Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish, ranked 14th in the AP and 13th in the Coaches Poll will head up to Ann Arbor as the 17th-ranked Michigan Wolverines host the Irish in a night game at the Big House. This is the 41st renewal of a rivalry that started in 1887 and has been on again and off again with personal and institutional animosity over the decades. If your own personal Notre Dame Football library doesn’t have a copy of Natural Enemies by John Kryk, I will again highly recommend it to delve deep into the history of these two programs from the beginning of this fierce rivalry.
ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Ann Arbor for the game and that program begins at 9:00 AM. The game is a night game slated to begin at 8:12 EST and it will be televised by ESPN. The broadcast duo of Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit will call the game. This will be only the second night game in Michigan Stadium history and the weather forecast for Ann Harbor is calling for a 64 degree low, a 10% chance of rain, and winds below 7 mph.
The intermittently contested series stands at 16-23-1 with the Irish winning last year’s turnover fest in South Bend 13-6. In the last five games the Wolverines hold the edge 3-2. The rare disparity of the Irish being on the short end of a series won-loss record is attributable to the eight straight Michigan wins from 1887 to 1908. Since those days of yore Notre Dame holds a 16-15-1 advantage.
Michigan’s Brady Hoke enters this game with a 67-57 record as a head coach with stints at Ball State and San Diego State before getting the Ann Arbor job. Now in his third season at the Wolverine helm Hoke has a 20-7 record at Michigan and he’s 12-4 in the Big Ten. Against the Irish Hoke is 1-1. Hoke has never lost a game in Michigan Stadium going 15-0.
Notre Dame-Michigan Connections
The Irish and the Wolverines have played in the all-time college record attendance game. There were 114,804 people who filled the stands in Ann Arbor in 2011. It’s all the more amazing considering it surpasses the stadium’s listed capacity of 109,901. If you’re doing the math the difference is 4,903 above capacity. Lest some say that the Irish played in front of bigger crowds against USC and Navy at Soldiers Field in 1927 and 1928 I must point out that the NCAA only recognizes those totals as estimates, hence the ND-UM 2011 contest is the record for attendance.
Another link between Notre Dame and Michigan is the All Time Winning Percentage race which Michigan currently leads. Notre Dame is 866-301-42 for a .73388 winning percentage. Michigan is 904-315-36 for a winning percentage of .73408. So two ten-thousandths of a percent separate the two teams.
On a personal level, Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston is a Michigan graduate who played under Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr. Safeties coach Bob Elliott’s father, Bump, was a Michigan assistant and head coach, and Coach Elliot lived in Ann Arbor for eleven years. And of course there’s the favorite of all Notre Dame boards on the internet, Michigan’s defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who served eight years at Notre Dame.
Unlike last season, the Michigan offense is a varied one. You’ll see them line up in the Pistol, the Shotgun with one or two backs, the I-formation, double tight ends, and they’ll run practically anything. Option, power, zone, isolation, reverses, drop back, play action, you name it, the Wolverines will run it. This week will be a tough week on the Irish defensive staff.
Michigan's Projected Offensive Starters/Major Contributors
QB #12 Devin Gardner, 6-4, 210, RS junior, 26 games, 10 starts (5 QB starts, 5 WR starts)
RB #28 Fitzgerald Toussaint, 5-10, 200, fifth year, 27 games, 22 starts
RB #27 Derrick Green, 5-11, 240, freshman, 1 game, 0 starts
FB #36 Joe Kerridge, 6-0, 238, RS sophomore, 12 games, 0 starts
WR #21 Jeremy Gallon, 5-8, 184, fifth year, 39 games, 14 starts
WR #17 Jeremy Jackson, 6-3, 209, senior, 36 games, 2 starts
WR#9 Drew Dileo, 5-10, 180, senior, 33 games, 4 starts
WR #23 Dennis Norfleet, 5-7, 169, 14 games, 0 starts
TE #87 Devin Funchess, 6-4, 235, sophomore, 14 games, 6 starts
LT #77 Taylor Lewan, 6-8, 315, fifth year, 38 games, 36 starts
LG #61 Graham Glasgow, 6-6, 305, RS sophomore, 6 games, 1 start
C #60 Jack Miller, 6-4, 290, RS sophomore, 7 games, 2 starts
RG #67 Kyle Kalis, 6-5, 297, RS freshman 1 game 1 start
RT #75 Michael Schofield, 6-7, 304, fifth year, 40 games, 24 starts
Michigan will run reverses, primarily with Dennis Northfleet #23. The fact that Devin Gardener began 2012 as a receiver I wouldn’t put a throwback past Michigan.
Quarterback Devin Gardner #12 is a senior, but he’ll be making only his sixth start behind center. Gardner is an athletic quarterback capable of beating teams with both his arm and his legs. He’s a more efficient passer than Denard Robinson and when he runs he’s usually running because he’s gone through all his progressions. Gardner had almost a forty point higher passing efficiency rating than Robinson in 2012. He also did better in the Red Zone and on third downs. Gardner had a better completion percentage, more touchdown passes, more yards per pass, and fewer interceptions than Robinson on fewer attempts. His two interceptions last week came on telegraphing his intended target and throwing a deep ball where the defensive back had the receiver blanketed.
Gardner was 4 for 4 on third down last week for 73 of his 162 yards and 1 touchdown. Last season he was a 60% passer on third down. Gardner has the ability to move around and make plays in improve style. Gardner’s ability to scramble and improvise can tax defensive backs causing them to run out of gas on a play and become easy pickings for one of his improvisations.
Although not the home run threat as a runner that Robinson was Gardner still averaged 4.1 yards per rush when eliminating sacks. Last week he ran for 52 yards, a long of 22 yards, and had two rushing touchdowns. His backup is a true freshman, Shane Morris #7 who was 4-6-1 for 59 yards in mop up last week.
Fitzgerald Toussaint #28 is coming off a lower leg fracture from 2012 that required surgery. He’s not a speed burner nor is he an extremely physical back. Toussaint has very good cutting ability, good vision, and does have a 1041 yard season and a 5.6 YPC on his resume. Toussaint is a fine pass blocker. He’s not quite back to his thousand yard season standards as a runner, but he’s not too far off.
Derrick Green #27 is a true freshman and a load at 240 pounds. His opening college effort included a 30 yard run, a 5.3 yard average, and 1 touchdown. One of the top prep backs sought in the recruiting wars he’s supposed to have 4.4 speed which I’d question. He does bludgeon people though.
Fullback Joe Kerridge #36 is a 238 pound blocker who has one reception and no carries in the second year of his Michigan career as the prime fullback. He does a good job blocking for the Michigan running backs, especially in isolation plays.
Michigan uses their receivers much like Notre Dame, in personnel groups, and through liberally substituting them. The Wolverines return their first, third, and fifth leading receivers from 2012.
Jeremy Gallon #21 led the Wolverines in receptions last year. Despite his size he’s a fierce blocker, a threat on the end around or reverse, can stretch the field vertically, or he can find the soft spot in the zone. Gallon is quick and can make defenders miss in the open field.
Drew Dileo #9 is a possession receiver who will sneak by a defender who isn’t paying attention at the worst time for the defense. A possession receiver who usually plays the slot Dileo is one of those overachievers who drive defenders crazy at the worst possible time.
Dennis Norfleet #23 is small, but a threat to go deep, after the catch, and is a threat on reverses.
Tight end Devin Funchess #87 is a talent, particularly near the end zone. Last season he caught 5 touchdown passes out of 15 receptions. Funchess is a potential game breaker who can run and block. He has to have caused coaches Diaco and Elliot some concern this week
The Michigan offensive line returns one All American tackle and one very experienced tackle. The interior linemen, center and the two guards, are manned by three players who will be making their second career starts against the Irish. The average height and weight of Michigan’s starters is 6-6 and 302.
Taylor Lewan #77 is the All American holding down the left tackle spot. Lewan has great athletic ability, strength, and quick feet to go with great size. He moves well in pass protection and moves his arms well to keep defenders off of him. He’s good against the speed rush or bull rush and maintains the edge very well. He has a nasty streak and once engaged finishes his blocks well. Lewan does a good job sealing the edge on outside runs as well. In short he’s the first or second best tackle in college football today and he could well be the first player taken in the 2014 NFL Draft. If he has a weakness it’s against defenders countering with inside moves and dropping his head on contact.
His opposite, right tackle Michael Schofield #75, is not as great as Lewan, especially athletically, but he’s athletic enough to play left tackle on many a college team. He too plays with a nasty streak, is fundamentally sound, is a good run blocker, and also a good agile pass blocker. Schofield, a three year starter has a good chance to be playing on Sundays too.
Center Jack Miller #60 gets off the snap well and moves well laterally. Size and sustaining the block are the biggest problems for Miller.
The guards are Kyle Kalis #67 and Graham Glasgow #61. Glasgow is the better of the two. Both were left in when the Central Michigan game was basically over to get more reps while the two tackles and center ended their day. Glasgow was taken out and Kalis was left in for a time after that.
Michigan Defensive Projected Starters
DE #57 Frank Clark, 6-2, 273, junior, 24 games, 5 starts
DT #55 Jibreel Black, 6-2, 278, senior, 40 games, 4 starts
NT #76 Quinton Washington, 6-4, 301, fifth year.37 games, 11 starts
DE #92 Keith Heitzman, 6-3, 280, RS sophomore, 13 games, 1 start
SLB #4 Cam Gordon, 6-3, 237, fifth year, 34 games, 14 starts
MLB #48 Desmond Morgan, 6-1, 228, junior, 24 games, 19 starts
WLB #15 James Ross III, 6-1, 220, sophomore, 14 games, 3 starts
LCB #6 Raymon Taylor, 5-10, 183, junior, 25 games, 12 starts
RCB #18 Blake Countess, 5-10, 182, RS sophomore, 14 games, 8 starts
SS #30 Thomas Gordon, 5-11, 210, fifth year, 35 games, 27 starts
FS #22 Jarrod Wilson, 6-2, 200, sophomore, 13 games, 1 start
The Michigan defensive line is basically a two deep rotating unit without stars who rotate in every 3-4 plays in the defensive design of defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Greg Mattison. This rotation allows them to be fresh and aid in Mattison’s philosophy of maintaining constant pressure.
Fifth year nose tackle Quinton Washington #76 has more starts, eleven, than the rest of the starting defensive linemen. Washington has a good initial burst, good hands, and can be disruptive in the middle, but is weak in space and in pursuit.
The best down lineman is Jibreel Black #55 who is on the light side for a defensive tackle at 278 pounds, but he has a great motor.
In fact, the entire unit seems to play at breakneck pace, but it’s the rotation and depth bringing in fresh players that is the defensive line’s strength as opposed to having star players.
This unit is missing Jake Ryan, perhaps the best pass rusher on the Michigan defense. He’s out till mid-season. Even without Ryan this unit may be the best of the Wolverine defense.
Last season Michigan only had 22 sacks. This past week they had two from strongside linebacker Cam Gordon #4. Gordon has bounced around between Sam and Will linebacker. He’s athletic, physical, and plays with passion. Injuries and the talent ahead of him have held him back as a full time contributor in his career. For this reason it appears he’s determined to make the most of being the starter while Ryan is out. If I were the UM linebacker coach he’d be getting time somewhere when Ryan comes back.
Middle linebacker Desmond Morgan #48 led the Wolverines in tackles last week. He is physical, scrapes very well, and comes at the ball carrier with an attitude. Always appears to be around the ball and is what one would classify as a solid player despite being under 230 pounds, small for a middle linebacker.
Weakside linebacker James Ross #15 was a member of the 2012 All Big Ten Freshman Team. As a tackler, Ross often sends the victim backwards with the physical toughness of his tackling. He’s a solid player with football smarts, toughness, and good instincts.
Michigan was without both starting safeties last week. Out due to arthroscopic knee surgery was Courtney Avery #11, a team captain, along with Thomas Gordon #30 who was serving a one game suspension. The jury is out on Avery who had his surgery August 25th and will probably be a game time decision. Hoke says he’ll play. We’ll see. Avery is judged to be a good route reader. The former Stanford commit is a smart player and not prone to grave mistakes.
The Wolverines will be bolstered by the return of fifth year senior Gordon at strong safety after he served a one game suspension for violating team rules. He has played both strong safety and free safety for Michigan in his career. Gordon is athletic, can be aggressive, has a talent for causing turnovers, but he often lacks consistency.
Avery’s replacement, Jarrod Wilson #22, played a very good game. Gordon’s replacement, Josh Furman #14 did not.
The corners are #6 Raymon Taylor who has 3 career interceptions and #18 Blake Countess who has no career interceptions. Countess has quick feet, great recovery speed, the swagger a corner needs, and is a physical player. Taylor has excellent speed, will hit, and is very athletic.
Michigan Special Teams
Last week, the Wolverines blocked a punt for a touchdown as their special teams dominated Central Michigan.
Place kicker Brendon Gibbons #34 has hit his last 14 field goals in a row, one short of the Michigan record. The Lou Groza Award candidate has hit 120 out of 122 extra points, the last 105 in a row, second best ever at Michigan. The fifth year kicker has a career field goal record of 31 of 41 with a career best of 52 yards. The 242 pound kicker has plenty of leg and was 16 of 18 in 2012. This year he has a 30 yard field goal and is 8 of 8 on extra points.
Kenny Allen #91 punted last week for Michigan and his only attempt went 51 yards on his first career punt.
Matt Wile #45 kicks off for Michigan and in his 166 career kickoffs he has 52 touchbacks including 5 touchbacks last week on ten kickoffs. He’s also the backup punter.
Kick returner Dennis Norfleet returned 4 kickoffs last week for an average of 26.5 yards and a long of 39 yards. He has never scored a touchdown on a kick return at Michigan, but he is a veteran returner with 39 career returns.
Norfleet is also a punt returner as is starting receiver Jeremy Gallon #21. Norfleet has a career average of 13.0 yards per return on four attempts. The bulk of his yardage came last year with 53 yards on two attempts. This season he is -1 yard on two attempts. Gallon has a career average of 7.2 yards per return. Neither has scored a touchdown.
Over 110,000 voices favoring Michigan that’ll be raising Cain when the moment calls for it makes it paramount that the Irish concentrate on their assignments and snap calls.
Michigan has won six out of the last seven against Notre Dame in the Big House. Coach Hoke is 15-0 in Michigan Stadium.
Coach Hoke claiming Notre Dame is “chickening out of the series” after the 2015 game. Right, Hoke, you really know your facts about the history of this series and the efforts that Notre Dame has made to keep it going. I suggest Hoke gets ahold of a copy of Natural Enemies by John Kryk and read it. By the way, Coach, Kryk grew up a Michigan fan, so there’s no Notre Dame bias in his book. Michigan is probably glad that this game is going away. It will allow them to have eight home games a year. Irish coaches and players should really want the man to suffer for his foolish words. It makes the post-game handshake so much better.
Michigan has to be stung over the loss last year. They outgained the Irish in both phases of the game, held the ball nearly seven minutes longer, and fell 13-6 because of an unheard of six turnovers. That has to chafe. And despite any statements to the contrary Michigan views Notre Dame a bigger game than any on their schedule save Ohio State and that includes Michigan State.
Michigan, with Gardner at quarterback, has scored on all 25 trips into their opponents Red Zone, with 21 touchdowns and 4 field goals. That’s impressive no matter who you’re playing.
The Irish always have the incentive of getting the all-time college football winning percentage back. The Wolverines have the incentive of keeping the lead. If Note Dame wins Michigan will still be ahead, but the difference will be just .0002 of a percent and the round off will give both teams a .734 winning percentage.
Irish Offense vs. Wolverine Defense- Slight Notre Dame Advantage
The Irish had three quick strike touchdowns against Temple and one sustained drive. Michigan’s defense is a lot better than Temple’s defense. There’s a great deal of talent at wide receiver and I’m looking forward to the Irish passing game versus the Michigan defense, but I have reservations on some aspects of the Irish offense.
The rushing game worries me. No back has taken the reins and the rushing performance against Temple was less than scintillating. Take away Amir Carlisle’s opening run and Notre Dame has only 153 yards rushing against Temple. Temple! Factor in that the yards per carry average drops from 5.4 to 4.6 yards against Temple.Temple! I find that a concern. Notre Dame’s ground performance against Michigan will go a long way toward easing all our worries.
Michigan’s defensive coordinator Mattison will be dialing up his blitz scheme and test the play and cohesion of Notre Dame’s 2013 revamped offensive line with two new offensive line members and the one position switch. Fresh defensive linemen every 3-4 plays could make a difference in a close game in the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame only made 5 third down conversions out of 13 attempts versus Temple. Temple!
Irish Defense vs. Wolverine Offense- Advantage to Michigan
Ok, don’t stop reading and bear with me on this statement. Last week the Irish gave up 362 yards to a team with a quarterback that had never thrown a college pass, a team whose best receiver had a bad day, a team whose quarterback ran wild at times. Temple had a 9 play, 78 yard drive for a touchdown and penetrated to the Irish 6, 15, and 18 yard lines without scoring. Plus, they also penetrated to the 26 and 33 yard lines and didn’t score. Equally incriminating is Temple only had three 3 and outs.
One could view the no scores as good defense, but again, it was Temple. Do you think Notre Dame will totally stop Michigan from scoring from those field positions given Gardner’s record in the Red Zone? Given the quality of Michigan’s field goal kicker? I don’t think so.
Stephan Tuitt will play head to head against possibly the NFL’s number one choice in 2014. Louis Nix and Sheldon Day had a combined 2 assisted tackles against Temple. I don’t even want to go into the inside linebacker play or the penalties.
I’m going to claim Missouri residence this week and demand that the 52nd ranked Irish defense “show me” before I’m willing to give them the nod as being better than the opponent’s offense.
I question if this defense is as good as last years without Manti Te’o. Nearly would be great, but so far they haven’t been close to nearly. Te’o was certainly a leader by example and voice, did a good job moving people around, and rose to the occasion many times last season. So far, the Notre Dame defense hasn’t been the same without him and his graduation left a big hole, but to go from the 7th ranked defense to the 52nd ranked defense without him? This year’s team has to step up.
Special Teams-Advantage Michigan
A veteran accomplished field goal kicker on the Groza Award watch list kicks for Michigan. Notre Dame is 0 for 2 in field goal attempts this year and hasn’t decided on a field goal kicker. Michigan has had better kickoff returns. Everything else is a wash.
Irish Defense vs. Michigan Offense
It’s no longer the Denard Robinson show in Ann Arbor, and that makes the Wolverine offense a better one. They have more depth at running back and while the overall talent of the receiving corps isn’t as good as years past they have two big guns in Gallon and Funchess and both can be game breakers. Add to the mix Gardner’s ability to keep a play alive with his feet while looking down field to make a play instead of just taking off like Robinson. The Irish have to contain Gardner and not let him have time to extend plays. If pressured he will make mistakes.
If I was the Michigan staff watching film of last week’s Notre Dame-Temple game I’d be thinking get the Irish front seven on their bicycles and run them, run them, run them with stretch play after stretch play. Both Michigan tackles do a great job of sealing off pursuit on their stretch play. Rookie Jaylon Smith and veteran Prince Shembo will have their work cut out for them this week.
Nix, Tuitt, and Day need to revert to their 2012 form and reserves like Kona Schwenke, Isaac Rochell, and Jarron Jones need to do more when they are in the game than just give the starters a break.
The inside linebackers just have to play better than they did against Temple. These were two veterans that played like newbies, not only against the run, but in pass coverage. Michigan will test their football manhood with isolations. They better be ready for them.
I can’t fault the Irish secondary play from last week considering what transpired in front of them, but they could also tighten up their performance. Michigan’s Gardner, Gallon, and Funchess present a much bigger challenge than their three Temple counterparts. They must always account for Gallon who seems to be the guy Gardner goes to in moments of stress. Funchess has the ability to do what Troy Niklas did last week.
Irish Offense vs. Michigan Defense
The knock of Tommy Rees is he’s easy to defend. No? C’mon, you’ve never said it? I know I have in my own frustrated moments. Why? Weak arm and slow feet are the major reasons. Well, Tommy’s arm is stronger than in past years and he throws a better deep ball than he has in the past. He also has a more talented corps of receivers than he has had in years past. Yards against Temple are not yards against Michigan, but I see a better and more down the field Irish passing attack under Tommy than ever before. It’ll be interesting to see if Mattison employs his come after the quarterback defense or drops back eight like so many often do against Rees. It will probably be a combination of both. This week will be interesting and go a long way in finding Rees a niche within the Notre Dame hierarchy of quarterbacks.
The Irish can run left and probably do it all day. That’s how good Martin and Watt are on the left side of the line. However, tilting their rushing game to that side too often will negate its success as the defense adjusts. The Irish have to run right as well. In fact the Irish have to run the ball better than they did last week. Also, who’s going to step up and claim the running back job?
Will the Michigan front’s rotation wear the Irish front five down? It’s an interesting approach by Mattison. It got to Central Michigan.
I wasn’t impressed with the Irish defense against an outclassed Temple team. They must play better this week in a hostile atmosphere. I wasn’t impressed with the offense after the first two drives either. They’ll have to play better as well plus deal with the noise. I also wasn’t impressed with the kickoff coverage, kickoff return, and the kicking game. T. J. Jones alternately impressed me or made my hair go whiter on punt returns, but I applaud his fire.
The game’s away, Michigan is favored by three and a half as I write this. I have bad feelings. I’m upset about the play last week. The intangibles are almost all on Michigan’s side. So…
Notre Dame 24 Michigan 20
What you say? After all the negatives? Well, I am, after all, Irish.