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M&GB Pick’em: Notre Dame staff predictions

September 21st, 2012 by Justin Potts


Last week, we all underestimated both teams’ offenses, although UMass’ lone touchdown was a defensive one. Matt nearly hit the score on the head with his 56-13 pick. Michigan’s final touchdown ruined his perfect pick, but it was a good one nonetheless. Games like that are always hard to pick because you never know how long the starters will stay on the field and how soon the coach will ease off the gas pedal. This week should be better. We’re all familiar with Notre Dame and nobody expects a blowout in either direction. Let’s take a look at our picks:

M&GB PREDICTION SUMMARY
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Justin: Michigan 33 – Notre Dame 27
Chris: Michigan 27 – Notre Dame 30
Josh: Michigan 27 – Notre Dame 23
Matt: Michigan 38 – Notre Dame 31
Sam: Michigan 24 – Notre Dame 27
Katie: Michigan 33 – Notre Dame 30

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Average: Michigan 30 – Notre Dame 28

Justin: What’s that? Is that an echo I hear emanating from South Bend? The Irish, who have been largely dormant for the better part of a decade, if not more, have set off BCS buzz following their first 3-0 start since 2002. ND ventured to its homeland to crush Navy, and may have found a bit of luck that had escaped the fighting leprechauns of late. It carried over once back in the States, holding of pesky Purdue and dominating a top-10 Michigan State squad on the road. Now, Lou Holtz isn’t the only one clamoring over the postseason possibilities for the Blue and Gold. A win tomorrow would snap several years of misery and likely propel the Irish into the Top 10.

But you know what? To hell with Notre Dame. All the talk surrounding the Irish is just that. Talk. Sure they beat a Navy team that got trounced by Penn State. Sure they kicked a late field goal to hold off Purdue. Sure they won convincingly against an overrated MSU squad that has very little offensive firepower. Michigan has the trump card in the form of Denard Robinson. His exploits against the Irish have been well documented this week, and the fact is, Notre Dame is terrified of him because he has single-handedly ripped out their hearts, poured out their lucky charms, and stolen their pot of gold each of the last two years.

Notre Dame has a vaunted front seven but a MASH unit in the back. Michigan’s receiving corps is rapidly becoming the best it has had in years, which no one foresaw entering the season. As I said in this morning’s game preview, Michigan will come out firing and make the front seven back off in order to open up the run game. And Notre Dame’s offense doesn’t have the firepower to keep up. It will be close and Michigan will have its share of struggles, but Denard will pull it out and celebrate his 22nd birthday in style.

Michigan 33 – Notre Dame 27

Chris: This week the Wolverines face a tough test when they travel to Notre Dame Stadium to play the Fighting Irish in an Under the Lights game Part 2. ND has been tough to gauge after three weeks of the season, after a close home win vs Purdue and a fairly dominating defensive win against Michigan State in East Lansing. ND quarterback Everett Golson looked good last week, but the ND offense struggled to convert 3rd downs as they went 1-14, an issue that could prove to be a problem on Saturday. Defensively, ND has looked faster than expected, especially up front, where sophomore nose guard Louis Nix (6’3″, 326 pounds), and senior inside linebacker Manti Te’o, control the inside. To me, this looks like the best ND team that has been in South Bend since 2006.

Tight end Tyler Eifert will be tough to stop (photo by Michael Conroy, AP)

At the beginning of the season, ND was set to return 14 starters from the 2011 squad. Then starting cornerback, junior Lo Wood, was injured. This past Saturday, ND lost another starter, senior Jamoris Slaughter, when he tore his Achilles’ tendon. This could be an opportunity for the Michigan offense if the offensive line can keep the pass rush from putting too much pressure on quarterback Denard Robinson. MSU was supposed to have one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten this season, however the ND front seven pressured the quarterback all game and also held the running game to 50 total yards. The key for Michigan offensively will be how they handle this group and whether they can keep the rush off of Denard long enough for him to pass or make a play with his feet. The Michigan offensive line has improved in each of the first three weeks, but this will be a tough task. I do believe that ND will get pressure on Denard for the majority of the game, so it will be imperative that Denard not try to stand in the pocket and force passes to his receivers. Running lanes will be there and he will need to use his running ability to pick up yardage and move the ball. To counter this, I expect that ND will use one of the linebackers to “spy” Denard all game in an attempt to tackle him before he can get too many yards.

The ND offense is stronger this year as well. In addition to Golson, ND features the running back tandem of junior Cierre Wood and senior Theo Riddick. They are fast and strong and can pile up yards quickly. They also have a good offensive line which did well against an MSU defensive front which was predicted to be very good this season. Junior tight end Tyler Eifert will create match-up problems for the Wolverine defense, as linebackers are generally too slow and defensive backs are too small to cover him. I expect ND head coach Brian Kelly to use him similar to how Michigan’s Al Borges has used Devin Funchess this season and I think the potential is there for Eifert to have a big game. I think Michigan will come out and try to pressure Golson with a number of zone blitz schemes which defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is famous for. The goal will be to create turnovers by forcing Golson into making mistakes, as he is just a sophomore playing in this rivalry for the first time.

I believe that Michigan will face a tough scene at ND on Saturday. In addition to this being a night game, this will also be a revenge game for ND, as they try to return the favor to Michigan after they blew a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter and gave up the game-winning TD with two seconds left on the clock last year in Ann Arbor. Michigan has improved as a team in Brady Hoke’s second season, but the inconsistent play by the offensive and defensive lines has me concerned for this game. That, combined with a raucous atmosphere in South Bend tells me that ND may have the advantage in this game. I think the game will be back and forth the entire time, but ND will win in the end.

Notre Dame 30 – Michigan 27

Josh (1): Ah, Notre Dame week. It doesn’t quite have the ring of Ohio week but it is a big game nonetheless. This game has a little more meaning for me this year, not in a ‘intra-family rivalry’ way like Justin, but in a ‘I live about a mile from Notre Dame stadium and see their fans everyday’ kind of way. Notre Dame has looked good, and bad, thus far. Michigan has looked bad (though who doesn’t against ‘Bama?), OK and finally good. I usually just go out and pick Michigan because they’ve owned the Irish recently but this year I’m not so sure. Notre Dame’s fronts (on both sides) took care of business last week against State’s lines, and those guys are big and physical. This worries me more than a bit. Michigan is heading in the right direction and I think they’ll be in the national title hunt come 2015, but at the moment they don’t possess Big Ten size and strength up front.

Defensive end Stephon Tuitt already has five sacks this season (photo by Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Notre Dame has seemingly solved their QB questions and Everett Golson is entrenched as the starter. While he he hasn’t put up really eye popping numbers he has played well and makes plays when needed. Reminds me of someone, less than stellar passer, comes up big when he’s needed. Now I am in now way shape or form comparing Golson to Denard (well, I am) but he has a similar skill set, though he doesn’t use his legs quite as often.

Michigan “righted the ship” last week, if you will. And got their offense back on track as they dominated an overmatched UMass team. Notre Dame is not UMass, but they are not the Notre Dame of old either. Notre Dame is putting up 30 points per game and only allowing 10, Michigan is putting up 36 and allowing 26; something has to give. Both teams have fairly balanced offenses. I think Notre Dame has the better passing attack but Michigan has the better ground game.

The loss of Blake Countess should rear its ugly head Saturday night and I fully expect Golson to try and take advantage of either Courtney Avery (we all know my comfort level with his coverage ability) or Raymon Taylor (he’s young and inexperienced but he has good upside and hey, a true frosh stepped up last year at CB). On defense, as always, the name of the game is stop Denard. And this will be no different. If the Irish can force Denard into a passing QB under duress or on the move (neither are his forte) then they have a great chance of winning this game.

Michigan will most likely employ some pressure via blitzes and hope to make Golson move around and force him into some bad throws. Golson can make plays with his legs but that is not his game, so if Michigan can get him out of his comfort zone they can force him into some poor decisions. On offense the Wolverines need to build on their momentum from last week. Fitz needs to be heavily involved and the receiving corps needs to continue to make strides.

Denard has had success against the Irish, with both his arm and his legs, and I expect to see more of the same come Saturday night. While the passing game has been much maligned and his struggles well documented (and those with faith in Denard’s arm dwindle in numbers) he is not an awful passer. He just needs to make better decisions and not throw off balance. With the emergence of Devin Funchess at WR/TE and the crazy athleticism of former QB Devin Gardner, Denard now has two big (literally) time receivers to help him out. I don’t advocate the jump ball, but if you’re gonna throw those 50/50′s those two guys are nice to have out there, not to mention their after the catch ability.

Notre Dame is at home and while they’re not the Notre Dame of old, it is always a tough place to play. Their fans are passionate and loud and they hate Michigan. The Irish should be playing with a little extra passion and vigor, they’re fresh off a big win over Michigan St. and they’re looking to not make it 4 straight losses to a bitter rival. A feeling we know all too well.

If Notre Dame can control the line of scrimmage it will be a long night for Michigan but I don’t expect them to come out and dominate like they did last week. I don’t expect them to roll over and die either. Last year the Irish lost the game with their numerous mistakes on which Michigan capitalized. Golson has only thrown one INT so far but he only has 5 total TD’s in three games, so I don’t think we’ll see as many turnover opportunities as we did last year.

Theo Riddick scored two touchdowns against Michigan last season (photo by Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

For me, in the end it comes down to line play for both teams. Whichever team comes out and controls the LOS is going to create opportunities for big plays. This one should be another great game and it could really go either way.

I’m not very confident about this pick but it’s tough for me to pick against the Maize and Blue, at least when they’re evenly or only slightly overmatched. Michigan wins another close one and the Irish’s 4-0 start is derailed.

Michigan 27 – Notre Dame 23

Matt (2): Well here we are. Notre Dame week. And I have to admit, I’m probably more nervous for this game than any other Notre Dame game. It’s a big rivalry, and I have to say, they are tied for my  second least favorite college football team alon with Michigan State (obviously Ohio State takes the number 1 spot, but more about them in November).

Michigan started out the season not lookin great. Getting clobbered by Alabama and beating Air Force by only six points. After that we beat up on UMass, but…it’s UMass.

Saturday at 7:30 we play Notre Dame in South Bend. And I tell you, the Fighting Irish look good this season. They gave Navy a good beating. Beat Purdue by three, and last week sort of embarrassed Michigan State. Did I already mention I’m nervous?

Anyway, Denard hasn’t looked terrible, although he is still over throwing wide receivers. Devin Gardner hasn’t had a whole lot of chances to prove how good he is at wide receiver, although I think he is going to prove that this year. One of the biggest offensive weapons we have been surprised with this season, is tight end Devin Funchess. Keep your eye on him in this game. Also keep your eye on Denard (obviously), as I think he’ll break a few nice runs.

It will be hard to follow up last year’s heart attack of a football game last year, and I don’t see it being quite as entertaining, or high scoring. Both team’s defenses have improved.

I think Notre Dame will come out with a couple of scores like last year, and seem to have our number. But I see Brady Hoke rallying the troops, and Michigan coming back for the victory.

Last week I almost hit the score square on the head. Let’s see how I do this week.

Michigan 38 – Notre Dame 31

Sam: For the Michigan Wolverines, this weekend presents a lot of firsts for the season: the first night game, the first (true) road game, and, of course, the first rivalry game. For star quarterback Denard Robinson, however, this Saturday will be the last game of his career against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, the team he has loved playing against more than any other college in the country.

You see, over the past two seasons as a starter, Robinson has absolutely feasted on the Golden Domers, rushing for 366 yards and three touchdowns and throwing for 582 yards and five touchdowns in 28-24 (2010) and 35-31 (2011) Michigan nail-biters. Michigan has won the past three matchups between these bitter rivals, but to extend it to a fourth straight under the lights this Saturday, Denard Robinson is going to have to make one hell of an encore.

Brian Kelly said in his weekly press conference that Shoelace will be the best player on the field, a statement that seems obvious. I’m not sure it’s as clear cut as most would say, however. Notre Dame’s hulking middle linebacker, Manti Te’o, is an All-American who likely would have been a first round NFL draft pick this year before deciding to come back for a final swan song, and perhaps a chance to taste victory against the Maize and Blue. Not only will Te’o be playing to avoid being shut out in his career against Michigan though; he will also be playing with a heavy heart and a head of steam as he continues to mourn the loss of his grandmother and girlfriend, both of whom died last week.

Hopefully we'll see more of vintage Brian Kelly tomorrow (photo by Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

What is obvious is that Notre Dame’s whole defensive game plan will be to stop Denard Robinson at all costs, and that starts by keeping him bottled up in the pocket. It was Robinson’s arm that led Michigan to victory in the fourth quarter last year, and it will have to be his arm once again this year if Michigan is to have any chance. Sure, he will break a couple runs over 10 yards, but Te’o will have his eye on him the whole game.

Luckily for Michigan, Denard has been notably more accurate this season and will be testing a very inexperienced Notre Dame secondary. Kelly has already lost starting corner Lo Wood and starting safety Jamoris Slaughter for the season and will be starting freshmen in their places.

Having said all this, I still think Fitzgerald Toussaint is the key. If he goes for over 100 yards and finds the end zone, Michigan wins. That will not be an easy task, though, as Te’o and company come off a dominating performance against Michigan State in which the Spartans never made it past Notre Dame’s 30-yard-line and put up a total of three points on the scoreboard.

Unfortunately, I think Michigan’s defense has proven to be a bit weaker this season, especially up front. Freshman quarterback Everett Golson has been solid so far, throwing for 611 yards and three touchdowns while completing 58% of his passes through three games and will have weapons Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood in the backfield with him. Notre Dame hasn’t had any standout receivers thus far, but tight end Tyler Eifert is very good over the middle and could present some matchup problems. If Notre Dame’s offensive line is getting half the push Alabama’s did, say goodbye and good night, because Michigan’s not winning. If the Wolverines can at least contain the run, they should be in good position at the end.

Like the past three years, this game is going to be very close and shouldn’t be decided until late in the fourth stanza. And as much as I would love to see Michigan spoil Notre Dame’s night once again and as much as I know Denard Robinson loves playing against the Fighting Irish, I’m worried. Notre Dame pulls it off in the end, 27-24.

Notre Dame 27 – Michigan 24

Katie: I’m predicting a barn burner. Whether or not it will take place in the fourth quarter I cannot say, but for Michigan’s sake I hope that it starts with a few long rally’s early.  After watching Michigan State struggle all day on offense last week, I’m confident that Michigan will be able to do better with a fleet footed quarterback, but as for the passing struggles, well, Michigan better not reflect its in state rivals productivity. The Wolverines have been doubling the number of points scored each successive week, but that’s only because the opponents have been lessening in rank each Saturday. As for Notre Dame, whose schedule makes Michigan look like a bit like a bear without teeth, they’ve beat a top ranked Spartan team, and a Leaders Division darkhorse in Purdue.  After Michigan the Irish will go on to play at USC and Oklahoma, while playing Stanford at home.  If ND is looking for a nine win season, Michigan is the lowest ranked top team they’ll need to beat in addition to the four unranked opponents that fill out the rest of their schedule.

Notre Dame’s starting quarterback is only a sophomore, but he has been the one under center at the beginning of each of the three games. And while his passes completed is only at 58%, he played a tough Michigan State defense that dropped his stat from the first two weeks which hovered around 66%.  Really though, I should see this as a potential high note.  Denard’s passing stat is a lowly 55%, so if we can keep the youngster Golson to completing around half of his passes it would hopefully lighten the load on the defense which is facing two strong running backs in Theo Riddick, and Cierre Wood. However, Riddick so far has only 190 yards, 107 coming off a thrashing of Navy. As for Michigan, it’s pretty obvious who our leading rusher is. The only issue is that other than Robinson no other rusher has yet broke past the 100 yard mark.  In the receiving game Michigan is slightly ahead with four players over 100 yards, ND only has three.  So if Denard can hit the broad side of a barn Michigan should be able to put up more points that the Irish, but it will be difficult under the circumstances, a night game in South Bend.

On defense Michigan has twelve players that have made 5 or more solo tackles. The Irish defense in its most recent game had 6 tackles for a loss, they also had a forced fumble and a recovery. They have also given up only 30 points total this season, as compared to Michigan’s 79. Granted, Michigan did get trounced by ‘Bama, but one can’t very well throw out those 41 points, especially given that Notre Dame’s only real holes on defense are in its secondary. Manti Te’o is also healthy and determined, and could cause serious problems for Denard who is not a prolific passer, and is definitely not when on the run. I see this being a pretty even match up, with Michigan having the offensive advantage, and ND the defensive. How much sway the home field crowd will have I’m sure will be tangible rather than negligible. I envision a nail-biter, and most tentatively, a win.

Michigan 33 – Notre Dame 30