First, and sadly: due to a honeymoon in Paris (not mine), longtime friendly adversary Brian of the House Rock Built was unavailable for a Vicious Electronic Questioning this year. I haven't run across any Notre Dame bloggers who aren't enthusiastically answering their roundtable question about why they hate Michigan with links to the Blue-Gray Sky thing they posted on this blog that mostly talks about people who have been dead for many years, so a replacement just wouldn't be the same. Who goes on a honeymoon during football season anyway?
But I can boil it down to its essence:
I know I feel better. On with shew.
|WHAT||Michigan @ Notre Dame|
|WHERE||Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, September 11th 2010|
|THE LINE||Notre Dame -4|
|WEATHER||mid-60s, 40% chance of rain, 10 mph wind|
Run Offense vs. Notre Dame
Michigan obliterated UConn on the ground, racking up 287 yards on 61 carries. That's 4.7 YPC despite running about 75% of the time and spending the last ten minutes of the game pounding it into a stacked line. Denard Robinson did the bulk of the damage running simple QB lead draws that UConn could not stop even after UConn adjusted to them and Michigan showed no inclination to stop calling rock. The tackles performed above expectations, Steve Schilling seems to have made a senior leap, and David Molk is back. The one sore spot on the line was sophomore guard Patrick Omameh. You probably know this bit already.
How meaningful that is is still a question. UConn returned five of its front seven (both defensive tackles and all three linebackers) but lost a projected starter at DE before the season and may have played Greg Lloyd at MLB despite an injury. Last year they were the #45 rush defense nationally largely thanks to playing a lot of terrible rush defenses. When it came time to play anyone with a mobile quarterback or a tailback, they got shredded. Jury may be leaning one way, but it's still out.
Third stringer Dan Dierking career YPC: 4.0. Versus ND: 6.2, although on just nine carries.
As far as Notre Dame goes, their opening matchup against Purdue is not indicative of much either. The Boilers lost Ralph Bolden before the season and went with a platoon of a dinged, unprepared Al-Terek McBurse and Dan Dierking, which latter the announcers tried to praise by saying he could play fullback too. You may remember Dierking playing against Michigan in the long-long ago when Purdue had a similar rash of injuries, but after a 42-carry freshman season his stats for the last two years combined are 12 carries for 38 yards.
A mélange of those guys, worse-at-running-than-he-thinks quarterback Robert Marve, and assorted who-dats went for 136 yards on 28 carries, Marve's four sacks excluded. That's… kind of ominous for the Irish, as it's a 4.9 YPC against Dierking and the Who-Dats (AKA: Who-dat and the Who-Dats.) Compounding the ominous Tom Hammond head hovering over the ND run defense, Purdue returned just two starters on the offensive line. Two of the new guys are position switch starters somewhere between ominous and klaxon-deploying: the right tackle was a backup defensive tackle last year; the center is a 6'6" converted tackle who had never played the position in his life before being told to practice snapping in June. Despite this, Purdue coaches were positive about him after the game:
"He graded out winning," Nord said of Mondek. "Peters Drey had a very good player head up on him the whole day and he held his own. He did an excellent job for the first time snapping in the game."
Also, in that article the Purdue coaches pin the blame for three of Marve's four sacks on Marve for not throwing the ball on time. The Boilers are going to rush for like six yards a game this year.
Last year's game is worth noting since the lines will be similar: Michigan went for 190 yards on 38 caries with a long of 32. Many arrows point towards schwing. The only one pointing away is the presumably increased competence of the ND coaching staff.
Key Matchup: David Molk vs Ian Williams. The first sign Molk was going to be good was two years ago in the driving rain at Notre Dame Stadium when he blasted Williams back time and again, opening holes up for what would be the best game of Sam McGuffie's Michigan career. A year later he was a major factor in Michigan's 5 YPC. If he can do the same thing this year, Michigan's guards will have free releases on the sophomore middle linebackers and Notre Dame will struggle to get Michigan off the field.
Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame
Michigan fans' reaction to Denard Robinson's throwing in the UConn game was basically this:
And not without reason when you send Tacopants into a mopey sideline pout due to lack of playing time. Stipulated that UConn's secondary must be terrible and that Gary Gray and Darrin Walls will be a major step up. If the ground game is working like it seems it might, however, the excitable Te'o ("yeah, he missed that tackle, but he missed it like a FIVE STAR") and the rest of the Notre Dame linebacking corps will be tested more than the cornerbacks. The only times Michigan went after corners against UConn were on hitches; everything else was safeties and linebackers. That seems like a viable strategy against ND.
The questions for Robinson are the ones detailed in UFR:
It's more about what happens when his receivers are covered. Can he come off a primary read? Can he consistently recognize when guys are covered? Can he process information fast enough to get the passes out on time?
Notre Dame will spend a lot of time working on a counter to the snag that Robinson threw to good effect against UConn, leaving him riskier throws further downfield that require more recognition than "where is the linebacker"; UConn's inability to play anything but zone against Robinson hurt them badly.
As far as ND goes, Marve struggled against the veteran secondary, throwing a pick when Walls sank into the deep route in cover two and Marve chucked it anyway and completing a large number of uselessly short passes. Though he went 31 of 42, all those completions only gained 220 yards, a Threet/Sheridan-esque 5.2 YPC. The longest completion of the day went for 16 yards. Notre Dame also racked up four sacks, though as mentioned the coaching staff put the blame for three of them on Marve; the fourth was blamed on a tailback's blitz pickup. Notre Dame looks to have the same low-mistake secondary they've had for a long time.
Key Matchup: Play action OMG versus ND linebackers. More play action combined with a successful run game and some inexperience at MLB could yield a big day for slots and tight ends.
Run Defense vs. Notre Dame
First, everything ND did on offense against Purdue:
Did you get all that? AAL breaks it down in various ways. The bit relevant to this section:
On 1st and 10, the Irish were 68% run, 32% pass. On all other downs they were 21% run, 79% pass. … Most popular runs: Power (8), Inside Zone (5), Draw (3), Read Zone (3) … Purdue plays a 4-3 and was happy to sit in Cover 2 for almost 50% of all plays. Often a nickel back was in the game replacing the Sam, but serving the same function. The safeties sat at 10-12 pre-snap and weren’t going to let anything over their heads.
Despite the predictability of ND's run distribution, tailbacks Cierre Wood and Armando Allen combined to have an almost Denard-like day with 25 carries for 161 yards and a touchdown. As you can see above, they looked good doing it. (The move to the spread has apparently spelled doom for Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray.) Notre Dame also ran Crist seven times for 20 yards, though he looked bad enough at it that I assume they'll either drop it entirely or keep it as a very occasional effort to keep defenses honest.
Is Purdue's run defense any good? Eh… probably not. They returned 4-5 starters in their front seven but those guys were good for just 94th nationally last year.
Of course, the next question is "is Michigan's run defense any good?" They were 91st (WOO SUCKIT PURDUE) last year and though they return 5-ish of their front seven from last year (counting the spur as a linebacker) the losses were Brandon Graham and Stevie Brown, AKA definitely the best run-defense players on the team last year.
The UConn game does give reason for hope. The Huskies returned four starters and Jordan Todman from a rushing game that was 39th nationally a year ago, but only racked up 138 yards on 30 carries, with 26 of those coming on two carries when Michigan was in a full-on prevent. When Michigan was in their base defense, UConn averaged 3.6 YPC. If Michigan can replicate that they'll be in good shape.
Key Matchup: Mike Martin vs Braxton Cave. Cave was a surprise starter when Dan Wenger suffered a concussion in fall camp, and while he was a decently well-regarded recruit Martin should be coming into his own this year to the point where he tears through Cave like his presence is theoretical. If this happens, Notre Dame's ground game will suffer.
Pass Defense vs. Notre Dame
HAHAHAHA. End preview.
All right, fine: this looked like a pending disaster before the season and looks like a pending disaster after week one, but maybe slightly less of one? Michigan's corners were effective against UConn's short passing game and blameless on their long completions. Cam Gordon made one understandable mistake amongst a reel of good angles, big hits, and mostly responsible play. This is still going to be a horror show; maybe it will be slightly less of one than everyone expects.
On the Notre Dame side of things, Crist proved he wasn't Jimmah, at least not yet, several times. He overthrew several receivers and did not react well when Purdue let the dogs out:
Purdue only blitzed 3 times before the score was 20-3. The Irish handled it at that time (+5, +12, +7). After, Purdue blitzed 8 times netting 2 sacks, 3 incompletions, 1 scramble (for 0 yards), and a safety on a run play. Against the late blitzes, the Irish succeeded once on an Inside Zone run (+18).
Even with those negatives the final numbers were 19 of 26 for 206 yards and a touchdown: efficient but not explosive. His YPA was actually worse than Robinson's, his YPC slightly higher, and this was against a secondary replacing all four starters. IE: probably not a ton better than UConn's. The deep ball was not part of the arsenal. Was Purdue able to bracket Floyd because the guy opposite him this year is Duvall Kamara—all but a tight end—instead of Golden Tate? Is Crist significantly worse at it than Clausen? Was it just one of things? Data not found. Blue Seoul suggests it might be the Crist bit:
Still big, still fast, still got great jumping ability. Unfortunately for him, Crist doesn't seem able to hit him on a fly. Twice they tried a double move, with Crist missing badly. Something's not right with their timing. But he's a huge threat on deep hooks and other sit down routes against a zone.
Even with all that mitigation, your hopes are probably an inch off the floor and that's where they should be. Keeping Floyd off the board on the long ones is all but impossible unless Michigan's pass rush is murderous, and while they were good against UConn they were not murderous.
Key Matchup: Mouton and Roh and to some extent Van Bergen vs ND tackles. ND went empty a ton against Purdue, leaving one-on-one matchups for their offensive linemen. The ND tackles are new and didn't do so hot against Ryan Kerrigan, though that might be understandable. Meanwhile, Roh displayed far greater pass-rush ability against UConn than he did as a freshman in limited time since Michigan rushed three frustratingly often. Van Bergen did not have an impactful game in his first game as a DT, but when Michigan goes to its rush package and Mouton puts his hand down he's a difficult matchup. If Michigan can get to Crist with regularity they win. If not, they probably lose.
Michigan was shaky a week ago. Jeremy Gallon let a punt bounce down to the four, made a ridiculous decision to run up under a 30-yarder and got the muff we all knew was coming. Michigan recovered. Brendan Gibbons missed a 42-yarder, made a 24-yarder, and missed one of four extra points. Kickoff returns were eh, and Michigan elected to frustratingly squib several kicks.
In the aftermath, Rodriguez attributed almost all of that to the wind, gave Gallon a vote of confidence on punt returns, and said Gibbons was good to go this week.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, got a big punt return from Armando Allen—on Purdue's only punt—and saw their field goal kicker go 3/3. On the other hand, their net punting average is just 31.7 yards.
Key Matchup: HOLD ONTO THE DAMN BALL.
- Craig Roh and Mike Martin aren't getting to the quarterback on five- and seven-step drops.
- Patrick Omameh looks as shaky as he did against UConn.
- Crist launches anything downfield.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- David Molk puts Ian Williams on skates again.
- The run game's making the linebackers jumpy and vulnerable to the Oh Wide Open we saw against UConn.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for Aigh Secondary!, +1 for Aigh Mike Floyd!, +1 for Aigh The Combination Of The Two!, –1 for Wow Purdue Is Hot Ass, –1 for Dan Dierking YPC: 6.2, –1 for He's White!, +1 for First Road Start For QB, +1 for And The Horrible Things Always Happen At Notre Dame, –1 for …But Usually To The Favorite.)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; –1 for Playing With House Money to Some Extent, +1 for But Yeah This Would Be Well On Path Towards Avoiding Doom, +1 for All Internet Notre Dame Fans Are Basically Reprehensible, +1 for Boy The Next Two Weeks Would Be Relaxing With This Under The Belts, –1 for Fairly Understandable Loss If It Happens, +1 for But If It's Doesn't We Might Have Something Here, +1 for Maybe They'll Hire Weis In Three Years If Kelly Does Poorly)
Loss will cause me to... spend three weeks attempting to ignore grumblers until we get more information.
Win will cause me to... definitely not say anything about the Outback Bowl.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Oh, why the hell does this section exist? I don't know. I don't know what will happen, either.
I think Notre Dame can force Michigan into two or three deep coverage and exploit that, I think Obi Ezeh is going to be a key player with Notre Dame running it down his throat a lot from spread formations, I think Michigan's best hope to kill drives is to blitz so those tackles don't have help against Mouton and Roh but that inescapably exposes Kovacs to God knows what. I can see Crist whiffing on some key passes and either fumbling or tossing an interception when he gets pressure. I can also see the Mike Floyd show.
On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame's performance against a hacked-together bunch of third-string scrubs, converted offensive linemen clearly unsuited for their positions, and a cluelessly arrogant quarterback bodes well for Michigan's ability to run all over them. Once that's established, Robinson's reads get considerably easier and the offense goes right down the field.
I think I'm flipping my position on this after looking more closely at the ND-Purdue game. Total yardage in that game was 350-320, and on review Purdue looks like a team that should be terrible this year, especially if Marve is going to be that guy all year. Is UConn better than Purdue? Almost certainly. Did Michigan disfigure them in terrible ways? Yes. Am I a tiny bit more confident in the reliability of the Michigan offense? Yes. Do I think there's more chance of a turnover when Michigan blitzes Crist than a Notre Dame defense that almost has to sit back? Yes.
So… yeah. I am about to do this. I have no confidence in this prediction.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Denard only, and he again cracks 100 yards and 5 YPC. Completion percentage comes down to 65%.
- The tailbacks look much better than they did last week, with someone, probably Shaw, breaking a long one due to excessive Denard attention.
- Michigan wins the turnover battle.
- Michigan, 31-27.