|WHAT||Michigan vs Notre Dame|
Notre Dame Stadium,
South Bend, IN
|WHEN||7:30 pm Eastern, September 22nd 2012|
|THE LINE||ND -5|
|WEATHER||rainy and mid-50s most of the day, but clear by gametime, minimal wind|
Run Offense vs Notre Dame
the thing no one remembers about this is Te'o made this tackle about two yards downfield
This was a slog for Purdue and not particularly effective for Michigan State, though the Spartans may have been better off imitating their Boise State gameplan: LeVeon Bell averaged 4.1 yards on just 19 carries.
You're probably all like "none of those teams have Denard Robinson," and that's true. But Michigan only got 114 yards last year, almost literally all of them from Denard. Vincent Smith, Michael Shaw, and Stephen Hopkins combined on eight carries that gained ten yards with a long of three. Denard managed 113 on 15 carries. This was very early in Borges's wild ride with the spread, though, and his first against a real opponent. The next week Robinson would carry 26 times against EMU, which is either inexplicable or Borges trying to get a handle on something he hadn't been able to against the Irish. Much rests on that handle being acquired by now.
Notre Dame's star is of course Manti Te'o, the inside linebacker from Hawaii who etc etc etc you've watched him meet Denard probably thirty times, you know all about Te'o. He's kind of good, you guys. This year I'm not even sure the ND LBs are freaking out enough to burn them on misdirection—whatever reads they're making have been accurate. The other guys aren't quite to that standard. Chris Fox is pretty vulnerable in space, whether it's tackling a guy or covering one; Carlo Calabrese is good, but not great.
The line is getting nasty. Nose tackle Louis Nix was a stumbling battleship last year; he's slimmed down and is two-gapping opponents effectively. Stephon Tuitt is a 3-4 DE at 300 pounds who has five sacks on the year, about which more later. They'll put LB Prince Shembo down at DE on passing downs and use Kapron Lewis-Moore (a strong candidate for Brooks Bollinger eighth year memorial senior) as a stouter run defender. These guys are all playing effectively, albeit against questionable offensive lines.
ND's 3-4 is predicated on two things: making you double those linemen to move them and getting both inside linebackers to the gap clean. This is happening a lot. The results are above.
Michigan has Denard!
Right, so that. Denard is a problem for anyone on the ground because he gives the offense an extra blocker. Opponents generally combat this by bringing down a safety, which ND will likely do by splitting him over the slot when there's a slot. There is a not-insignificant danger ND will not have to do this. Michigan's interior line has been worrying, and it's hard to see any of Michigan's OL in there being able to prevent Nix from bulling his way into the backfield without help. If Schofield can't hold up against Lewis-Moore or Tuitt, two linebackers will be enough when one of them is Te'o quality.
Misdirection is called for. Neither of ND's first two Big Ten opponents could use much of that for whatever reason, but Michigan has a big threat wearing 16 and a mad scientist OC who had better damn well have something up his sleeve after two weeks in which the offense was "whatever because it works" and a third in which the offense was "don't get Denard hurt."
Key Matchup: ND ILB versus second level blocks. Must get hat on opponent or Denard goes no places.
[Hit THE JUMP for Hannibal Lecter DE, Brian Kelly cat, and oh God I have to predict something don't I.]
Pass Offense vs Notre Dame
Hannibal Lecter over there is Stephon Tuitt, and he's earned the mask with five sacks in three games. Here he's returning a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown against Navy.
This was a disaster for Michigan State and Purdue. Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve combined to average 5.4 yards an attempt and threw two picks (with two TDs). Andrew Maxwell had a sub-Threet/Sheridan 4.2 YPA. Maxwell wasn't helped out by Michigan State's awful receiving corps, but he needed 100 more yards just to get to mediocre. It was bad. You saw it. You know.
Pressure had a lot to do with both bad days. Maxwell was sacked four times and rocked a half-dozen more, often on three-man rushes. If your quarterback is getting quick pressure when the opposition is dropping eight, you cannot succeed. MSU did not. ND also sacked Purdue QBs four times and chased them out of the pocket on several other plays. ND's pass rush has been absurd, and that's without Aaron Lynch. Those recruiting classes from a couple years ago are coming home to roost now.
This has prevented their secondary from being seriously tested. You know, their secondary featuring a true freshman, redshirt freshman, and sophomore who all switched from offense after a slew of recruiting defections, injuries, and transfers left the Irish secondary a smoking crater.
That's the theory, at least. In practice it hasn't been so bad. ND played a ton of man free coverage (i.e., one deep safety with man to man underneath) and Maxwell basically never had a guy running open farther than five or ten yards downfield—at least not one the TV allowed you to see.
They did have some major issues tackling on Purdue's second touchdown drive…
…and their reliance on man coverage should simplify a lot of Robinson's reads. ND will almost certainly use T'eo to spy Robinson so that they don't give up a ton of easy scramble stuff, which means more man free. Gallon, Gardner, Funchess, and company will have to beat their opponents; Borges will have to exploit the man to man that should be coming, and the line will have to give Michigan time.
Oh, right, and Denard has to keep calm and throw accurately. No big deal.
ND will try to get their front four (or three) to the QB, use Te'o as cleanup, and give their guys simple assignments. Michigan will try to block, read, and rub those guys. Funchess will be huge, as he's going to get those corner and wheel routes against linebackers and rookie former WR safety. But it's really all on Denard. Time to step up.
Key Matchup: Michael Schofield versus Kapron Lewis-Moore, Prince Shembo, Tuitt, whoever. I have to believe Lewan will display his first round NFL bonafides. Schofield is a complete unknown at this point, a guy with potential and a frame but who has not had his feet held to the fire. His ability to keep the pocket clean will be crucial.
Run Defense vs Notre Dame
First, a quick refresher on what happened in the MSU game:
ND was bizarrely pass-focused for much of the game, getting little more than the occasional scramble here and there plus the Atkinson counter draw, and then they clubbed out late field goal drives to salt away the game. The numbers are eh: 4.5 YPC after removing sacks and kneels. This may have been a hangover from the Purdue game, where they couldn't do much against Kawaan Short and Bruce Gaston. They acquired 97 yards on 29 carries.
Michigan does not have Kawaan Short and Bruce Gaston. They're just trying to hold it together at defensive tackle and will be giving big chunks of playing time to two freshman linebackers. They got destroyed versus Alabama, and while ND is not Alabama the extent of the carnage there implied bad things for the rest of the year.
ND was missing feature back Cierre Wood for the first two games; you remember him after he put up 143 on Michigan last year. He is Fitzgerald Toussaint with a little more power, precisely. ND also has slotback/RB Theo Riddick, a slashing runner with good speed, and George Atkinson, who's just a fast guy without a position. Golson also takes the occasional carry.
ND is primarily a zone team. They're not going to blow you off the ball with a 330 pounder—all of their interior guys are around 6'3", around 300 pounds, and just okay when it comes to drive blocking. Washington and Campbell may be able to hold up, maybe even should. They do use a ton of tight ends, which will bring Michigan's dodgy edge run defenders into play. They used quite a bit of a quick speed pitch against Purdue that I guarantee ND will run five times for eight yards a carry. The Air Force game showed that Michigan is vulnerable on the edges, and ND has the speed to get there.
ND's offensive linemen aren't the kind of mashers that will annihilate Michigan no questions asked, but we've yet to find out if there is any competent BCS offensive line that won't blow Michigan up in the middle and make the rest of the defense an exercise in dialing up the right cheat at the right time. Add in the rotating door at ILB and there's a recipe for a 200 yard day for ND on the ground.
The other side of the coin is Washington getting under guys and Black doing okay and Michigan giving up some big chunks here and there but also squeezing out enough long yardage situations to keep it under 150 and put it on Golson's shoulders.
Key Matchup: Washington/Campbell/Pipkins/Black versus the interior ND OL. This needs to be a push at worst, because you know Michigan's getting gashed on the edge quite a bit.
Pass Defense vs Notre Dame
After watching the 2011 game again last night, I suggest we all say a little prayer of thanks that Michael Floyd is finally out the door to the NFL. Jesus. That guy.
Anyway, he's gone and so is Tommy Rees, mostly. Rees is Everett Golson's backup and official guy who gets the last drive of the game for some reason. Away go la fiesta del intercepcionnnnn and el fumblo inexplicablo. They are replaced by Golson checking his first read, then rolling out of the pocket and throwing the ball away. If ND football 2012 had a motto, "safety first" would be it. I took the opportunity presented by the above video to knock out a UFR passing chart for Golson. It looks like this:
[I am Hennechart legend.]
|Golson vs MSU||2||15(6)||2(1)||6(2)||2||5||1||-||1||46%|
(I hemmed and hawed and gave Golson a CA for his insane sack-prevention-into-completion, FWIW.)
So… that's not good. In the world of conventional stats, Golson completed just 14 of 32 passes and just 8 of 23 those past the line of scrimmage. He picked up 129 yards on those 23 attempts, 57 of those were on two different punt-like chucks.
Yes, this has made reading ND message boards an exercise in irony meter explosions as ND fans constantly deride Robinson's arm-punt daggers of a year ago. Not one of them has any idea Denard went 14/17 in a superlative performance against OSU last year, because no Notre Dame fan on the internet has ever watched a game not involving Notre Dame. Thank you for asking.
Golson was much better against Purdue, completing two-thirds of his passes and nearing 10 YPA. A lot of that was ND lining up 6'6" tight end Tyler Eifert as a wide receiver against Purdue's feisty but extremely tiny corners. Golson put up jump balls (first play) that made a little more sense than chucking it up to Jeremy Gallon and Eifert ended the day with four catches for 98 yards, all of them throws on which Eifert skyed over a safety or corner to bring it in.
Golson has not thrown over the middle of the field much. Most of his stuff is long or on the sidelines or behind the line of scrimmage, which hampered Eifert when not lined up wide. He had zero catches against MSU.
Notre Dame's receiving corps is a lot like Michigan's. Rough equivalences:
- Davaris Daniels == Devin Gardner, the inexperienced, tall, athletic deep threat.
- TJ Jones == Roy Roundtree, the not that small slot guy, though Jones gets a major edge here.
- Robby Toma == Gallon/Dileo, precisely.
- Eifert == Funchess, albeit bigger and more proven.
- John Goodman == Jeremy Jackson.
Notre Dame has better depth with Theo Riddick available as a threat out of the slot or backfield and a couple additional tight ends, but it's pretty close. Slight edge ND unless Gardner has a breakout game.
ND spreads it around. No receiver has more than nine catches; five have at least six. Eifert is probably the go-to guy on fourth and whatever; Daniels is the preferred deep target.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan lost Blake Countess for the year in the opener and has promoted sophomore Raymon Taylor to starter. This leaves a decent to good rest of the secondary intact… but it's one that very little is known about. Air Force and UMass are useless data points; Alabama spent most of their game grinding out a win. There's a lot less to fear from the ND receivers this year, but it's easy to see Eifert bulling through the secondary after a linebacker sucks up on play action or just gets lost; Daniels is no Floyd but has some deep ability.
Michigan's pass rush doesn't seem promising, but Mattison zone blitzes have the potential to confuse Golson. While a veteran offensive line should pick most of them up, left tackle Zack Martin is just 6'4" and had a lot of trouble with Marcus Rush last week. Ryan and Clark can make hay, and will need to.
Key Matchup: Ryan/Clark versus ND tackles. Michigan needs to win that battle consistently enough to get Golson moving, at which point he usually throw it out of bounds or to a WR who is out of bounds by the time the ball gets there.
New ND kicker Kyle Brindza is 4 of 5 in his brief career to date; he was a highly rated guy out of high school, FWIW. Senior punter Ben Turk is not a Hagerup-like legcannon but has been effective this year. While he's averaging mediocre 41.5 yards per kick, ND's coverage has been excellent with just two returns on 15 punts. They're currently 17th in net punting, which is a massive improvement from last year's 102nd. Early yet, of course.
ND return units have not had an impact so far this year but primary kick returner George Atkinson had two TD returns a year ago and freshman punt guy Davonte Neal seems dangerous even if he hasn't broken anything yet. Atkinson is likely to be neutralized by Wile booming it into the endzone. Neal… well, I put up some stills about this yesterday:
31 yard punt coverage!
I'm concerned this burns Michigan at some point this year.
As for the Wolverines, Gibbons hasn't had many opportunities and so remains a guy you are pretty confident in out to about 45. Hagerup has not shanked one yet this year and has hammered several long ones. Punt coverage is that still above, and kickoff coverage has been basically irrelevant.
Jeremy Gallon has made some bad decisions on punts and has never been a huge playmaker, and in any case no returns against the Irish (and their *cough cough* spread punt formation). Dennis Norfleet may have an impact since ND kickoffs are not going eight yards into the endzone; the Irish gave up a long return against Purdue.
Overall this is a push, with the potential for big plays from freshman Neal and Norfleet waiting to push it decisively to one side or the other.
Key Matchup: COVER THE DAMN PUNTS
I call him Brian Kelly Kat
- Schofield is getting beat on the edge. (Panic if it's Lewan.)
- Michigan's defensive tackles are getting turned into hamburger.
- Borges hasn't figured out a way to get the ground game going against these guys.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Denard is finding time in the pocket…
- …and the ND secondary starts falling apart like it damn well should.
- Michigan has the ball needing a touchdown with less than 30 seconds on the clock.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for Oh Good Notre Dame Stadium, +1 for And Now They're Saying You Should Stand Up Maybe Sometimes, +1 for What Was That Last Year (Except For That Stuff At The End), –1 for Denard Versus ND Equals Money, –1 for Far Superior QB, +1 for Ugh DL Comparison, –1 for Recent Heart Stabbing Finish Lingers In The Heart Of The Enemy, +1 for Te'o's Revenge)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for 2-2 Is Not A Good Record To Have, +1 for ND Nation Mass Suicide Benefits Us All, +1 for Win Means Denard Is Basically The Worst Thing To Ever Happen To ND Other Than Ty Willingham, Charlie Weis, and Bob Davie, +1 for This Is Where We Find Out What We Have And I Would Like What We Have To Be Awesome, –1 for It's Not Like We're Playing For A National Title This Year, +1 for Denard Plus ND Means Holy Crap)
Loss will cause me to... encounter a small child who says "you tried real hard," which only makes the whole thing collapse on itself.
Win will cause me to... wander through downtown South Bend hugging trees, vagrants, fire hydrants, and a confused streetlight.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Dammit sometimes I hate this section. All right.
I'm pushing my chips in on Denard being able to throw. I watch Denard, I watch Golson, there's no comparison, because there shouldn't be. Golson is a redshirt freshman. Denard is a senior. They've looked like it so far except for Denard's requisite horrible interception per game. With targets quality enough to beat a makeshift Irish secondary and Lewan protecting his backside, Denard can and will put up an efficient passing day that opens up other stuff. He'll have to because ND's front seven is intimidating, especially when it comes to running on them.
Michigan will get some yards on screen stuff and Denard stuff and some touchdowns bombing it deep; something in the 20s is reasonable.
On the other side of the ball it's about being more like MSU in coverage than Purdue. Golson does not have a lot of patience right now and will play it safe if he has to. Mattison will zone blitz the balls off of him, getting free rushers that lead to sacks or bad decisions or jump balls to Eifert that Eifert is pretty likely to come down with; I don't think he's going to be going over the middle much. Man up on the outside and drop all manner of stuff when you can, get burned like last year on a few 20 yard runs when your NT drops, get blown up a few times because Mike Martin isn't walking through that door, and… something in the 20s is reasonable. FFFUUU. Predictions are stupid.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- We're still wondering if Denard being the whole offense is a good thing after he puts up 80% of Michigan's total yards, completing 60% of his passes with a long one to Funchess or Gardner and throwing a horrible interception, naturally.
- ND's left tackle gets abused.
- Insanity occurs.
- Michigan, 26-25