Posts Tagged ‘Manti Te’o’

M&GB staff predictions: Notre Dame

Friday, September 6th, 2013


Last week, we were all pretty similar with our predictions, but Katie ended up the closest with her 48-10 pick. None of us thought Michigan would score as many points as they did or give up fewer than ten points, but if there’s ever a time to be wrong, it’s when the game goes better than expected. This week is sure to be a tougher pick with Notre Dame coming to town. Prior to last season’s offensive dumpster fire, the previous three meetings were high scoring, down-to-the-wire affairs. Will it return to that, or will we see another defensive battle?

Justin: Michigan’s offense is more balanced and harder to prepare for than it was the past few years and the defense has more depth than we’ve seen in a long time. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has probably taken a step back from last year’s improbably run to the BCS National Championship game. I think Irish fans are underestimating the impact that Te’o's departure will make. Was he the fastest linebacker? No. Was he the best? No. But he simply had a knack for being in the right place at the right time and was the heart and soul of that defense. Without him, the middle of the Irish defense is vulnerable and look for Michigan to attack it with a heavy dose of Drew Dileo and Devin Funchess.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Notre Dame
Justin 27 17
Chris 27 17
Josh 24 14
Sam 34 24
Derick 35 31
Katie 27 24
M&GB Average 29 21

The ND defensive front might be the best Michigan plays all season, but don’t expect Gardner to sit in the pocket much. A mix of a quick passing game, getting the ball to Dennis Norfleet in space, and a stretch running game with play-action off of it will be the formula to negate Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt.

On the other side, sit the safeties back to prevent the big plays that Notre Dame likes to capitalize on. Force Tommy Rees to make short and intermediate passes and the unproven running game to carry the load. Do that, and the Irish offense won’t score 20 points. Give up big plays and it will become a shootout.

Michigan 27 – Notre Dame 17

Chris: Michigan wins as long as they can limit turnovers and establish some sort of running game to have balance on offense. The offensive line will be tested by the Notre Dame defensive front, but I think Michigan wins at home.

Michigan 27 – Notre Dame 17

Josh: Refer to yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full game breakdown.

Michigan 24 – Notre Dame 14

Sam: As expected, historical powerhouse college football programs Michigan and Notre Dame easily dispatched of first week opponents Central Michigan and Temple, respectively. This weekend, however, the Wolverines and Fighting Irish will face each other in just the second night game in Michigan football history.

We all know what happened in the first Under the Lights matchup between these two squads: a back-and-forth instant classic that was capped off by a Denard Robinson touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree in the corner of the endzone for a 35-31 win after the Irish turned the ball over five times. Last year, Notre Dame got payback in the form of a 13-6 victory despite mustering only 239 yards of offense as the Maize and Blue choked the ball away six times and never found pay dirt.

What did each of these games have in common other than being played at night and being close battles? Sloppiness and eight turnovers, to be exact. Tommy Rees, who has come full circle in South Bend and is Brian Kelly’s full-time starter again, was the culprit in Ann Arbor while Denard Robinson returned the favor a year later, and turnovers will certainly play a role in the outcome again.

Michigan hopes to produce another iconic moment like Roy's game-winning catch in 2011

As usual, the quarterbacks’ play will be crucial for both teams. Devin Gardner threw two ugly interceptions last week and scrambled frequently when his receivers couldn’t get open, which could lead to some nervous fans as Michigan takes on an elite defense while Rees was sharp against the Owls, completing 16 of 23 pass attempts for 346 yards and three touchdowns.

A second key will be the play of Michigan’s young interior offensive line against Notre Dame’s behemoth defensive tackle Louis Nix III. The Wolverines were able to run the ball against Central Michigan and Gardner frequently had seemingly endless time in the pocket, but this will be a sterner challenge.

In the end, it should be another thriller that could come down to the last five minutes, but Michigan’s running attack and stout defense will be just enough to win the last game between these rivals for the foreseeable future. I like Michigan to win.

Michigan 34 – Notre Dame 24

Derick: Michigan’s rushing attack and strong defensive performance from the opening week carry over and the Wolverines beat the Irish in front of a raucous home crowd. Toussaint runs for over 100 yards and puts Notre Dame away late in the game. I think the final home game against Notre Dame will be as close as the first, with Michigan and Greg Mattison doing just enough to pull out the win.

Michigan 35 – Notre Dame 31

Katie: The matchup this weekend looks pretty even between Michigan and its perhaps soon to be distant rival Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish come in ranked number 14, just three spots ahead of Michigan, and while they ended their three year losing streak in South Bend last year, revenge for the Big House heroics in 2011 are very likely to be a palpable factor in this game.

Coming in both Notre Dame and Michigan have quarterbacks looking to prove their skills as the leaders of their respective offenses. ND’s Rees went 16-for-23 against Temple last week, and while Devin Gardner got off to a rough start, throwing an interception while backed up near his own goal line, he ended the day 10-for-15 and passing for a total of 162 yards. The pressure will be on these two to keep the everything on their side running smoothly, as last years parade of turnovers jilted both offenses and made for a lackluster 13-6 Notre Dame finish.

As for defense the Irish have Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo, and Louis Nix, all of whom could make trouble for the Michigan offense. But the Maize and Blue gain back two experienced safeties they were without in their opener, and while still missing the integral linebacker Jake Ryan, their defense should prove to be more potent.

It’s early in the season, under the lights, and a rivalry game on top of it all. I’m figuring on some first half jitters that smooth out towards half time, and as the players acclimate to the atmosphere of the Big House (meaning significant home field advantage).

Michigan takes it in a close one.

Michigan 27 – Notre Dame 24
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For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Notre Dame game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with Ryan Ritter of the ND blog Her Loyal Sons; a look back at the man who will be honored prior to tomorrow’s game, Tom Harmon; and First Look: Notre Dame. We also returned the favor and answered some questions for HLS and participated in a blog roundtable for 247 Sports.

Also check out game previews from Maize n Blue Nation, Maize and Blue News, Maize n Brew, Touch the Banner, The Big House Report, UMGoBlog, The M Block, and MGoBlog.

On the opposing side, previews from Subway Domer.

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

The Michigan Medley explains why Manti Te’o winning the Heisman would illegitimize the award

Friday, December 7th, 2012


Tomorrow night, one of three men will be awarded college football’s most prestigious honor, the Heisman Trophy. Only three were invited to the ceremony this season instead of the usual five, but in reality only two of them have a chance of winning the award and only one is actually deserving. But in the wacky landscape of college football in 2012, it’s likely that the most deserving player, the one who fits the definition defined by the Heisman Trust, won’t take it home.

But that shouldn’t surprise anyone that has followed college football, especially over the last decade or so when the Internet, social media, and more televised games have allowed everyone to be an expert. The award voting involves more politics than Washington and that’s why Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o will likely win it tomorrow.

Te’o is a great player. He’s a great person. He has had a great career and he’s a great story. But none of that makes him the most outstanding player in the country whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.

Linebacker comparison
Forget the Heisman Trophy race for a minute; let’s take a look at Te’o compared to Michigan’s top linebacker, Jake Ryan. It’s a lot closer than you think.

Manti Te’o

Jake Ryan

103 Total Tackles 84
52 Solo Tackles 53
5.5 Tackles for Loss 14.5
1.5 Sacks 4.0
7 Interceptions 0
2 Forced Fumbles 4
As you can see, Ryan’s numbers are very comparable to Te’o's and actually better in most categories, but no one is saying he’s deserving of Heisman consideration. And rightly so. In fact, Ryan was only named Second Team All-Big Ten by the media.

It can be argued that had Notre Dame been in the Big Ten, Te’o would have been the third or fourth best linebacker in the conference. Six Big Ten linebackers had more tackles, five had more solo, about a dozen had more tackles for loss, and several had more sacks.

Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier had 12 more total tackles than Te’o, 18 more solo tackles, 11.5 more tackles for loss, and 3.5 more sacks. The only thing he lacked were interceptions, though he did have one and forced three fumbles. Is the reason he’s not up for Heisman discussion simply because he has six fewer interceptions?

If Te’o wins the Heisman, then Ryan and Shazier better be invited to New York if they have similar seasons next year. They will, after all, be upperclassmen by then, which is apparently the main criteria used by many voters.

His 103 total tackles are tied with Wyoming’s Corey Jones, Western Michigan’s Johnnie Simon, and Florida Atlantic’s Bret Harstad. Are any of those guys considered for the Heisman? How about the 51 players who had more tackles than him? Or the 58 who averaged more tackles per game?

But it’s not solely based on tackles is it? How about solo tackles? You know, tackles made by yourself without the help of a teammate. Te’o's 52 are fewer than at least 87 others. His average of 4.3 solo stops per game don’t even rank in the top 94.

Ok, so maybe it’s not simply about tackles, so how about tackles that mean something – tackles in the backfield? Te’o had just five-and-a-half (yes, 5.5) tackles for loss. That puts him far outside the top 100. Four Michigan players had as many or more, led by Jake Ryan’s 14.5.

So Te’o hasn’t been dominant in tackles, solo tackles, or tackles for loss; how about sacks? Surely the likely Heisman winner has been lethal in the backfield, right? Wrong. His 1.5 sacks are fewer than five Michigan defenders – and Michigan ranked 85th nationally in sacks.

So he’s clearly not one of the top 100 defenders in the country when it comes to tackles for loss or sacks, and barely cracks the top 100 for solo tackles. Are we sure we’re looking at the right player’s stats? Yep. So what other defensive categories are there that have him as the likely Heisman winner?

How about turnovers forced? Ding ding ding ding! Te’o collected seven interceptions this season, which are second nationally to Fresno State defensive back Phillip Thomas. So there you have it: the Heisman trophy is now the award for the linebacker who makes the most interceptions.

Look, Te’o is a great linebacker and will probably have a long NFL career, which is why he won the Nagurski (best defensive player) and Lombardi (best lineman) awards. But even those are debatable, given the numbers listed above. Let’s be real here: he has benefited greatly from a productive career at Notre Dame and a defense stocked with NFL talent.

If the trophy is truly for the most outstanding player, as the Heisman Trust mission statement reads, then Johnny Manziel is the winner hands down. He ranks second nationally in total offense and points responsible for, 18th in scoring, 16th in passing yards, 33rd in rushing, and 17th in pass efficiency. Name another player in the country that has had that much of an impact in that many categories. Here’s another exercise: name another player on Texas A&M’s team. If you’re not an Aggie fan, you probably can’t. His offense isn’t chocked full of next level talent and he still led it to be the nation’s third-best scoring offense – as a freshman.

Aaahhh, so there’s the main reason he likely won’t win the award. Many Heisman voters won’t vote for him simply because he’s a freshman (a redshirt freshman that is). No freshman has ever won the award, and the snooty voters who are willing to deny the most outstanding player the award simply to preserve that record should be stripped of their ability to vote. Manziel should be rewarded because he’s a freshman – a freshman that led what was previously a 7-6 team to a 10-2 record and an upset of then-No. 1 Alabama in its first season in the nation’s best conference. He shouldn’t be penalized for it. It makes what he has done this season that much more – wait for it – outstanding.

Despite being a great player and a great person, Te'o (center) doesn't deserve the Heisman

If Te’o wins the Heisman, it should officially be re-named the Popularity Contest Trophy. Te’o will earn the sentimental vote because of his career body of work, because he came back for his senior year, because of the personal tragedy he suffered mid-season, and because his team is ranked No.1. But it will completely render the trophy, as currently defined, illegitimate.

The only thing he has done spectacularly is intercept seven passes. Is that more impressive than scoring 43 touchdowns? Is it more outstanding than breaking the all-time SEC total offense record that was set by Cam Newton during his Heisman trophy-winning season? Year in school aside, there’s probably not a person outside of South Bend that would say yes to those questions. Which means that if Te’o wins the award for this season’s most outstanding player it will be because of those outside factors mentioned in the previous paragraph, which are not what the Heisman Trophy is for.

It’s too bad we’ll never see Manziel and Te’o battle it out on the field. It would be a good one to watch considering that entering this season (you know, since we’re apparently taking into account full careers now) Te’o couldn’t stop Denard Robinson. Instead, we’ll have to settle for the two battling it out on a stage in New York and hopefully the voters will uphold the integrity of the award by actually awarding it to the nation’s most outstanding player rather than one whose only distinguishing points among dozens of other linebackers are interceptions and a stellar career.

M&GB Pick’em: Notre Dame staff predictions

Friday, September 21st, 2012


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

_____________________________

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

Notre Dame: first look

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012


Read our preseason Notre Dame preview here.

For the first time in a decade, Notre Dame has started its season 3-0. The Irish crushed Navy in Dublin, Ireland, won a nail-biter over Purdue, and convincingly beat Michigan State on the road. The folks in South Bend are already talking BCS and possibly more. The win last Saturday propelled the Irish from 20th to 11th in the AP poll as if the media was just itching to thrust them back into prominence. But are they? Or does Notre Dame merely have wins over a downtrodden Navy, a resurgent Purdue, and an overrated Michigan State? Let’s take a look.

Notre Dame 2012 Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Notre Dame Michigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 30.0 | 36.0 61 | 33 10.0 | 26.3 8 | 75
Rushing Yards 467 | 577 289 | 634
Rush Avg. Per Game 155.7 | 192.3 67 | 45 96.3 | 211.3 23 | 104
Avg. Per Rush 4.0 | 5.6 3.0 | 4.3
Passing Yards 699 | 699 577 | 473
Pass Avg. Per Game 233 | 233 67 | 67 192.3 | 157.7 38 | 12
Total Offense 1,166 | 1,276 866 | 1,107
Total Off Avg. Per Game 388.7 | 425.3 72 | 52 288.7 | 369 18 | 57
Kick Return Average 21.2 | 22.1 54 | 49 25.2 | 23.8 109 | 99
Punt Return Average 4.0 | 5.0 96 | 91 6.0 | 5.2 48 | 48
Avg. Time of Possession 32:50 | 28:03 23 | 88 27:10 | 31:57
3rd Down Conversion Pct 44% | 44% 51 | 53 35% | 46% 47 | 93
Sacks By-Yards 11-70 | 3-45 10 | 99 8-51 | 2-17 93 | 13
Touchdowns Scored 11 | 15 3 | 9
Field Goals-Attempts 5-6 | 1-1 3-4 | 5-8
Red Zone Scores (12-15) 80% | (9-9) 100% 70 | 1 (4-5) 80% | (10-12) 83% 63 | 75
Red Zone Touchdowns (8-15) 53% | (8-9) 89% (2-5) 40% | (6-12) 50%

Notre Dame has been impressive to say the least through three games, but the biggest impression has been made by the defense which has given up just 10 points per game so far. That’s good for eighth nationally and is a far cry from the Irish defense that has given up an average of 24 points per game in the last nine seasons since the last time it started 3-0. ND hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher yet this season and held Michigan State’s LeVeon Bell to just 77 yards on 19 carries last week.

Is that a smile?!? I didn't think that was possible (photo by Al Goldis, AP)

The Irish pass defense isn’t too shabby either, ranking 38th nationally at an average of 192 yards per game allowed. That’s considerable, given the loss that the secondary suffered when top cornerback Lo Wood went down right before the season started. In all, ND has allowed just three touchdowns so far: a 25-yard pass by Navy in the third quarter, a two-yard pass in the first quarter by Purdue, and a 15-yard pass by Purdue in the fourth to tie that game with two minutes remaining. No rushing touchdowns.

Offensively, Notre Dame is a bit more pedestrian, ranking 67th nationally in both rushing (155.7) and passing (233) average per game. Interestingly enough, the Irish have thrown for exactly the same number of passing yards (699) as Denard Robinson thus far. The Irish have done a good job of controlling the ball and are converting third downs at exactly the same rate as Michigan (44 percent). If there’s one glaring weakness for the ND offense it’s allowing sacks. Eight sacks given up through three games puts ND near the bottom nationally. Another item to note is the Notre Dame offense hasn’t been as efficient in the red zone as Michigan, converting just 8-of-15 red zone trips into touchdowns. Conversely, Michigan has punched it in 8-of-9 times.

Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson has turned in three solid performances, but it is last year’s starter Tommy Rees who head coach Brian Kelly has turned to down the stretch the last two weeks. It seems to be working out so far, as he engineered the game-winning drive against Purdue and didn’t make any mistakes last week.

Against Michigan State’s tough defense, Golson completed just 14 of 32 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown, but most importantly he didn’t make any mistakes. He also ran in a touchdown to put the Irish ahead 14-0 early in the second quarter. He’s not going to beat you with his legs like Denard, but he’s dangerous enough to make some plays.

The leader of the Irish is unquestionably senior linebacker Manti Te’o who returned for his senior year to graduate and finish his commitment to the team. In that sense, much like Denard, he’s the quintessential college student athlete, and that’s respectable. He played last week with a heavy heart after losing his grandmother and girlfriend in a two day span, and he played like a man on a mission, recording 12 tackles, one for loss, recovering a fumble, and breaking up two passes. It will be interesting to see if the emotional strain leads to a letdown this week.

It’s sure to be an epic clash when Michigan and Notre Dame meet for the 40th time on Saturday night under the lights in Notre Dame Stadium. Michigan has dominated the rivalry of late, at least in the won-loss column, but the last three have all come down to the wire. Notre Dame is out for revenge and Michigan is looking to avoid entering conference play with a .500 record. Something has to give.