photo AnnArborGIFHeader_zps02670880.gif

Posts Tagged ‘Brian Kelly’

First Look: Miami (Ohio)

Monday, September 8th, 2014


FirstLook-Miami

Michigan suffered its first shutout in 30 years in a humiliating loss at Notre Dame last Saturday and now returns home to face a team riding an 18-game losing streak. Miami (Ohio) is in its first season under former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. The Redhawks haven’t won a game since beating Ohio University 23-20 on Oct. 27, 2012.

A week ago, any thought of an upset sounded insane, but with last week’s loss in mind and last season’s scares against Akron and UConn, could Miami possibly have a chance to end its losing streak in the Big House? Let’s take a first look at Miami.

Miami (Ohio) Statistics & Michigan Comparison
MiamiMichigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 18.5 | 26.0 111 | T86 29.5| 22.5 T9168
Rushing Yards 160 | 450 253 | 207
Rush Avg. Per Game 80.0 | 225.0 116 | 39 126.5 | 103.5 55 | 36
Avg. Per Rush 2.2 | 6.3
3.7 | 3.1
Passing Yards 677399 459 | 353
Pass Avg. Per Game 338.5 | 199.5 18 | T86 229.5 | 176.5 75 | 35
Total Offense 837849 712 | 560
Total Off Avg. Per Game 418.5 | 424.5 T77 | 72 356.0 | 280.0 60 | 26
Kick Return Average 16.7 | 26.0 107 | 25 25.6 | 19.6 119 | 55
Punt Return Average 10.5 | 23.5 41 | 9 6.2 | 5.2 67 | 59
Avg. Time of Possession 36:42 | 31:36 4 | 44
23:18 | 28:24
3rd Down Conversion Pct 30.0% | 43.0% 109 | 66
20.0% | 38.0% T7 | T65
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 9-60 | 3-24
T122 | T66
7-28 | 3-25
T16 | T75
Touchdowns Scored 4 | 7
8 | 6
Field Goals-Attempts 3-51-4 1-1 | 1-1
Red Zone Scores (5-8) 63% | (6-6) 100% 113 | T1
(6-7) 86%(6-6) 100% T71 | T88
Red Zone Touchdowns (2-8) 25% | (5-6) 83% (5-7) 71% | (5-6) 83%

Miami has continued its losing streak so far this season, namely because of the 11 points per game scoring disparity. In Week 1, the Redhawks did manage to put up 27 points against a Marshall team that went 10-4 last season and is favored to win the Conference-USA this season, but last Saturday could only muster 10 points against an FCS school, Eastern Kentucky.

Against Marshall, Miami fell behind 21-0 early in the second quarter, but fought back to within 28-20 heading into the fourth. That was as close as they would get as Marshall won 42-27. Against EKU, Miami led 10-3 in the third, but the Colonels scored 14 straight to knock them off.

Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 30 Marshall L 27-42
Sept. 6 Eastern Kentucky L 10-17
Sept. 13 at Michigan
Sept. 20 at Cincinnati
Sept. 27 at Buffalo
Oct. 4 Massachusetts
Oct. 11 at Akron
Oct. 18 at Northern Illinois
Oct. 25 Kent State
Nov. 1 Western Michigan
Nov. 15 at Central Michigan
Nov. 25 Ohio

The Miami offense this season is extremely one-sided through two games, averaging 338.5 passing yards and just 80 rushing yards per game. The passing game ranks 18th nationally and only 15 teams have thrown for more yards so far, including future Michigan opponents Penn State and Michigan State. Quarterback Andrew Hendrix, a Notre Dame transfer, has thrown 101 passes (by comparison, Devin Gardner has thrown 46) and completed 49. Two receivers are averaging over 100 yards per game, though only one of them has caught a touchdown pass.

The running game on the other hand is a disaster, although not quite as bad as the numbers look because they’ve lost 60 yards on sacks. Take out the sacks and Miami is averaging a still bad but slightly more respectable 3.2 yards per carry. Hendrix has carried the ball three times more than any running back has, and sacks removed, is averaging just 1.4 yards per carry.

Defensively, Miami is giving up a touchdown more per game than Michigan and ranks about middle of the pack nationally. The Redhawks held Eastern Kentucky to just 280 total yards, but as we saw in South Bend last Saturday that doesn’t mean much when your own offense can’t score. Unlike Michigan’s, Miami’s offense actually rolled in that one, racking up 445 total yards, but managed just 10 points. The week prior, however, Marshall rushed for 171 and passed for 261 on Miami. Marshall running back Devon Johnson rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 7.9 yards per carry.

One stat that really sticks out is the seven sacks that the Miami defense has recorded through just two games, four more than Michigan. Michigan’s offensive line has only allowed three, but didn’t provide Gardner much time to throw on Saturday.

This is a game that could be a bit closer than it should be if Michigan doesn’t shake off last week’s game quickly. You can bet Diaco will give his buddy Brian Kelly a call this week to learn how the Irish had such success moving the ball on Michigan last week and shutting down the Michigan offense. Notre Dame had much more talent than Diaco’s squad does of course, but Hendrix spent three years at ND and won’t shy away from the environment. He will test Michigan’s secondary, especially if Raymon Taylor and/or Jabrill Peppers can’t go, though I assume at least Peppers will be back. Michigan should win this one similar to the way it beat Appalachian State, but if Doug Nussmeier can’t fix last week’s problems, it could make for a very tense afternoon.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Long
Andrew Hendrix 49-101 677 4 4 47
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average/Carry
Spencer McInnis 11 54 0 13 4.9
Spencer Treadwell 10 47 0 15 4.7
Dawan Scott 13 36 0 13 2.8
Andrew Hendrix (QB) 36 7 0 13 0.2
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average/Game
David Frazier 13 215 0 47 107.5
Rokeem Williams 9 204 1 41 102.0
Dawan Scott (RB) 6 53 1 15 26.5
Jared Murphy 5 83 1 40 41.5
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Kent Kern (LB) 15 8 23 3-13 2-12
Joe Donlan (LB) 10 6 16 1.5-7 1-6
J’Terius Jones (DL) 7 4 11 2.5-4 2-4
Jarrell Jones (DB) 8 2 10 0-0 0-0
Kicking FG Made FG Att Long XP Made XP Att
Kaleb Patterson 3 5 24 4 4
Punting Punts Yds Avg. In-20 50+
Christian Koch 11 487 44.3 2 2
Full Stats

Stay tuned for more on Miami in the coming days.

Egg Laid: Notre Dame 31 – Michigan 0

Sunday, September 7th, 2014


Gardner hit vs ND(Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

The main storyline coming into Saturday’s primetime showdown between Michigan and Notre Dame was the series between two of college football’s most historic programs coming to an end. But it was the end of another streak that hurt the most.

For 30 years and 365 consecutive games, from the final five years of Bo Schembechler’s tenure, through Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, and yes, even Rich Rodriguez, Michigan had managed to put at least a safety on the scoreboard. But a year after Brady Hoke accused Notre Dame of chickening out of the series, it was his Wolverines that laid an egg.

Michigan entered Notre Dame Stadium looking to win for the fifth time in the last six meetings, but left with its worst loss and first shutout in series history, 31-0.

After forcing a Notre Dame punt to start the game, Michigan’s offense got to work, efficiently marching from its own 23 to Notre Dame’s 29. The drive stalled there and Matt Wile missed a 46-yard field goal. Notre Dame seized the momentum, driving 71 yards in eight plays for the game’s first score, a one-yard Cam McDaniel run.

Michigan responded with a nice drive that once again stalled just before the Irish red zone. Wile’s 48-yard field goal attempt was blocked, and suddenly an offense that gained 92 yards on its first two possessions had no points to show for it. Two possessions later, Notre Dame hit pay dirt again, this time through the air as Everett Golson found Amir Carlisle from a yard out.

UM-ND-small-final-final
Final Stats
Michigan Notre Dame
Score 0 31
Record 1-1 2-0
Total Yards 289 280
Net Rushing Yards 100 54
Net Passing Yards 189 226
First Downs 18 20
Turnovers 4 0
Penalties-Yards 5-50 3-20
Punts-Yards 4-170 6-230
Time of Possession 33:04 26:56
Third Down Conversions 4-of-13 7-of-15
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2 1-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 1-16 2-16
Field Goals 0-for-2 1-for-1
PATs 0-for-0 4-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 0-of-0 4-of-4
Full Box Score

That’s the way the rest of the night went: Notre Dame methodically picking apart Michigan’s defense and Michigan’s offense unable to find an answer. By the time halftime mercifully came, Michigan had dug itself a 21-point hole that on the stat sheet felt closer, but in reality felt more like 50.

As the second half began, the glimmer of hope that the coaching staff could find an adjustment that would turn things around faded into depression as Devin Gardner was intercepted five plays in. The defense held strong despite Notre Dame starting at Michigan’s 38, but ND punter Kyle Brindza stuck a punt at the two-yard line. It felt like a dagger.

Michigan punted it back and the Irish responded with a  12-yards touchdown pass from Golson to Carlisle. The downward spiral continued as Gardner fumbled on the next possession and threw an interception on the following.

By the fourth quarter, Michigan fans were relegated to simply rooting for the points-scored streak to continue, but it wasn’t so. The Wolverines’ offense, in its second game under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, failed to reach the Notre Dame red zone and only crossed midfield on four of 11 possessions.

Michigan out-gained Notre Dame 289 to 280, but routinely gave up good field position and the Irish capitalized. Michigan held Notre Dame to just 54 yards rushing on 31 attempts (1.7 yards per carry), but surrendered 226 yards through the air.

After starting 6-of-6 in the first quarter, Gardner finished the game 19-of-32 for 189 yards and three interceptions. Devin Funchess caught nine passes for 107 yards, while Jehu Chesson caught three for 30. Michigan managed 100 yards rushing on 35 attempts (2.9 yards per carry), led by De’Veon Smith’s 31 yards on seven carries (4.3) and Derrick Green’s 28 yards on 13 carries (1.9).

All-in-all, it was a nightmare in every sense of the word as Notre Dame carries the bragging rights into the indefinite series hiatus, Michigan’s 30-year scoring streak came to an end, and it suffered some injuries in the process that could affect the rest of the season.

Raymon Taylor left the game in the first half and reportedly left the stadium in a leg cast. Funchess went down in the fourth, and although he came back in for the final series, he was noticeably limping and also reportedly left the stadium in a boot. Frank Clark had his right arm in a cast and Michigan played the entire game without Desmond Morgan and Jabrill Peppers.

It’s no secret that Hoke doesn’t discuss injuries, and he stressed that in the post game press conference, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that his time in Ann Arbor is ticking down. He by and large managed to avoid true hot seat talk through the offseason and could have quelled it with a promising season, but after Saturday’s goose egg in South Bend, it’s hard to find a believer anymore. He’s now 7-12 away from the Big House and 6-9 in true road games, and with road trips to East Lansing and Columbus still to come, he may need to win one or both to keep his job.

But as disheartening as Saturday’s performance was, let’s keep it in perspective. Michigan is now 1-1 and still has 10 games left to play. Conference play hasn’t yet started, so the team’s number one goal — to win the Big Ten — is still there for the taking. That doesn’t mean it will be easy — far from it — but perhaps Hoke can use this to galvanize the team. Remember 2007 when Michigan suffered a humiliating defeat to Appalachian State and followed it up by getting thumped by Oregon, 39-7? That team pulled itself together and won its next eight, including a 38-0 beatdown of Notre Dame the very next week, and closed the season with an upset of a ninth-ranked Florida team led by Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow.

The sting of Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame will take a while to go away, but there’s a lot of football left to play this season. We’ll find out in the weeks to come how much resolve this team has. Will it learn from its mistakes and rally the rest of the season behind its beleaguered coach? Or will it wallow in its misery and pack it in? It starts when a bird of a different feather comes to town next Saturday.

M&GB staff predictions: Notre Dame

Friday, September 5th, 2014


StaffPicks_banner

One hundred and twenty-seven years ago, Michigan traveled to South Bend and taught a group of Catholics how to play football. Tomorrow, those two schools that share such history will square off for the final scheduled time. It could be ten years, it could be more before the two all-time winningest programs rekindle the rivalry, but both will be looking to carry bragging rights into the hiatus. Here are our predictions.

Justin

When I watched and re-watched Notre Dame’s season-opening win over Rice, I came away impressed with the Irish offense. Rice is a much better opponent than Appalachian State and Notre Dame didn’t have much trouble with them. Specifically, Everett Golson is a much better quarterback than when Michigan last saw him two years go. In that game, Golson went 3-of-8 for 30 yards and two interceptions before being replaced by Tommy Rees. He spent last season away from the program due to suspension, but used that time to work with quarterback guru George Whitfield and become a better quarterback. That was on display last Saturday when he completed 14-of-22 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 41 yards and three touchdowns. Those are Devin Gardner numbers.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Notre Dame
Justin 38 33
Sam 31 26
Derick 31 27
Josh 20 27
Joe 34 28
M&GB Average 31 28

Golson showed very good arm strength and touch on deep throws as his receivers routinely beat the Rice secondary. That won’t happen tomorrow and Michigan’s game plan would be wise to keep all receivers in front of them and force Golson to hit the quick throws, which is where his accuracy struggled last Saturday.

Rice was able to move the ball fairly well against the Notre Dame defense, especially through the air. The Owls ranked 103rd nationally in passing offense last season, averaging just 178 yards per game. Against Notre Dame, Rice threw for 226 yards and had a lot of wide open receivers. Brian Kelly chalked that up to miscommunication and said it has been fixed this week, but Michigan’s receivers are much, much better than Rice’s. Unless Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder can keep Gardner off balance all day long, Gardner will have a big day and lead Michigan to a close victory in a high scoring affair.

Michigan 38 – Notre Dame 33

Sam

Michigan versus Notre Dame doesn’t need much of an introduction. It’s one of the biggest rivalries in the world of sports, a matchup that almost always brings bright and loud fireworks. In two days, the two old-time rivals will go at it for the last time in the foreseeable future and for the all-time college football win percentage lead (ND currently leads by an unfathomably small margin)…as if this Saturday’s game to be played at night at Notre Dame Stadium needed any more hype.

So what should we expect? Fireworks, smoke bombs, firecrackers, and then some. There has not been a runaway victory in this game for quite some time, and I don’t expect one this weekend either.

I think we will see another decently high-scoring affair, with the Devin-to-Devin connection getting things going again early before Everett Golson leads the Irish back to within striking distance and maybe the lead. If Michigan’s offensive line can make ND’s defensive front look like Appalachian State (2014 version), the Maize and Blue will roll behind Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith again. It won’t be that easy, though. In the end, I like Michigan’s front seven to apply a good deal of pressure and Michigan’s offense to have one too many weapons on one too many plays for the shaky Irish secondary to hold up. Funchess scores two more while Amara Darboh finds the end zone for the first time in a Michigan win.

Michigan 31 – Notre Dame 26

Derick

It’s tough to draw conclusions from the performances of Michigan and Notre Dame last week, but two blowout victories have set up a battle between two teams that looked nearly perfect in Week 1.

Michigan showcased a revived rushing attack that crumbled to pieces during the conference schedule in 2013. A healthy Devin Gardner complimented the running of Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith with 13 completions on 14 attempts to round out an incredibly efficient offensive attack.

If Doug Nussmeier can maintain this level of productivity from his sophomore running backs, Michigan’s offense will be nearly impossible for any team to stop.

In the final meeting between the two teams, Notre Dame will struggle to stop that offense and Michigan will come out with a slim win.

Michigan 31 – Notre Dame 27

Josh

Saturday marks the end of a classic (albeit not very often) rivalry. To be honest, I don’t blame Notre Dame for backing out; they’ve lost six of the last eight and Michigan is getting back to being Michigan. With the move to playing five ACC teams every year the Irish don’t want too many good opponents on their schedule after all.

After last week’s showing I feel better about this weekend, though not much better. If this was a home game I’d be much more confident. However, it is not and Notre Dame Stadium is a tough environment. None of Hoke’s teams have shown the ability to win on the road against decent opponents and that is a big red flag for me heading in.

A lot of the college football pundits seem to think this will be a shoot out, I don’t think so at all. Michigan’s defense is much more aggressive than last year and has the athletes to play press coverage, which will allow the front four ample opportunities to create havoc for the running backs and Everett Golson. Michigan only had two sacks and two more TFL’s against Appalachian State, that just doesn’t cut it. The Irish front will be far bigger and stronger than App State was, presenting a challenge. Michigan should be able to hold its own but I don’t think they’ll generate much pass rush or fluster Golson too much. Lack of pass rush will allow the Irish will beat the Michigan defense deep a few times and they’ll put points up on the board. Maybe not a ton, but it’ll be enough.

Devin Gardner looked really good last week, making checks at the line for protection and switching plays. But can he do it again, and against a better team? I’d love to say yes but I really have no idea if he can be consistently good. Funchess is an unstoppable monster on the outside and odds are Notre Dame will double him so Gardner needs to find that second receiver. I think it’ll be Norfleet out of the slot. But if Norfleet can’t step up and Gardner keeps forcing passes to his No. 1 guy it won’t turn out well. For me it’s basically a coin flip over which Devin Gardner shows up but on the road and I have to lean towards inconsistent, prone to turnover Gardner.

The run game, while dominant last week against a weak opponent, still concerns me. Take out the big runs for Green and his yards per carry are a paltry 3.7, which for a man of his size and (alleged) skill is completely unacceptable. De’Veon Smith showed better and has better vision so I’d be willing to bet he gets the nod as 1a, but he still lacks game breaking speed so don’t expect him to hoof it for any more 50-plus gains.

The line had some trouble creating holes against App State and I think that’ll get worse against the Irish. Graham Glasgow will play and we’ll probably see yet another starting five on the line. These guys just can’t get enough time together to jell and if you don’t know what you’re gonna get from the guy next to you it makes your job all the more difficult. Mason Cole, while admirable and fairly technically sound last week, is still just a freshman and as we saw is clearly not strong enough yet. I think he’ll get abused more than once and that could spell doom for Gardner as he is not the best at making decisions under duress. I think the Irish sack him four or five times and force at least one turnover that leads to a score.

Until this team shows me they’ve made marked improvement, can be consistently good week to week and can beat a decent opponent on the road I won’t have much confidence in them. They beat App State like they should have now comes the first test of whether this team has come together and can get it done. I’m not so sure they have and Michigan ends this rivalry with a big fat L and the “Fire Hoke” bandwagon will warm itself up.

Notre Dame 27 – Michigan 20

Joe

The “final” showdown in the storied rivalry between Notre Dame and Michigan is set for primetime on Saturday, and this contest will not be without its fair share of storylines. Fresh off of easy wins and equally impressive showings for each quarterback, each of these teams will be put to the test.  The lingering question for me is this: Which Michigan team will show up on the road? Despite Hoke’s success at home (20-2), the Wolverines have struggled away from Ann Arbor and are a disappointing 7-11. If the offensive line can buy Devin Gardner some time while opening up holes for the duo of De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green to take some pressure off of him, Big Blue will play spoiler on ND’s home turf.  I have no doubt that Michigan’s defense and special teams will step up in this one and keep it competitive, therefore, the bulk of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the offense. This game will not be decided until the fourth quarter, so enjoy some BBQ, a cold beverage, and a Wolverines victory.

Michigan 34 – Notre Dame 28

_______________________________________________________________________________

Links: 

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Notre Dame game preview; a First Look at the Irish; our Week 1 Big Ten Power Rankings; this week’s BBQ/tailgate idea, Irish Stout Pepper Beef; a Q&A with Ryan Ritter of Her Loyal Sons; and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n Brew, Maize n Blue Nation, and Touch the Banner. MGoFish provides a list of Michigan targets visiting Notre Dame tomorrow. Also, roundtable predictions from Maize n Brew.

From the other side, staff predictions from Her Loyal Sons. Spoiler: they all pick ND and most of them aren’t even close games. Also, a prediction from One Foot Down.

Michigan-Notre Dame game preview

Friday, September 5th, 2014


Game Preview_ND_banner

Although Michigan and Notre Dame have squared off only 41 times in 127 years, it has been a rivalry that just feels like it belongs in college football. But on Saturday night, when the two face off in South Bend in a nationally televised prime-time game, it’s coming to an end. And that’s a shame.

The two programs share so much in common and so much history. Michigan taught the game to Notre Dame in 1887 and won the first eight games of the series before ND finally got the best of their counterparts in 1909. It was that game that inspired one version of the story of how Notre Dame got its “Fighting Irish” nickname, when the Detroit Free Press labeled them the “Fighting Irishmen.”

Michigan canceled the scheduled 1910 rematch when it felt Notre Dame was using ineligible players, and it took 32 years and a feud between Fielding Yost and Knute Rockne, for Yost — who was then Michigan’s athletic director — to reschedule the Irish. The teams split a pair of games in 1942 and ’43, but then-Michigan coach Fritz Crisler carried on the disdain for Notre Dame, refusing to continue the series.

UM-ND-small-final
Quick Facts
Notre Dame Stadium – 7:30 p.m. EST – NBC
Notre Dame Head Coach: Brian Kelly (5th season)
Coaching Record: 209-72-2 overall (38-15 at ND)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Denbrock (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Brian VanGorder (1st season)
Returning Starters: 9 (5 offense, 4 defense)
Last Season: 9-4
Last Meeting: UM 41 – ND 30 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 24-16-1
Record in South Bend: Series tied 9-9-1
Last Michigan Road Win: 2010 (0-1 since)
Last 10 Meetings:  Michigan leads 6-4
Last 5 Meetings:  Michigan leads 4-1
Current Streak: Michigan 1

Don Canham took over as athletic director when Crisler retired in 1968 and worked to resume the series. It finally did 10 years later and has been played in 30 of the last 35 years, producing great game after great game. Tomorrow will be the 31st, and while Michigan dominated the first part of the all-time series, the Wolverines hold just a 15-14-1 edge since 1978.

The two schools have similar stadiums — some say Notre Dame Stadium was copied off of Michigan Stadium, which was built three years earlier — similar academics, battle for the same recruits, iconic uniforms and fight songs, and stand first and second in all-time winning percentage. Close enough, in fact, that if Michigan wins tomorrow it will re-take the number one spot that Notre Dame recaptured at the end of last season.

Like Michigan, Notre Dame opened this season with a comfortable win last Saturday over a lesser opponent. Notre Dame’s opponent, Rice, wasn’t quite as bad as Michigan’s (Rice was ranked 62nd in USA Today’s preseason college football countdown, while Appalachian State was 119th), but the Owls did put up a fight for almost 30 minutes.

Rice pulled within 14-10 midway through the second quarter, but Notre Dame struck twice in the final three minutes of the half to break open a 28-10 halftime lead. The Irish then outscored Rice 20-7 in the second half to capture a 48-17 win. It was certainly a more impressive season opener than last season’s offensive dud against Temple.

Let’s take a look at how Michigan and Notre Dame match up.

Michigan defense vs Notre Dame offense: When Notre Dame has the ball

Last week, Notre Dame racked up 576 yards of offense against a Rice defense that ranked a very respectable 30th nationally in 2013. The Irish did it in a balanced fashion with 295 yards passing and 281 yards rushing.

Everett Golson is much improved since Michigan last saw him in 2012 (Joe Raymond, AP)

Everett Golson is much improved since Michigan last saw him in 2012 (Joe Raymond, AP)

Quarterback Everett Golson completed 14-of-22 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 41 yards and three more touchdowns. When Michigan faced Golson in South Bend two years ago he was a first-year starter running a simplified offense designed to essentially prevent mistakes because the Irish defense was so good. Now, after a year away from the program spent working with quarterback guru George Whitfield, Golson is much better and more comfortable, and Brian Kelly is able to open up the playbook. And after a slow start last week it looked good. He’s a pass-first quarterback to be sure, but Kelly is able to use him on designed quarterback draws, which is how Notre Dame scored its first touchdown, and he’s a capable runner when the play breaks down, while keeping his eyes downfield.

One of the big questions the ND offense faced heading into the season was who would step up at receiver. Sophomore William Fuller and junior C.J. Prosise answered the bell in Week 1, both contributing big plays. Fuller led the Irish with four receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown. He raced past the Rice secondary for a 75-yard touchdown grab late in the first quarter. Prosise also showed big play potential, catching a 53-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half. The duo had just 13 catches for 232 yards and a touchdown combined last season in spot duty. Prosise did have some catching concerns in the offseason and dropped what should have been a 55-yard touchdown on Saturday.

Converted running back Amir Carlisle caught two passes for 54 yards and shares the slot duties with Prosise, while sophomore Corey Robinson, the son of NBA great David Robinson, is a tall and rangy receiver at 6’5″ and caught one pass for 25 yards. Tight end Ben Koyack looks to be the next in a long line of great Notre Dame tight ends. The 6’5″, 254-pound senior caught three passes for 51 yards on Saturday. Aside from not having a go-to receiver like Devin Funchess, this receiving corps is much like Michigan’s: inexperienced, but plenty of talent.

The running game was somewhat of a committee last weekend as Kelly is still searching for the main ball carrier. Senior Cam McDaniel got the start and rushed eight times for 40 yards, but isn’t going to wow anybody. Sophomores Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston will likely earn the most playing time as the season goes on. They both rushed for 71 yards on Saturday, but Bryant did it on eight carries, while Folston carried it 12 times. Bryant also scored a  touchdown. They are Michigan’s version of Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith.

The offensive line had to replace its left side due to the departures of Zack Martin and Chris Watt and the two replacing them, Ronnie Stanley and Conor Hanratty, only had 17 combined starts entering the season. Center Nick Martin and right guard Christian Lombard are battle tested, but sophomore right tackle Steve Elmer has started just five games, including last Saturday. Despite the shuffling, these are still talented linemen and they paved the way for 6.7 yards per carry on Saturday and allowed just one sack.

Michigan offense vs Notre Dame defense: When Michigan has the ball

In Week 1, Notre Dame’s defense held Rice to 17 points, but there are some reasons for concern for those in South Bend. Rice passed for 226 yards and had a lot of open space that new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will need to clean up before tomorrow.

Sophomore LB Jaylon Smith is an absolute star (Robin Alam, Icon SMI)

Sophomore LB Jaylon Smith is an absolute star (Robin Alam, Icon SMI)

The defensive line lost a very good duo in Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, who are now playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans. The leader of the line is now junior Sheldon Day, who started eight games last season and recorded six tackles, including one for loss, on Saturday. Nix’s replacement is 6’5″, 315-pound junior Jarron Jones, who started one game last season and recorded seven tackles and a field goal block against BYU a year ago. Sophomore Isaac Rochell is the other tackle, while junior Romeo Okwara and true freshman Andrew Trumbetti, an Under Armour All-American, will share the other end spot.

Under former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, the Irish played a 3-4 defense, but VanGorder has moved to a 4-3. The star of the linebacking corps is sophomore Jaylon Smith, the top linebacker in the country coming out of high school in 2013. He started all 13 games last season and finished third on the team with 67 tackles and second with 6.5 tackles for loss and began this season on pretty much every defensive award watch list there is. He recored three tackles, one for loss, on Saturday. Middle linebacker Joe Schmidt is a former walk-on who has waited his turn and he led the team with eight tackles on Saturday. The third linebacker is sophomore James Onwualu, who converted from wide receiver where he started against Michigan a year ago. True freshman Nyles Morgan is another guy they are excited about and recorded a pair of tackles in reserve duty in the opener.

The secondary is where the concerns lie, especially without junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who started 26 games the past two years, but was involved in the academic scandal. Add to that the loss of fifth-year senior safety Austin Collinsworth, who sprained his MCL, and there’s not a lot of experience on the back end. Sophomore Cole Luke and fifth-year senior Cody Riggs, a transfer from Florida, started at cornerback in the opener, while junior Elijah Schumate and sophomore Max Redfield started at safety. Riggs is the most experienced with 26 starts under his belt while at Florida, but the other had just five combined starts prior to last weekend. Matthias Farley, who started eight games at safety last season and 11 in 2012, switched to corner and will have to lead the group. They will have their hands full with Michigan’s receivers, especially Funchess, who is a matchup nightmare.

Kelly attributed some of the secondary mistakes in Week 1 to miscommunications, something he said wouldn’t have happened had Collinsworth been in. Even so, Rice ranked 103rd nationally in passing a year ago, was missing its top receiver on Saturday, and still had guys running free most of the day. Michigan will present a much tougher matchup and unless VanGorder is able to keep Devin Gardner off balance with pressure, he could have a big night.

The other third: Special teams

Senior kicker Kyle Brindza has been around forever and ranks near the top of the Notre Dame record books in nearly every kicking category. He has made 45-of-60 career field goals, including 2-of-3 last week, and is an impressive 4-of-5 from more than 50 yards. He will also be handling the punting duties for the second straight year. Last season, he averaged 41.1 yards per punt, and last week he punted three times for an average of 48 yards.

The return game was underwhelming last season, but showed some flashes last Saturday. Carlisle handles the kick returns and averaged 24.5 yards per return, while Riggs and Bryant split the punt return duties and combined to average 16 yards per return.

Prediction

I was impressed with Notre Dame’s offense against Rice, but not as impressed with their defense. What I saw leads me to believe we will be in for an offensive battle tomorrow. VanGorder will try to put pressure on Gardner and keep him from having time to pick apart the secondary, so a lot will rest on the shoulders of Michigan’s line, which surrendered a million sacks last season but held up well in Week 1. Notre Dame will be a big upgrade in competition compared to App State, but the return of Graham Glasgow should help the interior. I see a big passing day in store for Gardner, much like a year ago. Either he recreates last year’s performance with Funchess playing the part of Gallon or Notre Dame doubles Funchess making for a big day for Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Dennis Norfleet. They can’t stop them all.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan has a more talented and experienced defense than the Irish do, and that could make the difference tomorrow. Notre Dame’s receivers routinely beat Rice’s secondary and Golson didn’t have any trouble finding them. Michigan’s corners are going to play more press coverage and keep them from creating that much separation. I do think Kelly can take advantage of the aggressiveness of Michigan’s defense, especially if the linebacker issues we saw last Saturday aren’t resolved. Michigan’s defensive line will test the left side of the Irish line, so it will be up to the linebackers to contain Golson and keep him from making big plays with his feet.

When it comes down to it, I think the offenses are pretty equal and Michigan’s defense is better. This will be a back-and-forth game that stays tight throughout and will come down to whichever defense can make the big play. Gardner leads Michigan to a late lead, the defense holds down the stretch, the Wolverines take back the all-time winning percentage, and carry bragging rights into the series hiatus.

Michigan 38 – Notre Dame 33

Notre Dame Q&A with Ryan Ritter of Her Loyal Sons

Thursday, September 4th, 2014


ND_Q-A_banner-v2

The past few seasons we have run a weekly feature called Friend vs Foe, in which we asked that week’s opponent blog to explain why their team will win that Saturday. We posted their response and had one of our writers answer the same question about why Michigan will win. This season, we’re changing it to simply a Q&A with the opposing blog as a way of making it more focused and getting some more questions answered. This week, we invited back Ryan Ritter of Her Loyal Sons to provide his thoughts. You can follow him on Twitter at @TXirish.

1. Are you sad to see the rivalry come to an end? Personally, I love the rivalry and wish it would never end, but I know some on both sides of the rivalry feel we each have other bigger rivalries. How do you feel?

In all honesty, yes, I am. I enjoy hate week, even if I do consider Southern Cal our biggest annual rivalry came. I won’t lie though, the prospects of being able to play teams like Texas and Georgia in the future early in the season is incredibly exciting so there will likely be moments were I won’t really miss the game that much.

Still, I’m hoping that college football will adjust to the point that schedules can get a bit more flexible, especially in the B1G. That nine-game conference slate makes out of conference scheduling nearly impossible, especially since Delany wants all conference games at the end of the schedule. Combine that with our eight-game “conference” schedule (5 ACC, Sothern Cal, Stanford, Navy), and something had to give. Michigan State and Purdue have caught the short end of this stick as well and I’m all kinds of shocked that Ohio State managed to squeeze us in (their future schedules are all kinds of ridiculous right now).

2. The recent suspensions didn’t have an impact in Week 1, but what’s your take on it? Will ND feel their absence more this week and as the season goes on, or is it really not that big of a deal?

Any time a starter goes out, it’s a big deal. Any time depth is lost, it’s a big deal. While Notre Dame thankfully has some talent to take over for the big losses, KeiVarae Russell (CB) and DaVarias Daniels (WR), Notre Dame does have some solid talent to fill back in. The Russell suspension looms largest, especially with safety Austin Collinsworth lost for most of the season to a knee injury.

I’m hopeful the academic investigation wraps up soon so we know the final verdict for all five players involved. Not knowing the length of suspension for each has been brutal.

3. How does the offense differ this season with Golson instead of Rees?

Night and day. Notre Dame under Everett Golson is the kind of offense that Brian Kelly wants to run. Kelly depends very, very heavily on his QBs and practically requires a dual threat for his offensive scheme to reach it’s full tempo.

The no-huddle is backed, and increased tempo is back, and the read option is back. Most importantly, Golson has the ability to extend plays for potential big gains as he did against Rice. To put it another way, you remember what Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner have done to us in the past? That’s what Golson can bring to the table.

4. Michigan moved the ball pretty well against ND last season and then fell apart the rest of the season. With only a handful of returning starters on the ND defense, do you foresee Michigan doing the same? What has changed with has the switch to the 4-3 and the new defensive coordinator?

Last season was such a weird outlier for Bob Diaco’s usual “bend don’t break” defensive scheme. Last year, he decided to blitz like crazy and contain of Gardner went right out the window at the worst possible times.

Ironically enough, Brian VanGorder brings that very style to the table for the Irish. In reality, what VanGorder has shown this season looked a lot like what Michigan threw at App State. You’ll see a lot of blitzes, lots of bump and run coverage, and possibly even the potential for some huge plays should things go awry with this young defense.

Despite the loss of so many starters, ND might surprise you, especially in the play of the front seven (I know I certainly was this past week). However, the secondary is the biggest question mark due to the injuries and suspensions. If there is an obvious potential weakness to exploit, it would be the secondary, in my opinion. And it really isn’t due to lack of talent, but more so because they are required to do so much and their mistakes are the most costly.

Will history repeat itself? I’m honestly not sure. While Diaco’s blitz-happy gameplan was completely out of character last year, VanGorder has the entire defense completely bought in to this style of play. Mistakes should hopefully be fewer, but if the Irish blow contain once again, it’ll be a long night.

5. Is there anything you’re particularly worried about in this matchup?

Two things. First, as I’ve mentioned multiple times, the Irish secondary. The second is how Everett Golson will react to the aggressive Michigan defense. If Golson can handle the blitzing attack, I think there is a very real potential that he could have one hell of a performance, the likes of which ND fans haven’t seen against Michigan in ages.

6. What’s your prediction? Who will win, score, and why?

I see two potential outcomes. The first is what we’ve typically seen the past few years: a one possession game that comes down to the wire.

The other outcome I see is the one in which Golson is able to exploit an aggressive defense much like Robinson and Gardner have done to ND in the past. In this scenario, the Irish win rather comfortably in a two possession game. Notre Dame, under VanGorder is actually able to pull of the blitzing attack that Diaco failed to do last season.

Now, this is the last time I’ll be able to predict this game for quite a while, so I might as well go full homer and go with the later: 34-20 Irish.

First Look: Notre Dame

Monday, September 1st, 2014


FirstLook-NotreDame

Michigan and Notre Dame both took care of business against inferior opponents in Week 1 and will now turn their attention to each other. As usual, season openers don’t really tell a whole lot since they are usually against lesser opponents and teams are shaking off the rust, working new players into the lineup, and trying to get some rhythm going without opening up too much of the playbook. This season is no different.

The two most storied programs in college football — the two winningest programs in history — will square off for the last scheduled time on Saturday night in Notre Dame Stadium and you can be sure both want to carry bragging rights into the series hiatus. Michigan has mostly dominated the rivalry in recent years, but has historically struggled in South Bend. Notre Dame opened the week as 5.5-point favorites, but do they really have that much of an upper hand? Let’s take a first look at the Irish.

Notre Dame Statistics & Michigan Comparison
NDMichigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 48.0 | 52.0 T22 | T15 17.0| 14.0 49T36
Rushing Yards 281350 141 | 153
Rush Avg. Per Game 281.0 | 350.0 25 | 10 141.0 | 153.0 62 | 69
Avg. Per Rush 6.7 | 9.7
3.5 | 4.2
Passing Yards 295210 226 | 127
Pass Avg. Per Game 295.0210.0 34 | 74 226.0 | 127.0 69 | 24
Total Offense 576560 367 | 280
Total Off Avg. Per Game 576.0 | 560.0 16 | 23 367.0 | 280.0 60 | 35
Kick Return Average 24.5 | 36.0 T38 | 8 29.0 | 20.5 T109 | T67
Punt Return Average 16.0 | 23.5 T22 | 12 0.0 | 0.0 T11 | T11
Avg. Time of Possession 30:0930:08 55 | 57
29:51 | 29:52
3rd Down Conversion Pct 46.0% | 62.0% T53 | 15
40.0% | 29.0% T76 | 41
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 1-8 | 1-8
T36 | T36
2-5 | 2-9 T45 | T45
Touchdowns Scored 6 | 7
2 | 2
Field Goals-Attempts 2-31-2 1-2 | 0-0
Red Zone Scores (6-6) 100% | 6-6 100% T1 | T1
(2-2) 100%(2-2) 100% T60 | T60
Red Zone Touchdowns (4-6) 67% | 5-6 83% (1-2) 50% | (2-2) 100%
Everett Golson recorded five touchdowns in the opener (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Everett Golson recorded five touchdowns in the opener (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Statistically, Michigan and Notre Dame had pretty similar openers. Michigan scored four points more and allowed three points fewer, but the quality of opponent was slightly different. While both were “cupcakes”, Rice is projected to have a much better season than Appalachian State is. The Owls went 10-4 in 2013, won Conference USA, and put up a better fight against Texas A&M than they did against Notre Dame on Saturday. USA Today listed Rice at No. 62 in its college football countdown, while they had App State No. 119.

Rice’s defense allowed just two opponents to score more than 34 points last season — Texas A&M in the opener and Mississippi State in the bowl game — but Notre Dame put up 48 against them on Saturday. That’s more points than the Irish scored in a single game in all of 2013. ND did it with a balanced offense of 281 yards rushing and 295 yards passing.

Quarterback Everett Golson had a nice showing in his first game since the 2012 BCS National Championship Game. He missed all of last season due to an academic suspension, but completed 14-of-22 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. He averaged 21.1 yards per completion thanks to a 75-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller and a 53-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Prosise. Golson also rushed 12 times for 41 yards and three scores.

The rushing performance was 17 yards better than any single game last season. The Irish averaged just 151 yards on the ground in 2013 and topped 200 yards just three times with a high of 264 against Navy. On Saturday, it was a combined effort as Greg Bryant (eight carries) and Tarean Folston (12) rushed for 71 yards apiece, backup quarterback Malik Zaire ran for 58 (on two carries), Golson 41, and fullback Cam McDaniel 40.

Defensively, Notre Dame surrendered 367 total yards. Last season, the Irish allowed more than that six times, to Michigan, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Navy, BYU, and Stanford. The ND rush defense was okay, allowing 3.5 yards per carry, but the pass defense, which ranked 70th nationally last season, surrendered 226 yards.

This Notre Dame offense certainly looks more potent than last year’s thanks to the return of Golson, and he will be much improved since the last time Michigan faced him at the beginning of 2012. Time will tell whether or not the Irish defense is improved, but Gardner didn’t have much trouble with it a year ago, and the two players who did create some havoc, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, are gone.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Long
Everett Golson 14-22 295 2 0 75
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average
Greg Bryant 8 71 1 17 8.9
Tarean Folston 12 71 0 19 5.9
Everett Golson (QB) 12 41 3 14 3.4
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average
Will Fuller 4 85 1 75 21.2
Amir Carlisle 2 54 0 32 27.0
Ben Koyack (TE) 3 51 0 28 17.0
C.J. Prosise 1 53 1 53 53.0
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Joe Schmidt (LB) 4 4 8 0-0 0-0
Sheldon Day (DT) 2 4 6 1-1 0-0
Matthias Farley (CB) 4 1 5 0.5-1 0.5-1
Jaylon Smith (LB) 3 0 3 1-1 0-0
Full Stats

Stay tuned for more on Notre Dame in the coming days.

Michigan and Notre Dame to close rivalry under the lights

Thursday, February 20th, 2014


UM-ND

The last meeting for the foreseeable future between college football’s top two winningest programs will take place the same way it has the past three seasons — under the lights. NBC will televise the Michigan-Notre Dame game at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 7:30 p.m.

Night games have been good to Michigan as the Wolverines have won two of the three played, but the one loss was two years ago in South Bend when Michigan was held without a touchdown and fell 13-6.

While Michigan leads the overall series 24-16-1, Michigan hasn’t had as much success at Notre Dame Stadium, trailing 8-7-1 all-time. This fall’s matchup will give the Wolverines a chance to even it up before the teams take an indefinite hiatus.

Michigan has won four of the last five in the series and six of the last eight, but that doesn’t mean the Wolverines have dominated. Last season’s 41-30 victory in Michigan Stadium was the first to be decided by more than one score since 2008. The previous four were decided by an average of less than five points. In fact, each of Michigan’s wins from 2009-11 was decided in the final two minutes.

It will be the second game of the season for both teams. Michigan opens on Aug. 30 at home against Appalachian State while Notre Dame hosts Rice.

It’s safe to say that there will be a lot of hype entering the final meeting and both teams will want to end the series as the victor. Notre Dame passed Michigan in all-time winning percentage at the end of the 2013 season, so a Michigan win on Sept. 6 would likely give the Wolverines the lead back.

Final Look: Notre Dame

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013


With a breather game, or as Brady Hoke calls it a “glazed donut game,” coming up, the huge win over Notre Dame is still fresh on our minds. The Irish came to Ann Arbor for the final time and in front of a record-setting Big House crowd Michigan laid it to them. So let’s take one last look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from Michigan’s 41-30 win.

Three big moments

1. Gallon’s pinball catch and run

Notre Dame won the coin toss and elected to receive, but Michigan forced the Irish to punt it away. On Michigan’s first possession, the Wolverines showed some trickery with a jet sweep and a reverse, but the drive only netted three points. The defense forced another three-and-out, and on Michigan’s next possession, Devin Gardner found Jeremy Gallon over the middle. The little bulldog bounced off a pair of defenders, one of which tried to strip the ball, got a great block from Jehu Chesson, and raced the rest of the way to the end zone for Michigan’s first touchdown of the game. It put Michigan ahead 10-0 and signaled to all involved that the Wolverines came to play.

2. Michigan’s game clinching drive

Blake Countess picked off two passes, one to set up a touchdown and one to seal the game (MGoBlue.com)

After Notre Dame pulled within four with nine minutes to play, Michigan needed an answer. The Irish had seized the momentum that Michigan had spent the first three quarters building up and Michigan’s previous two drives had resulted in a Notre Dame interception in the end zone for six points and a shanked punt that gave the Irish great field position. Two drives, six plays, five total yards leading to 10 Irish points.

If ever there was a time for a good drive it was then, and the Wolverines answered, going 75 yards in 10 plays, consuming 4:57, and pulling ahead by 11 points. The drive started with an incomplete pass, but on second down, Fitz Toussaint rushed 22 yards to the Michigan 47. Two plays later, Toussaint caught a pass out of the backfield and raced 31 yards to the Notre Dame 21 and suddenly the momentum had swung.

Gardner lobbed the ball to Gallon, but it appeared to be picked off. However, the Irish defender was flagged for pass interference. Two plays later, Gardner tried to connect with Jake Butt in the end zone, but again Notre Dame was called for pass interference, this time giving Michigan the ball on the 2-yard line. After a Gardner rush for a loss of two, he found Drew Dileo in the end zone for the touchdown. Aided by the two Irish penalties, which were the correct calls no doubt, Michigan got just the drive it needed to put the game away.

3. Blake Countess comes up big

The redshirt sophomore who missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL had his hands full with an explosive Notre Dame passing attack on Saturday. The Irish used big plays to beat Temple in Week 1 and Greg Mattison made not giving up big plays priority number one for the game.

Late in the first half, after Michigan had kicked a field goal to take a 20-13 lead, Notre Dame was trying to drive down and tie the game heading into the locker room. George Atkinson III had returned the kickoff 26 yards and then a 15-yard late hit penalty was tacked on giving Notre Dame the ball at their own 42-yard line. But on the second play, Countess stepped in front of an Irish receiver and picked it off. He then raced 30 yards to the ND 23 and the Wolverines punched it in to take a two touchdown lead into the half.

Then, after Michigan’s big fourth quarter drive to go up by 11, Notre Dame was trying to fight its way back. Rees was methodically picking apart the defense, picking up 12 yards here, seven yards there, and the Irish reached the Michigan 6-yard line. On 1st-and-goal, Rees fired a pass into the middle of the endzone, but it bounced off Raymon Taylor’s leg and Countess grabbed it for a touchback and sealed the win.

The numbers game

115,901: The official attendance, which set the all-time record for largest crowd to ever watch a football game, college or pro

400: The win was Michigan’s 400th victory in Michigan Stadium since it opened in 1927. The Wolverines are 400-120-15 in the Big House

1940: The last time #98 had been worn by a Michigan football player until Devin Gardner was given Tom Harmon’s Legends jersey

$200,000,000: The donation given to the university by Stephen M. Ross, who served as the honorary coin flip captain for the game

Sept. 16, 2006: The last time a Michigan receiver caught three touchdown passes in a game. Mario Manningham was the one to do it and Jeremy Gallon matched it on Saturday

184: Gallon’s receiving yards, which ranks as the sixth best single game performance in Michigan history

224: The number career points scored by Brendan Gibbons after making two field goals and five extra points, passing Desmond Howard in career scoring

Drive Chart
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Three observations

1. The defense

Despite the win there has been quite a bit of talk since Saturday night about Michigan’s inability to get a consistent – or any – pass rush on Tommy Rees. That concern is certainly understandable, but I think it’s important to remember two things.

First, the Notre Dame offensive line is very good. It is anchored by All-American left tackle Zack Martin, has a left guard who was starting his 28th straight game, a right guard who was a returning starter from last season, a right tackle who will likely take over for Martin next season, and Martin’s younger brother at center. The line gave up just 18 sacks all last season, the same number Michigan’s line allowed, and has improved the running game from 92nd to 54th to 38th nationally the past three seasons under Brian Kelly.

Secondly, Greg Mattison’s defensive game plan was to sit back, give up the short passes, and not allow the big plays. There were very few blitzes, especially from the secondary, so the rush was mostly dependent on the front four. Much of the time, Notre Dame had extra blockers in to protect Rees, so it’s understandable that the line wasn’t able to generate much pressure. If it struggles against Akron, UConn, or Minnesota in the next few weeks, then we should start to worry, but I think Mattison has enough quality bodies to rotate in that when all is said and done this will be a pretty good line and it’s only going to get better.

What Michigan’s defense has done very well overall is flying to the ball and tackling. Remember the Rich Rod days when it seemed that tackling was a lost art? Those days are gone and it was no more evident than on Saturday. Michigan’s secondary sat back and kept the ball in front of them and then made the open field tackles needed to keep the Irish from yards after catch. These guys aren’t the best defense in the country, but they are very well coached and it shows.

Drew Dileo is a proven pass catcher but who else will step up? (MGoBlue.com)

2. The offensive line

On the flip side of the previous observation, one of the main questions coming into the game was how would Michigan’s young offensive line hold up against Notre Dame’s ferocious defensive front. On paper, Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller, and Kyle Kalis going up against Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt seems like a huge mismatch, but aside from the one interception in the end zone – which is as much on Devin Gardner as it is on the line – the men in the winged helmets all but neutralized the guys in gold.

Nix III tallied four tackles (one for loss), Tuitt didn’t make a stop, Michigan ran for 4.3 yards per carry – which isn’t great but it was effective – and Gardner was sacked once. Our friends over at Her Loyal Sons charted every Michigan offensive play and found that Notre Dame blitzed on 63 percent of them. On 24 percent of Michigan’s offensive plays (roughly a fourth) Notre Dame brought at least six rushers. Gardner did a good job of getting the ball of quickly, but the line did a very good job of keeping him upright.

3. Who else will step up in the passing game?

Gardner shredded the Notre Dame pass defense to the tune of 294 yards, which is more passing yards than the Irish allowed in any game last season except for Oklahoma. But 184 of those went to Jeremy Gallon. Seven other players caught passes – one being Fitz Toussaint out of the backfield on that final, game-clinching drive. Gardner’s comfort level with Gallon is obvious, but sooner or later opponents are going to start game planning Gallon out of the offense and other receivers will need to step up.

Drew Dileo certainly capable and showed that with the game-clinching touchdown catch, running a great route and catching the ball. But where is the rest of the production going to come from? Devin Funchess has five catches through two games, Jeremy Jackson is who he is at this point, and the jury is still out on Joe Reynolds who did catch a deep pass in Week 1. Jehu Chesson still hasn’t caught a pass, and I don’t think he’s even been targeted, though he has done well blocking.

I’m not trying to be negative or picky, but I want to see others step up in the passing game. I want to see what Chesson, Reynolds, and Jackson can do, and we should get to see that in the next couple of weeks. I do think Gallon is talented enough to break 1,000 yards this season, but we can’t rely on him to have a huge night every game, so let’s see more from the other guys.

Notre Dame postgame transcript: Brady Hoke

Sunday, September 8th, 2013


(Justin Potts, M&GB)

“You guys ready to go home? It’s late.”

On the plan of running wide early in the game…
“Well, we thought that we had a chance to get the edge and with Mike (Schofield) and Taylor (Lewan), the two tackles, we felt that we could take over block, zone it out, and then got a couple good blocks by (Devin) Funchess. He’d motion over or be stationary there and that let Fitz (Toussaint) determine where he wants to cut and I thought Fitz made some really good runs tonight. He had some really good cuts.”

On how the offensive line was able to neutralize Notre Dame’s defensive line…
“Well, I don’t know if neutralize is the right word, but at the same time they had some success too. I thought the three interior guys, they take a lot of pride, Taylor and Mike have really taught those guys well (and) Darryl Funk has. They just, good fundamentals and really wanted to finish every block.”

On breaking two records, Gibbons’ consecutive field goals and the attendance record…
“It’s nice to see Gibby because a couple years ago, to me, he wasn’t really kicking the ball as well. To see the work ethic that he put forth and the confidence that his teammates have in him is part of it. I think having the all time attendance record, I think that’s pretty cool, and it was a great atmosphere.”

On what he was disappointed by with the defense…
“You’ve got to give Tommy Rees some credit. I think he’s a good quarterback and I think he’s proven that against us now three years in a row. He’s accurate. They have some big play receivers. We were playing mostly off until we did play man. We were going to give him some of those throws and I think what was disturbing a little bit was they ran the ball in there a couple of times when we were set up defensively well enough to where they shouldn’t, even though we played mostly a seven man front all day.”

On the defense’s ability to come up with a big play when needed at the end of the game…
“Well, that was critical. I think Greg (Mattison), especially in the second half, mixed some things up from a front standpoint to some coverage standpoint, some zone blitzes and some zero blitzes, and I thought it worked out pretty well.”

On whether he spoke to Devin Gardner after the interception…
“Every time he comes off the field we talk. Maybe we’re going to need more, like I told him tonight, we’re going to need more because we were struggling a little bit defensively. They were efficient sometimes. When he came off the field (after the interception) I didn’t have to say a word to him because he was beating himself up all the way off the field. It was one of those things that he knows better and I’ll go back to the same thing (I’ve said before), it’s a blessing and a curse when you have that ability.”

On Gardner’s athletic ability allowing him to get that pass off instead of just taking a sack…
“Yeah, there’s no question. He’s very conscientious in trying to do things that are going to help the team and stay away from those negatives.”

On how it felt to beat Notre Dame…
“Well, it’s always nice to win. It’s just such a great rivalry and to be able to be on the right side of it always feels good. It also tells you a lot (about) where you’re at when we play them early in the year, where you’re at as a program, what we need to do if we want to win the Big Ten Championship. I think we learned a lot about that because of the team we played.”

On whether the offense achieved the balance he wanted it to…
“That’s probably what we’d like to be, that 55-45, somewhere in there, run-pass. We always like to run it a little more, especially with the tailback if we’re having success. We had some tonight.”

On  Jeremy Gallon and the work he has put in to become an elite receiver…
“You know, Jeremy is, I guess I would say first of, he’s a very very tough kid. As well as he catches the ball, finds those seams and creases, he blocks. And when he blocks, he gets on people. Catching the ball is important for him, but he loves to block. And I think how he comes to work every day, because he does come to work every day, and how he competes is probably one of his strengths.”

On Gardner storming off the field…
“Well, storming off the field…I think there’s different storms that can happen. It wasn’t one that I think a whole lot of people would notice, but when good things and bad things happened during the course of the game I think he was pretty even as far as demeanor and how he looked.”

On whether Michigan took it personal this week that Notre Dame ended the rivalry…
“You know, I don’t think so. I think we were playing Notre Dame and I think they always think that – and I’m going back to the Michigan teams that I coached on when I was an assistant – and I just think that there are certain games that you get very excited about, those rivalry games. So I don’t think there was any kind of…I mean, we just…we want to win. And we want to win every week. And we want to win and improve as we win.”

On at what point he realized he needed to tell Devin we need more…
“I say that every game. You can get a feel for a game. We went three and out the first possession defensively, and I just think we always know we’re going to need more.”

On the two interceptions by Blake Countess…
“Yeah, the last one, number one, being an athlete and catching the ball that was kicked, but also being in the right place at the right time and just playing through the play. He was pursuing towards the ball and that’s what you like to see. The first one gave us great field position, a great opportunity, and it was well needed at the time.”

On where the offense is now in terms of the style he wants it to be compared to what it was with Denard Robinson at quarterback…
“Well, number one, we were fortunate to have Denard. Al (Borges) was smart enough to conform what we do with the abilities that you have on your team – and you need to do that in all, offense, defense, and kicking game. I would say this is more like what we’d like to do. We’re going to be multiple enough personnel-wise, multiple enough from a formation standpoint – two backs, three backs, whatever it takes, another offensive tackle in, a lot of different things that we like to do – but this was more like what we want to do.”

On how important was it for Devin to make plays with his legs, picking up a lot of critical first downs…
“Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. It is critical. When he doesn’t see what he wants to first and second read he does a nice job pulling the ball down and getting what he can, and we’re fortunate that he has that kind of ability.”

On what he learned about Devin in this signature game that will help for the bigger games going forward…
“I don’t know if I learned a whole lot different than I knew, because I get to see him every day. But I would say the thing that you take form it is he made some very good plays but a the same time he’s got to be more consistent once in a while.”

On the one lasting memory he will take away from tonight, the last home game against Notre Dame…
“Probably two things…three things. Probably winning for maybe the last time. 115,000 and a sea of maize. And it didn’t necessarily happen tonight, but honoring Tom Harmon and having Mark (Harmon) here. It was special. He visited with our team and it was really a special thing.”

On the injuries…
“AJ (Williams) got a little bit of an ankle. He came back in, probably could have gone, but would not have been as effective as we’d like him to be. Taylor’s fine, he got poked. Jeremy’s got a little muscle that he’s got to work through.”

On whether he brought up Brian Kelly calling it a regional rivalry this week…
“Never did.”

On what he learned about the team…
“What we learned a little bit about our team is we can be a good football team if we do a better job playing the run, if we’ll be a little more – and this is all defensive perspective to some degree to start with – be a little tighter in coverage. I think we’ll have a little more confidence to do that. I think in the kicking game, Dennis (Norfleet) had a couple of good kickoff returns. I think they were blocked decently well. Obviously, we gave up some field position, had a kickoff out of bounds, and a punt that wasn’t exactly like we’d like to punt the ball, and they had a return. So those are things that we need to work on so that they don’t happen again.”

Michigan-Notre Dame game preview

Friday, September 6th, 2013


When Michigan and Notre Dame met in Ann Arbor two years ago, it was the first night game in Michigan history. The atmosphere was electric and the uniforms were different, but it was a classic Michigan-Notre Dame battle. In the end, Michigan pulled off an improbably comeback thanks to a monster game by Denard Robinson.

Last season, the new tradition of night games continued, this time in South Bend. The Irish defense stifled Robinson and the rest of the Michigan offense all night long, forcing six turnovers and holding the Wolverines without a touchdown.

Now, Robinson is gone and Devin Gardner holds the reigns to the Michigan offense. With six starts under his belt, having started the final five games in 2012, Gardner is certainly no slouch. He played receiver against Notre Dame last season, which will undoubtedly help his preparation for the Irish defense this week.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 8pm EST – ESPN
Notre Dame Head Coach: Brian Kelly (4th season)
Coaching Record: 81-33 (28-11 at ND)
Offensive Coordinator: Chuck Martin (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Diaco (4th season)
Returning Starters: 13 (5 offense, 8 defense)
Last Season: 12-1 (BCS Runner-up)
Last Meeting: ND 13 – UM 6 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 23-16-1
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 13-7
Last 10 Meetings Michigan leads 6-4
Last ND win in Ann Arbor: 2005

Notre Dame enters having won 13 of its last 14, but that one loss was a big one in the BCS National Championship game against Alabama. The Crimson Tide exposed the Irish in every facet of the game, sending Brian Kelly’s squad into the offseason on a sour note despite a season in which it played above its head.

Thirteen starters return if you count Tommy Rees who didn’t start last year but started in 2011. But the biggest loss is middle linebacker Manti Te’o who virtually willed the team to the title game.

The Irish opened the 2013 campaign with a 28-6 win over a Temple team that went just 4-7 last season and might be even worse this year with a new quarterback, running back, receiving corps, and re-tooled offensive line. Despite just three returning offensive starters, the Owls managed to rush for 4.6 yards per carry and throw for 228 yards on the vaunted Notre Dame defense. The 362 total yards were more than Temple recorded in nine of its 11 games last season, and they had a 1,000-yard rusher then.

Most Notre Dame faithful have been downplaying the perceived struggles of the defense, convinced that they will rise to the occasion against a real opponent like Michigan. But only time will tell. Let’s take a look at the Irish and what to expect on both sides of the ball.

Michigan defense vs Notre Dame offense: When Notre Dame has the ball

The Notre Dame offense put up a lot of yards against Temple last week but managed just 28 points, which does nothing to show that it will be any more improved than last season’s 26 points per game average. In fact, eight of Temple’s 11 opponents last season put up 28 or more points against the Owls, including 4-8 Maryland (36 points), 3-9 USF (28), and 2-10 Army (32).

The guy at the helm is Tommy Rees, who has already been given the nickname “Reesus” by the Notre Dame faithful. That’s pretty bold for a group of fans – and a coach – who had no faith in him the past two seasons. It also lends itself to some great headlines if Michigan wins, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

The senior, who started 12 games in 2011 before losing the job to Everett Golson last season, completed 16-of-23 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns last week, and if you listen to Notre Dame fans talk about him you would think it happened against Alabama. Alas, it was against a Temple defense ranked 115th nationally in pass efficiency defense a year ago. That means only five teams in the country were worse than the Owls. Rees has surely improved since the last two seasons, but let’s see what he does against a good defense before anointing him the chosen one.

He does some talented weapons to throw to in TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels. Jones caught six passes for 138 yards last Saturday and also caught a touchdown pass against Michigan in 2011. He led the Irish with 50 receptions and four touchdowns last season and despite being just 5’11″, is a solid number one receiver. Daniels is the bigger receiver at 6’1″, 203 pounds and caught two of the three touchdown passes last week. He caught 31 passes for 490 yards in 2012 and was one of the few bright spots for the Irish in the BCS National Championship, catching six passes for 115 yards against Alabama. He also led the Irish with 15.8 yards per reception, and that was evident against Temple with his three receptions for 69 yards.

Aside from those two, there isn’t much else in terms of proven receivers, but tight end Troy Niklas is sure to become the next in the recent line of talented tight ends. He had just five catches for 75 yards and a touchdown last season behind Tyler Eifert, but caught a 66-yard touchdown on Saturday.

Michigan's safeties absolutely cannot allow DaVaris Daniels to beat them deep (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

The backfield is where questions lie after the departure of last year’s top two, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. The pair combined for 1,659 yards and nine touchdowns. Stepping in is George Atkinson III and Amir Carlisle. Atkinson was the team’s third leading rusher last season with 51 carries for 361 yards and five touchdowns, and he led the Irish with 7.1 yards per carry. He has good size, 6’1″, 220 pounds, but explosive speed when he gets in the open field. He rushed eight times for 34 yards and the only rushing touchdown of the game last Saturday.

Carlisle started his career at USC before transferring to Notre Dame. He missed the spring with a broken collarbone, but showed enough to replace Riddick’s role. Against Temple, he rushed seven times for 68 yards, 45 of which came on one play.

Cam McDaniel also figures into the mix. He’s the guy who ran into the backwards gauntlet during fall camp. He got the most carries (12) last week and rushed for 65 yards.

The offensive line is anchored by fifth-year senior left tackle Zack Martin who, like Taylor Lewan, turned down the NFL Draft to come back for one last go-around. The second-team All-American has started 40 straight games. Left guard Chris Watt has started 27 straight and forms a very good left side of the line along with Martin. Nick Martin, Zack’s brother, assumed the center role, while Christian Lombard returns after starting all 13 games last season at left guard, and Ronnie Stanley, who many think is the eventual left tackle, starts at right tackle. It’s a solid unit that has a lot of experience and has paved the way for the running game to improve from 92nd to 54th to 38th nationally during Brian Kelly’s tenure.

As you can see, the Irish have abundant talent on offense to be sure, but it remains to be seen whether the offense will be able to win games or whether it will continue to rely on the defense. Big plays were the name of the game against Temple as the first two drives included four plays of 32 yards or more, two going for touchdowns. After that, the Irish offense punted four times, missed two field goals, scored two touchdowns, and fumbled once. That’s not exactly an effective offense, especially against a team like Temple.

Look for Michigan to keep the safeties back so as to not get beat deep like Temple did often. The Irish offense likes to use play action to set up the deep ball, so Cam Gordon and Jarrod Wilson cannot afford to get beat deep. The linebackers are fast enough and smart enough to handle the run game without safety support. ND also likes to get the ball to Jones in space behind the line of scrimmage or on crossing routes, but they won’t be as effective against Michigan’s defense as they were against Temple’s. Despite the gaudy yards last week, I just don’t see this Irish offense as better than last year’s that put up just 13 points on Michigan’s defense. Unless ND can gash Michigan with the run game, expect the safeties to stay back and prevent the big play.

Michigan offense vs Notre Dame defense: When Michigan has the ball

It’s no secret that the strength of the Notre Dame defense is the ferocious front. The combination of Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt is as good as it gets in college football. Nix is a bowling ball at 342 pounds and, while many feel Tuitt has what it takes to Justin Tuck’s career sack record at ND. The AP second-team All-American recorded 12 sacks a year ago, including one against Michigan, and notched the only Irish sack of the game last week. Sophomore Sheldon Day is the other starter on the line and should benefit from the focus on Nix and Tuitt.

The linebackers are all talented even without Manti Te’o. Fifth-year senior Dan Fox is the veteran with 23 starts under his belt and is a good run stopper, though not the most fleet afoot, while fellow senior Prince Shembo has 22 career starts and is the “Cat,” or rush linebacker. He recorded 7.5 sacks in 2012. Carlo Calabrese has been around for a while, starting eight games in 2010, falling back to a reserve role in 2011, and starting five last season, but like Fox is good in run stopping. The other starter is highly touted freshman Jaylon Smith. He managed just one tackle, and although he may play like a freshman at times the talent is certainly there to be a star. Junior Jarrett Grace, who was predominantly a special teams player last season, also rotates in in the middle.

Shembo, Tuitt, and Nix form a ferocious defensive front (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Both starting corners from last season are back, Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell. Jackson has good size (6’0″, 195) and picked off four passes last season. Russell improved as the season went on, eventually going toe-to-toe with USC receiver Marqise Lee. The duo will have the advantage over Michigan’s less experienced receivers, Jehu Chesson, Jeremy Jackson, and Joe Reynolds. Free safety Matthias Farley also returns after starting 11 games in 2012, but doesn’t have great speed, while strong safety Austin Collinsworth returns from a shoulder injury that held him out last season. They form a good but not great deep middle. Sophomore Elijah Shumate also rotates in.

Michigan’s offense was miserable in South Bend last season after two straight big games by Denard Robinson in 2010 and 2011. ND defensive coordinator Bob Diaco was determined not to let Denard beat them a third time and as a result the Irish defense forced six turnovers, including five straight interceptions. The good news is that Michigan’s offense is much more multi-faceted with Devin Gardner at the helm, instead of relying so heavily on the quarterback running the ball Gardner is certainly dangerous when he tucks and runs, but that’s not the first option.

Look for the offense to attack Notre Dame’s defense in three ways. First, run stretch plays to neutralize Nix in the middle and force the linebackers, especially the freshman Smith, to be in the right spot and make plays on the edge. MGoBlog broke down the stretch earlier in the week and hypothesized that it could be used against the Irish and I think he’s exactly right. Fitz was close to busting through for a bigger gain on those stretch plays a couple of times and don’t be surprised to see it run with Justice Hayes who has the speed to do so.

Second, attack the middle of the Irish defense and the flats with Drew Dileo, Dennis Norfleet, and the tight ends. I don’t trust the outside receivers against Notre Dame’s corners, although Jeremy Gallon has a knack for getting open, so he’ll get his catches and yards, but the others haven’t proven anything yet. ND doesn’t have Te’o, who was great at dropping into coverage and being in the right spot to pick off or break up passes. Gardner, unlike Denard, is capable of seeing over the line to make those throws without them getting batted down or having to alter them to avoid getting batted down. Get the ball to Dileo and Norfleet in space and make the linebackers tackle them in space.

Finally, after the stretch is run with effectiveness, I guarantee you will see some play-action off of it which will either get Gardner in open space to run or find Devin Funchess down the seam for a big play.

The other third: Special Teams

Kyle Brindza was the starting kicker last season, making 23-of-31 field goal attempts, which set the school record for field goals made in a season. But Nick Tausch, who made 14-of-17 field goals way back in 2009, got the first field goal attempt of the season against Temple and promptly missed it. Brindza attempted the second one and also missed it. Both are fully capable of making field goals, so last week’s performance can probably be chalked up to a fluke. Brindza also handled the punting duties, booting five punts for a 41.2-yard average.

Atkinson is the kick return specialist, and while he averaged just 20 yards per return last Saturday, he has taken two back for touchdowns in his career. Jones handles punt returns and Notre Dame fans considered his 7.7 yard average per return a cause for excitement considering last year’s 2.2 average.

However, there is some concern about the ND kick coverage unit which allowed Temple to average 29.3 yards per return, including a 39-yarder. That bodes will for Norfleet who is sure to break on soon, and even if he doesn’t take a kick all the way, it should help give Michigan good field position to start its drives.

Prediction

Yes, Notre Dame is the defending BCS runner-up, but let’s not forget how close the 12-1 season was to being a four- or five-loss season. It was one of those magical years where everything goes just right. But that can only last for so long. The defense is still very good, but the heart and soul of that defense was Te’o and he will be missed against opponents tougher than Temple. Combine that with a more dimensional Michigan offense and we’ll see a much different ball game than we saw in South Bend last September.

Michigan’s defense is also faster and deeper all around and will focus on not giving up the big play, instead forcing Rees to make the short and intermediate throws and the Irish running backs to carry the load. If Michigan’s safeties do get sucked up Rees and Daniels will make them pay and it could turn into a shootout. But I don’t see that happening. It will be close all the way but Michigan will feed off of the electric Big House crowd under the lights and get a late Gibbons field goal to put the game away.

Michigan 27 – Notre Dame 17