Michigan Football: A Detailed, in-Depth Preview of the Notre Dame Matchup
Well, we have come to Michigan-Notre Dame week once again, one of the best weeks of the year for both fanbases.
The rich and storied history of both programs will be well-documented in the coming days leading up to the game, just as it is every year, and rightfully so.
The general consensus seems to be that Notre Dame is the clear favorite. Is that a fair assessment?
Here's an in-depth look at the major aspects of the game, and which team has the advantage at each.
Michigan Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense
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As is so often the case, many people think Michigan will have to run the ball effectively to win this game. Hence, this may be the matchup people are most excited for.
Even though some of the national stats are still a bit skewed and have to be taken with a grain of salt, it is OK to start putting some stock into them.
For example, Notre Dame's rush defense currently ranks 23rd nationally, which is very impressive when considering the competition they've faced.
Combined with the fact that Michigan's offensive line has run blocked very poorly so far this year, it will be tough to run the ball on this Notre Dame defense.
Even though the Wolverines may only face three down linemen for much of the night, it will still be tough to have success.
Louis Nix is an anchor at nose tackle, while Stephon Tuitt is quickly turning into an absolute monster off the edge. And both players are only sophomores. Combine that with Kapron Lewis-Moore on the other end, who provides them with experience and senior leadership.
The linebacking core is also very good; Manti Te'o just may be the best linebacker in the country, and Prince Shembo has turned into a solid player. Dan Fox, Danny Spond, Ishaq Williams and Carlo Calabrese are all guys to watch out for as well.
Michigan's rush offense currently ranks 46th nationally, which is obviously disappointing. Fitz Toussaint is going to have to get going, and the offensive line needs to step up big time.
Al Borges also has to let Denard Robinson do what he does. Still, I think this Notre Dame defense learned its lesson in the fourth quarter of last year's game and won't get burned again.
Robinson and Toussaint may have some success running the ball at times, but I don't think they'll run wild on this defense or get an effective run game going throughout.
Advantage: Notre Dame
Michigan Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense
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Notre Dame's pass defense ranks 39th nationally; considering the competition, that's actually pretty bad. The secondary was one of the biggest concerns coming into the season, and losing Jamoris Slaughter for the year makes things even worse.
Matthias Farley will now start alongside Zeke Motta at safety, but Farley is only a red-shirt freshman seeing his first career game action.
The cornerback spots are where the real concern is. Bennett Jackson is the veteran of the group, but "veteran" may be a kind term, seeing as how this is his first extensive playing time on defense.
KeiVarae Russell and Elijah Shumate have both been thrown into the fire as true freshmen, but both were very highly recruited and may be better sooner rather than later. We'll also see youngsters Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown receive time.
Still, I don't know what to think of the Michigan pass offense. It can look really good at times, and then Robinson will make absolutely horrible decisions at others. The receivers have been a pleasant surprise, so I think Robinson is the real key.
He simply has to stop throwing picks immediately, as he has been doing it with regularity. We've seen how conservative Everett Golson has been with the ball; that's what Robinson needs to start doing.
This matchup is basically a push, with major concerns in both units.
Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Michigan Rush Defense
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This is probably the area that concerns me the most. Michigan's front seven has been very bad this year. The D-line isn't doing much of anything, and the linebackers haven't been very good either. There's a reason we're seeing more and more of Ross and Bolden, and less of Demens and even Morgan.
Statistically, Michigan's rush defense has been one of the worst in the country, ranking 107th. Again, that has to be taken with a grain of salt considering they've faced Alabama and Air Force, but it's still inexcusable.
Notre Dame's rush offense, on the other hand, got a huge boost this past week with the return of Cierre Wood. Combine Wood with Theo Riddick and George Atkinson, and it gives Notre Dame a very dangerous backfield.
How is Michigan going to stop Notre Dame's rushing attack? Unless the front seven grows up in a hurry, I don't think they'll be able to. Wood and Riddick are both very experienced and have faced this Michigan defense a number of times, so they'll be ready.
Plus, I don't think Everett Golson will be slinging the ball around a whole lot, so the coaches will likely ride this running game until Michigan shows it can stop it.
Advantage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense
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Notre Dame hasn't been throwing the ball around as much as it has in the past under Brian Kelly, as its passing attack ranks 67th nationally.
Michigan's pass defense, on the other hand, is currently 12th-best nationally. Again, those numbers may be a bit skewed when considering the offenses it's faced.
Still, I think it's clear who has the edge here. Everett Golson doesn't scare me a whole lot throwing the ball quite yet, and neither do his receivers.
Sure, guys like TJ Jones, Robby Toma, DaVaris Daniels and Daniel Smith may be adequate enough, but none of them are huge-play, No. 1 receivers. Heck, Tyler Eifert is probably the guy you have to be most concerned about.
In Michigan's secondary, J.T. Floyd has been solid so far, and Courtney Avery and Raymon Taylor are getting better opposite Floyd.
There is no reason Notre Dame should have tons of success throwing the ball on this Michigan defense. Michigan's secondary is more than capable of handling these receivers and should force the Notre Dame offense to hopefully become one-dimensional. Again, Tyler Eifert is probably the most dangerous weapon in the passing game.
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Oh, what excitement has transpired the last few times these teams have went up against each other. For Michigan fans, times are good right now in the rivalry with Notre Dame, as the men in blue have won five of the past six dating back to '06.
Michigan has also won two of its past three in South Bend; to put that in perspective, Lloyd Carr was only able to win once in South Bend in his entire tenure as head coach.
However, as we've heard many times before, Irish fans feel that the tides are starting to turn and that times are changing.
Are they right this time? We won't know until after the season, once Notre Dame has faced the likes of Oklahoma and USC.
But if it loses to Michigan on Saturday, the national media will be all over them once again, calling their annual bluff.
However, Notre Dame's backfield with Riddick, Wood and Atkinson is legit, as is its front seven. Plus, Everett Golson could turn into a real player once he becomes more developed and gains experience.
The main thing that scares me about this game is Michigan's front seven and its ability to stop the run, which I don't think it'll be able to. On the flip side, I'm also very nervous about Michigan going up against Notre Dame's front seven; I just don't see Robinson, Toussaint and the offensive line being able to handle them.
So what does that all equate to? Another close victory for either team? I don't see why not. That should make for another exciting chapter to the rivalry between the two most storied programs in college football history. Oh, what an atmosphere it will be under the lights on Saturday night in South Bend.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30 Michigan 21