Michigan-Notre Dame: This Could Get Ugly

Jason BarczyCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2008

Michigan (1-1) at Notre Dame (1-0)

3:30 p.m. EST on NBC

Line: Michigan -1.5

Weather forecast: Rain with a few thunderstorms likely. High 77F. Winds SSW at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 80%. 1 to 2 inches of rain expected.

It doesn't help much that these two are at their absolute worst as far as playing ability is concerned, but let's add in some bad weather as well.

At least it should be fun to watch. Anyone have any idea what the over/under is for how many turnovers these two will produce? I'll set it at seven and I'll take the over.

Michigan and Notre Dame haven't been this bad going into this game since, well, last year actually. At least last year, Michigan pulled out a winning season and a huge bowl game win over Florida.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, was practically the worst team in college football.

Although the Fighting Irish pulled out a win last week, it doesn't look much better for them once again. San Diego State was a half yard away from going up 20-7, but Notre Dame got a good fourth quarter from Jimmy Clausen and prevailed.

Michigan looks like it's in for a bumpy season after watching the first two games. A loss to Utah and a struggle against Miami (OH) has revealed the Wolverines' growing pains under new coach Rich Rodriguez.

Who's ready for the preview?

Michigan Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Steven Threet looks to start again, and unless he plays inspiring football and hits an open receiver past the first down marker, expect Nick Sheridan to see some time.

I think Threet is the right choice either way. He seems to make better decisions than Sheridan, and although he's not accurate, that is something that can improve with practice. Hopefully Mike Barwis got a hold of him this week.

Threet also seems better on the run, as evidenced by his touchdown run last week. Michigan's pass offense is ranked 103rd in the country, averaging 135 yards per game. They have to pick it up this week, but in stormy conditions I don't see it happening. Expect Michigan quarterbacks to throw two or three interceptions.

Notre Dame's pass defense gave up 274 yards on 29-for-59 passing for one touchdown and one interception to SDSU's Ryan Lindley, with eight pass breakups.

This is not inspiring stuff. Add in the fact that SDSU (a team that lost to Div 1AA or D2 Cal Poly in Week One) completed five passes of 13 yards or more, including a 43-yarder, and you have a pass defense that resembles Swiss cheese.

I've also been reading about how blitz-happy Notre Dame's defense is this year but where is the evidence of that? One sack is all the Fighting Irish got against SDSU, along with four tackles for loss.

Now that doesn't necessarily resemble their ability to hurry the passer, but it shows an incompetence against a lesser team to get to the quarterback in time.

Rich Rodriguez's spread offense is designed to get rid of the ball quickly, so I don't see Notre Dame getting to Threet or Sheridan, very often unless the offensive line completely breaks down in pass protection.

Greg Matthews is back, and maybe that will give Threet a downfield target he can reach.

Michigan Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

This is the game right here. With conditions being what they're supposed to be, the running game is going to be crucial.

After a terrible showing against Utah, the Michigan running game improved greatly against Miami (OH), kind of. Well, they showed signs that they can actually gain yards on the ground anyway.

Sam McGuffie could have a big day, but with his inexperience, I would be much more comfortable going with Brandon Minor in these conditions or a bruising back like Kevin Grady. 

It hurts that Mark Ortmann is out at left tackle, and redshirt sophomore Perry Dorrestein looks to take his place. Bryant Nowicki stepped in last week after Ortmann went down and did nicely, so I'm not sure why Dorrestein is the pick. He hasn't seen any action this season and has only played in four games in his career.

There's not much to judge Notre Dame on here, other than Maurice Crum seems like their best run stopper. The Fighting Irish gave up 4.7 yards per carry and 80 yards on 15 attempts. In San Diego State's loss to Cal Poly the Aztecs averaged just 1.7 yards on 23 carries for 60 yards.

With all the talk about the inexperience of Michigan's offensive line, the exact same thing could be said of Notre Dame's defensive line. There are upperclassmen on the line, but they haven't seen much game action and are backed up by sophomores and freshmen.

Look for McGuffie and Shaw to run all over the place. One cut could break open a huge lane all the way to the end zone.

If Michigan wins this game, it will be because of the running game.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense

Do you think Jimmy Clausen remembers getting sacked eight times last season? He better, because not much was lost in that front seven that is going to be gunning for him once again.

Even though it was against SDSU, Clausen looked sharp. He hit on 21-of-34 for 237 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions, no sacks and completed three passes for 20 yards or more.

This worries me, seeing how Michigan's secondary should've given up two or three long touchdowns to Miami (OH) last week. Steve Brown and Charles Stewart have been horrendous. To me, they are the second coming of Markus Curry and Ryan Mundy.

Michigan has to get to Clausen and force him into mistakes, and the weather will help greatly in this area. Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham should have a field day.

But if they don't get to him, and Clausen has time, expect bad things. Golden Tate (yeah, they have a player named Golden) burned his cover guys and made some nice grabs including a 38 yard touchdown.

Luckily though, Notre Dame doesn't have a speedy underneath guy to terrorize our linebackers, which should free them to blitz Clausen and help the defensive line. Expect to see Obi Ezeh in Clausen's grill.

Donovan Warren and Morgan Trent have been stellar thus far. Expect to see Clausen avoid them terribly, mostly because he won't be able to get the ball off after having Will Johnson rip his head off.

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Michigan Run Defense

Michigan's rush defense is ranked fourth in the country, giving up just 41.5 yards per game through the first two weeks.

Although at a closer look, it may not be THAT good. Utah averaged 3.5 yards per carry and Miami (OH) 3.7.

However, against the third worst defense in the country last year, Notre Dame averaged just 3.1 yards per carry against SDSU for a total of 122 yards on 33 carries.

Robert Hughes and Armando Allen are "between the tackles" kind of runners with Hughes weighing in at 237. His type of running will be best suited for the conditions but the Fighting Irish aren't facing SDSU here.

Unless Michigan has a complete breakdown, I wouldn't expect Notre Dame to rush for more than 75 yards.

Final Thoughts

I love bad-weather games like this is projected to be. It's going to be a defensive battle, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more than one defensive touchdown in this game.

I see Donovan Warren running one back for the Wolverines.

The biggest mismatch in the game is the Michigan defensive line versus Notre Dame's offensive line. Clausen is still having nightmares from last year's game.

Michigan's offense will struggle but as long as Threet doesn't make any mistakes and the Wolverines do a good job running the ball, I think they'll be fine.

We could see breakout games for Warren, McGuffie and Shaw.

Notre Dame will win if Clausen is protected and has time to throw downfield.


Michigan 20, Notre Dame 17


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