Can Michigan Defend Notre Dame's Aerial Assault?

Charles WelchCorrespondent ISeptember 11, 2009

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 13:  Michael Floyd #3 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can't hold onto a pass between Morgan Trent #14 and Stevie Brown #3 of the Michigan Wolverines on September 13, 2008 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame won the game 35-17.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A lot has been made out of Jimmy Clausen and the Notre Dame passing attack, especially after his last two outings.

Probably the most relevant question, if not the most important question is whether or not Michigan can defend this aerial assault. To answer that question in one word, I'd have to say yes.

To say yes is a pretty big statement to make, at least on the surface. Notre Dame has a very, very experienced offensive line that has provided excellent protection for Clausen as of late. The Irish also have an outstanding group of wide receivers and tight ends to throw to in Michael Floyd, Golden Tate and Kyle Rudolph.

Upon further review it seems that Michigan does have the athletes on defense to cover the weapons that Notre Dame has on their squad. It all begins up front of course, as Michigan has an outstanding defensive line led by senior defensive end Brandon Graham.

A strong pass rush will be crucial to the outcome of this game and the Wolverines were quite capable of blitzing Tim Hiller last week, so it will be interesting to see what they do against Notre Dame.

Keep in mind Western Michigan has one of the best offensive lines in their respective conference and Tim Hiller is a probable day one draft pick, and UM used a 3 and 4 man blitz with success.

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Man to man matchups will be important as well with Donovan Warren and Boubacar Cissoko needing excellent days, particularly in the form of not getting burned in man coverage.

It all starts with Warren, a five star caliber corner who has the potential to be a shutdown guy. If Warren can eliminate his side of the field, or at least force Clausen to think twice then Michigan should have a good day.

Cissoko is also a former high school All-American, he and the rest of the secondary also impressed me last week with their ability to tackle in space. The cornerbacks and the safeties both have to continue with the same focus and intensity they showed last week in order for this outcome to be successful.

As well as defending the pass and generating a pass rush, defending the run will be highly important Saturday. The Linebackers have got to continue to flow to the ball well and the lineman need to get penetration into the backfield. If Michigan holds the Irish under 100 yards rushing, it may all but seal a victory for Big Blue!

Last but not least, it is important to watch Stevie Brown in this game. His move to outside linebacker is a genius coaching decision as he is perfectly suited to defending the run and playing close to the line of scrimmage.

What has been a liability for UM for three years has turned into a major strength.

Brown's ability to play like another safety and cover slot receivers and tight ends is a secret weapon in Michigan's arsenal, one that could be the most important on the defensive side of the ball Saturday.

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