The early season buzz surrounding the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame has been their offense's use of the pistol formation, which will likely be an oft-chosen weapon against a Michigan defense that does indeed have a handful of weaknesses.
First and foremost, when discussing the manner in which to attack the Michigan defense, the interior of the Wolverines defensive line should be singled out.
The Interior Defensive Line
As it stands currently, the Wolverines are rotating four defensive tackles—fifth-year senior Quinton Washington, sophomore Ondre Pipkins, senior Jibreel Black and redshirt freshman Ryan Glasgow.
While the unit is deep in terms of available players, it's short on experience, with Washington and Black being the only two veteran presences among a group that features three first-year players (Glasgow, Willie Henry and Tom Strobel).
While only Washington and Black saw the field during the Wolverines' epic 35-31 victory against the Irish at the Big House in 2011, they'll be seeing a similar offensive game plan from Notre Dame.
During that matchup two years ago, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin went early and often to former running backs Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood, who combined for 200 rushing yards on the evening, many of those runs up the gut.
Wood and Gray were able to run wild behind an offensive line that dominated Michigan's interior line from start to finish.
The use of the pistol formation was by design, as Kelly desires a north and south running attack, different from the zone read employed last year with the mobile Everett Golson at quarterback.
And with Tommy Rees, the Irish's starting quarterback during the 2011 contest, leading the offense, an added emphasis will be placed on the running game once again. Establishing running backs George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel early will be crucial in front of a raucous home crowd in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Michigan Cornerbacks in Single Coverage
Notre Dame's first two touchdowns during last week's 28-6 victory against Temple were the result of the Irish getting receiver DaVaris Daniels in single coverage.
Rees hit Daniels twice in the first four minutes of the game, each ending in a 32-yard scoring strike.
While the Michigan secondary as a whole is an improved unit from that a season ago, both starting cornerbacks—Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor—stand at just 5'10".
With Daniels and speedy receiver Chris Brown—two receivers the Irish scheme to get in one-on-one matchups—standing at 6'2", the advantage in those situations clearly lies with Notre Dame.
The Wolverines will counter by playing heavy dose of zone, which confused Rees into throwing two interceptions at Michigan Stadium two years ago. But as a senior and a more experienced quarterback, Rees possesses the ability to identify coverages and get the Irish into plays that create the desired mismatches.
The Absence of LB Jake Ryan
The Wolverines lost their leading returning tackler in Ryan when the 6'3", 240-pound linebacker went down with a torn ACL during spring ball.
Will the Michigan defense regress without Jake Ryan?
Ryan, a redshirt sophomore, racked up 88 total tackles a year ago, while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors.
In his place is junior Brennen Beyer, who started nine games at defensive end last season, but lacks experience playing in the second level.
The Irish can pick on Beyer with blocking-extraordinare Troy Niklas, a 6'7", 270-pound tight end. The Servite, Calif., native will likely be matched up with Beyer in rushing personnel packages in an effort to take advantage of Beyer's lack of experience at linebacker.