis Nix III scares the shit out of me and is a potential 1st round pick.  Not only he is big at 6'3", 330 lbs, but he commands double team because of his strength and surprising quickness. He is the only ND player who played well against Bama. He basically put Barrett Jones on skates. 

Painter Smurf

June 9th, 2013 at 9:54 PM ^

Not sure we watched the same ND-Bama game...  Alabama's OG's were all over ND's LB's due to the fact that Jones needed so little help with Nix.  That was the #1 key to Bama running at will between the tackles.  Outside of a play or two, Nix was a complete non-factor.  Nix also did not have a great game against Mealer and UM last year.  Nix is a good player with NFL potential due to his measurables, but he does not have the motor to take over a game, unless the C is bad.


June 9th, 2013 at 11:43 PM ^

When Jones tried to block him one on one, Nix dominated the matchup. He wasn't a non factor and commanded double team. He basically put Jones on skates. When Bama OG tried to block him, Nix often an the matchup and he did push Warmack backward which is impressive considering that Warmack is a top 10 pick. It wasn't until his injury in 3rd quarter that he was slowed down, but the game was out of hand anyway.

Other DL did not have a good game which is why Bama OL engulfed ND LBs in the next level. No one on ND defense played well except for Nix who is probably the best player on the field IMO.

I disagree on Nix's motor. He has good motor and was incredibly productive in being active and forcing double team. He is one of the bigger reason why ND defense is so stout. He is a potential 1st round pick based on his body of work, not just pure measureables


June 8th, 2013 at 2:01 AM ^

Will be passing a lot if ND plays totally against the run. I have a good vibe that Garnder is going to put up a lot passing yards this season. He may be Henne like but only with the ability to scramble. My hope is one of the RB will become the go to guy by ND. I wish Shane could keep his red shirt...but I think if the team wishes to contend this season they will need to get Morris ready as the back up QB this season. Given 2 years as backup he will be a great starter in 2015 and 2016.


June 8th, 2013 at 7:57 AM ^

Sorry to go a little off topic but I wonder how Morris is feeling about his situation at UM now that Gardner has gotten his RS year. When Morris committed it looked like that might not happen and Gardner would be a senior this season. Add in the fact that Morris might not have the luxury of redshirting with Bellomy's injury (and the staff failing to land a QB in the 2012 class) and he is looking at the very real possibility of only having 2 years as the starting QB at UM when it looked like he would have 3-4 years at the time of his commitment.  I have to think he is a little put out by this turn of events.


June 8th, 2013 at 12:45 PM ^

Don't forget he will have very real competition from Speight for those 2 years. From what I've seen/read/heard/divined he is a competitive kid that loves Michigan. The hope is that competitive fire pushes him to the next level rather than causing problems with his psyche. Being a 2 year starter at a major program is nothing to be ashamed of though.


June 9th, 2013 at 10:43 AM ^

So, what Heiko's saying is that Greg Mattison's job will be easy, and Al Borges has his work cut out for him.  Both sides have a lot of question marks on the interior line and running game, going up against talented front 7s.

Yeah, we might not see a touchdown scored in this game at all.  Good thing we have a kicking game!


June 9th, 2013 at 6:08 PM ^

My impression is that Notre Dame this year is basically a better MSU with different defensive concepts.  Which admittedly worries me, given the trouble the Spartans have given Michigan lately.

Painter Smurf

June 9th, 2013 at 9:53 PM ^

Offensive concepts are pretty different too.  MSU tries to run the ball like it's 1975.  Kelly is very much pass-first.  He did seem to learn the value of running a little last year.  But he lost games his first couple seasons at ND due to not exploiting a decent running game enough.

On defense, I think Diaco at ND is more bend-don't-break than Narducci, who blitzes an ILB on every darn play.


June 10th, 2013 at 8:09 AM ^

I think the troubles had more to do with our offense than anything MSU or ND did, other than be talented.  I mean, I don't think MSU did anything special with what they had.

Two years ago, MSU got lucky.  Denard's zone read was mostly constrained by the occasional 30+ yard pass unleashed to Hemingway.  The trash tornado took away that, and MSU knew it.  The linebackers jumping the snap count didn't help, but MSU's defense wouldn't have looked nearly as good if the weather didn't make Michigan's offense so one-dimensional.

Last season, Borges planned a conservative game and got exactly that.  I'm not really happy with it, but I see where he's coming from -- Michigan had a really poor offense last year; it's remarkable they got as much production as they did.  Turnovers in big games did horrible things vs. Alabama and Notre Dame.  With that in mind, Borges knew MSU plans obsessively for the Michigan game and had a tough defense, so limiting mistakes at the expense of some productivity was a valid call, if I daresay disputable.

I have no idea about this year because there are so many question marks on offense.  Not all bad ones, don't get me wrong -- this team is younger but far more talented than prior seasons.  I just don't know.  Funchess hasn't done much more than flash brilliance a couple times, Darboh hasn't done anything yet, the interior line is all potential and no experience and no one has any idea how the RB competition is going to play out.  The only thing we know is that Devin-to-Gallon is going to rock but obviously this team is going to do way more than that.  But I don't think anyone has a hope of knowing how all this young talent is going to do until they face ND on 9/7.


June 10th, 2013 at 9:06 AM ^

How awesome would it be if Michigan's defense didn't allow more than 21 points through these first three games? I think it's possible, and I would really like to see it happen.