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Posts Tagged ‘Notre Dame’

New in Blue: 2017 RB A.J. Dillon

Monday, March 28th, 2016


AJ Dillon(Lawrence Academy photo)

A.J. Dillon – RB | 6-1, 230 | Groton, Mass. (Lawrence Academy)
ESPN3-star, NR Rivals4-star, #16 RB 2474-star, #18 RB Scout: 3-star, #41 RB
247 Composite: 4-star, #19 RB
Other top offers: Notre Dame, Florida State, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Iowa, Nebraska, Mississippi State

Michigan landed two commitments last week and wasted no time kicking off this week with another. A.J. Dillon, a 2017 running back from Groton, Mass., pledged his commitment to the Wolverines on Monday morning.

Dillon is a four-star according to both Rivals and 247 and the 247 Sports Composite. ESPN and Scout both rate him as a three-star. Rivals ranks Dillon as the 16th-best running back in the class, while 247 ranks him 18th. Scout ranks him 41st and ESPN does not have him ranked yet.

At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, Dillon has college size already. He’s two inches taller than De’Veon Smith is currently and the same weight. He’s the same height and 20 pounds heavier than Drake Johnson and Kareem Walker. And he’s the same weight but two inches shorter than Ty Isaac.

Scout lists Dillon’s strengths as balance, change of direction, foot quickness, hands, power, size, tackle-breaking ability, toughness and vision. They list his areas to improve as acceleration, breakaway speed, cutback ability, and elusiveness. Brian Dohn expands on that.

“Dillon is a rugged, tough, between-the-tackles runner who is difficult to bring down on first contact. He is thick and strong in the lower body, and tackles often bounce off of him. He has good vision and quick feet. He is able to make subtle moves and change direction in short space. He is best moving up the field and is a downhill runner. He secures the football well and he can break tackles. He does not have breakaway speed, but that does not matter. His ability to find the hole and get through it, and to run in traffic, stand out.”

247’s Clint Brewster also has high praise for Dillon:

“Dillon has college-ready size at 6-foot-1, and around 230-pounds. He’s got a nice frame and a chiseled body type. Dillon’s a hard-charging downhill running back that really pounds the rock. He doesn’t waste time hitting the hole and can move the pile. He plays with an old-school ruggedness that would fit well in a downhill running scheme like Michigan’s. Dillon’s got a real fluid jump-cut and nice maneuverability to get skinny through the hole when he needs to.”

The Lawrence Academy star has averaged 9.3 yards per carry while rushing for 3,255 yards and 47 touchdowns in the past two seasons, according to 247. He picked Michigan over offers from Notre Dame, Florida State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Mississippi State, and Virginia Tech, to name a few. He received his Michigan offer on Jan. 27 and visited Ann Arbor last weekend, sandwiched in between visits to Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

Dillon is the second running back in the 2017 class, joining three-star Covington, Ga. back Kurt Taylor. He’s the seventh member of the class as a whole, the fifth of which on the offensive side of the ball.

(6) Notre Dame 70 – (11) Michigan 63: Second half letdown ends Michigan’s season

Saturday, March 19th, 2016


Irvin vs ND(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan survived Tulsa in the First Four on Wednesday night, but couldn’t carry the momentum to Brooklyn, where the Wolverines’ season came to an end with a 70-63 loss to Notre Dame on Friday night.

Unlike Wednesday’s game, Michigan came out firing on all cylinders and playing tough defense, holding a lead the entire first half. It took more than three minutes for Notre Dame to score its first point, but Michigan had only amassed five. Over the next seven minutes, however, Michigan outscored the Irish 21 to 11 to take a 26-13 lead.

Notre Dame pulled within five, but Michigan scored the final seven points of the half, capped by a Moritz Wagner layup at the buzzer. Michigan took a 41-29 lead into the locker room.

Four Factors
Michigan Notre Dame
48 eFG% 67
28 OReb% 26
11 TO% 26
8 FTR 35

But that was as good as it would get for the Wolverines. Notre Dame scored the first eight points of the second half before Mark Donnal finally got Michigan on the board at the 17:49 mark. Unlike the first half, every time Michigan scored, Notre Dame had an answer. Duncan Robinson hit a three, but the Irish scored four straight. Donnal made anther layup, but Notre Dame scored five straight. And suddenly, with 12:18 to play, the game was tied at 48.

Neither team scored for nearly three minutes until Notre Dame’s V.J. Beachem hit a three to give the Irish their first lead. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman answered with a three of his own and Zak Irvin followed to put Michigan back on top. A 6-2 Notre Dame run gave ND the lead, but a Donnal layup with 4:55 to play put Michigan back on top 58-57. It was the last lead Michigan would have.

The Wolverines managed just three points — a Donnal foul shot and layup — over the next three and a half minutes as Notre Dame 66-61 lead. An Irvin layup brought Michigan within three, and after a defensive stop, Michigan had a chance to tie the game in the closing minute. But Irvin missed a three and the Wolverines were forced to foul. Notre Dame sealed the game at the free throw line.

Michigan shot 39.7 percent for the game, but just 28.1 percent in the second half. After making 7-of-14 three-point attempts in the first half, the Wolverines made just 3-of-13 in the second. Meanwhile, Notre Dame shot a blistering 58.1 percent from the field and made 8-of-15 three-point attempts.

Abdur-Rahkman led Michigan with 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting and 3-of-4 three-point shooting. Derrick Walton was the only other Michigan player in double figures with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting to go along with eight assists. Donnal, Irvin, and Robinson added nine points apiece.

Beachem led Notre Dame with 18 points, while Bonzie Colson added 12, Demetrius Jackson 11, and Zach Auguste recorded a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Michigan’s season ends at 23-13, while Notre Dame (22-11) advances to the Round of 32 to face Stephen F. Austin on Sunday.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
34 Mark Donnal* 4-9 0-1 1-2 3 0 3 3 9 1 0 1 0 29
10 Derrick Walton* 4-13 2-6 0-1 1 3 4 1 10 8 2 0 6 38
21 Zak Irvin* 4-16 1-9 0-0 1 3 4 0 9 4 0 0 1 36
22 Duncan Robinson* 3-7 3-5 0-0 0 4 4 3 9 2 1 0 0 38
12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman* 5-12 3-4 2-2 2 2 4 0 15 3 0 0 1 38
11 Andrew Dakich 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 2
13 Moritz Wagner 3-3 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 4 6 0 2 0 1 8
24 Aubrey Dawkins 2-3 1-2 0-0 0 0 0 0 5 0 1 0 0 7
32 Ricky Doyle 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 4
Totals 25-63 10-27 3-5 11 14 25 14 63 18 7 1 10 200
Notre Dame 25-43 8-15 12-15 5 28 33 9 70 12 16 8 3
200
Full Stats

Michigan hoops preview: NCAA Tournament vs (6) Notre Dame

Friday, March 18th, 2016


UM-ND2
Michigan (23-12, 10-8) vs Notre Dame (21-11, 11-7)
Friday, March 18 | Brooklyn, N.Y. | 9:40 p.m. ET | CBS
LineNotre Dame -3
Offense
74.1 Points/gm 75.7
(922-1,985) 46.4 Field Goal % 47.1 (869-1,844)
(332-874) 38.0 3-pt FG % 36.9 (235-637)
(417-564) 73.9 Free Throw % 73.5 (450-612)
11.9 FT Made/gm 14.1
32.2 Reb/gm 36.1
14.8 Assists/gm 13.5
9.7 Turnovers/gm 9.7
Defense
67.3 Points/gm 70.6
(896-1,952) 44.5 Field Goal % 42.8 (821-1,918)
(243-710) 34.2 3-pt FG % 37.6 (246-655)
33.1 Opp. Reb/gm 33.8
5.5 Steals/gm 5.6
2.3 Blocks/gm 3.9
Individual Leaders
Caris LeVert (16.5), Zak Irvin (11.9) Points/gm Demetrius Jackson (15.5), Zach Auguste (14.4)
Derick Walton (5.5), Caris LeVert (5.3) Reb/gm Zach Auguste (10.8), Demetrius Jackson (4.8)

Less than 48 hours after their season came within a minute of ending, the Michigan Wolverines will take on Notre Dame in the Round of 64 Friday night.

Michigan survived a late Tulsa run Wednesday thanks to a game-winning three-pointer by Zak Irvin in the final minutes. Afterwards, John Beilein told anybody who would listen that he hasn’t seen a single look at the Fighting Irish and would start watching film on the plane to Brooklyn.

For the Wolverines to keep their season alive, they’ll have to greatly improve their shooting from beyond the arc. Michigan made just six of 25 attempts Wednesday and might need to double that total to beat a much stronger Notre Dame team.

Luckily for Michigan, Notre Dame is one of the worst defensive teams in the NCAA Tournament and struggles to defend the three-point line. Duncan Robinson will be a major key for a Michigan team that hasn’t shot particularly well for the better part of two months.

Notre Dame is led by senior forward Zach Auguste, one of the few college players to average a double-double this season. Auguste is second on the team with 14.4 points per game and leads the Irish with an average of 10.8 rebounds.

In the back court, Derrick Walton will be tasked with slowing down leading scorer Demetrius Jackson. Jackson 15.5 points and 4.8 assists per game. Walton will have to play like he did against Yogi Ferrell in the Big Ten Tournament, and not like he did against Tulsa’s back court, to slow down Jackson.

With Walton in foul trouble Wednesday, Michigan nearly watched their tournament lives slip away.

Auguste will be a major issue for a Michigan front court that got dominated on the defensive glass in the second half against Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane is undersized, but Mark Donnal struggled to keep it out of the paint.

If Donnal comes out stagnant again Friday, look for Beilein to stick with freshman Mo Wagner, who gave Michigan excellent minutes Wednesday. He doubled his career high with four blocks and grabbed eight rebounds.

With a win, Michigan would earn a third elimination game in five days against the winner of West Virginia and Stephen F. Austin.

Michigan’s College Football Playoff rooting guide: Nov. 28

Saturday, November 28th, 2015


Cardinals Stadium

Michigan’s College Football Playoff dreams took an enormous hit Saturday night when Michael Geiger’s 41-yard field goal split the uprights and cracked the Buckeyes in Columbus. The Wolverines not only lost a chance to control their own destiny in the Big Ten race, they also missed out on perhaps two opportunities to play against undefeated, top-five opponents.

Now everything falls into the hands of a Penn State that doesn’t look capable of keeping its star quarterback upright, let alone pulling off a monumental upset. Barring something insane, Michigan will have to settle for a nine or 10-win season, which is pretty incredible, considering the direction the program was trending the last seven years.

But until the final game clock hits zero, we’ll keep pursuing those slim championship hopes.

“I really, really need you”

In honor of Sanka Coffie from Cool Runnings, these teams completely hold Michigan’s fate in their hands. These are the teams that Michigan absolutely needs victories from on Saturday in order to keep the Wolverines’ CFP hopes alive. If even one of these teams falls, Michigan’s CFP dreams die.

No. 10 Michigan (home) over No. 8 Ohio State (12pm, ABC): As always, Michigan has to take care of its own business for any of this to even matter. Jim Harbaugh’s team has done nothing but improve all season and looks like it can compete with almost any team in the country. A win over Ohio State would make the 3:30 kick in East Lansing worth a glance.

Result: Ohio State 42 – Michigan 13

Penn State (away) over No. 5 Michigan State (3:30pm, ABC): This one probably isn’t happening. Michigan State looks to have really hit its stride heading into the final weeks of the season, and Penn State is just limping toward the finish line. If the Spartans win, it’ll be a Big Ten East title for Mark Dantonio.

Result: Michigan State 55 – Penn State 16

“It could happen!”

In honor of JP from Angels in the Outfield, this is the “It could happen” group. These are the teams Michigan is rooting for that have a legitimate chance to win on Saturday. Wins by these teams either help the Wolverines move up in the rankings or improve their resume (in order of kickoff time).

No. 4 Iowa (away) over Nebraska (3:30pm, ABC, Friday): On the off chance that Michigan does get into the Big Ten Championship game next week, it needs an undefeated Iowa, ranked in the top four, to boost its resume. A title game of that magnitude would really propel Michigan into the conversation during the final rankings.

Result: Iowa 28 – Nebraska 20

No. 19 TCU (home) over No. 7 Baylor (8pm, ESPN, Friday): This might be Michigan’s last chance to jump Baylor, as the Bears have only a home date with an awful Texas team remaining. A loss to TCU would put three of the four Big 12 contenders behind Michigan.

Result: TCU 28 – Baylor 21 (2OT)

No. 23 Utah (home) over Colorado (2:30pm, Pac12): Utah has been killing Michigan the last two weeks. Back-to-back losses to Arizona and UCLA has the Utes clinging to the edge of the top 25 and threatening to turn Michigan’s opening loss into a weak one. They cannot afford a loss to Colorado.

Result: Utah 20 – Colorado 14

No. 16 Northwestern (away) over Illinois (3:30pm, ESPNU): The Wildcats have done nothing but help Michigan since being blown out in back-to-back games to the Wolverines and Hawkeyes. Northwestern needs only a win over Illinois to cap off a 10-win regular season and give Michigan one of the best wins (considering the 38-0 score) of the entire football season.

Result: Northwestern 24 – Illinois 14

No. 13 Florida State (away) over No. 12 Florida (7:30pm, ESPN): Since Florida State’s resume pales in comparison to Michigan’s I don’t think a win over Florida would propel the Seminoles into the top 10. Florida, on the other hand, still has the slim chance to jump Michigan if it somehow knocks off Alabama in the SEC title game. A loss to FSU would take care of that worry.

Result: Florida State 27 – Florida 2

No. 9 Stanford (home) over No. 6 Notre Dame (7:30pm, FOX): This is a tough one, because Michigan should pass the loser no matter what if the Wolverines knock off Ohio State. But if Stanford beats Notre Dame, there’s still a chance the Cardinal might lose to UCLA or USC in the Pac-12 title game. That would lift Michigan over both teams if it wins out. Also, Stanford has no business being ranked above Michigan in the first place.

Result: Stanford 38 – Notre Dame 36

No. 11 Oklahoma State (home) over No. 3 Oklahoma (8pm, ABC): There’s definitely a chance Oklahoma State would jump Michigan with a win over vastly over-ranked Oklahoma, but there’s also a chance the Wolverines would hold serve with a win over Ohio State. This is the only scenario that gives Michigan a legitimate shot to shoot above all four Big 12 contenders.

Result: Oklahoma 58 – Oklahoma State 23

“It’s just not believable, Cotton”

In honor of Pepper Brooks, from Dodgeball, these are the true underdog stories. These teams have almost no chance to win, but if they do, it would really help Michigan.

South Carolina (home) over No. 1 Clemson (12pm, ESPN): Hey, it’s the last week of the regular season, why not root for some chaos? It’s not likely that Clemson can do anything to fall below Michigan at this point, but in a rivalry game, on the road, to a team coming off a loss to The Citadel, anything can happen.

Result: Clemson 37 – South Carolina 32

Auburn (home) over No. 2 Alabama (3:30pm, CBS): The Iron Bowl is one of the biggest crapshoots in college football, and a loss to a bad Auburn team would really put pressure on the committee to (finally) punish Alabama. Would the Crimson Tide fall below Michigan? It would certainly have to be under consideration if Michigan beat Ohio State.

Result: Alabama 29 – Auburn 13

North Carolina State (home) over No. 14 North Carolina (3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2): Despite two FCS games and a laughable loss to South Carolina in the nonconference season, North Carolina has ridden a 10-game winning streak over unranked opponents right into the top 15. If the Tarheels did the unthinkable and won the ACC, they might vault Michigan in the rankings. A loss to rival N.C. State would erase any chance of that happening.

Result: North Carolina 45 – N.C. State 34

Recruiting Profile: 2015 CB Iman Marshall

Friday, January 23rd, 2015


Iman Marshall
(247 Sports)

Previously: 2015 TE Chris Clark

Iman Marshall – CB | 6’2″, 190 | Long Beach, Calif. – Long Beach Poly
ESPN: 5-star, #1 CB, 92 grade Rivals: 5-star, #1 CB, #3 nat 247: 5-star, #1 CB, #5 nat Scout: 5-star, #1 CB
Other top offers: USC, Alabama, FSU, Oregon, LSU, UCLA, Auburn, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Miami, ND

One of the most talented and impressive physical specimens being recruited at the cornerback position this season, Long Beach Poly’s Iman Marshall looks to be Michigan’s number one quarry this winter. Marshall has yet to commit to any team thus far, but has either visited or has visits scheduled with Notre Dame, Florida State, LSU, Oregon, and Michigan, with USC also having mutual interest. Marshall sported the vaunted No. 2 jersey during his visit to Ann Arbor this past week, and could have a similar impact to Charles Woodson given the tools he would bring to Michigan if he does indeed commit to the Wolverines.

Athleticism

Athleticism - Iman MarshallMarshall has prodigious size as far as cornerbacks go, having a Nike verified height of 6’2″ (though listed at a shorter 6’1″ by many other outlets). While most defensive backs with 6-foot-plus frames don’t stick on the boundary as cornerbacks due to a lack of athleticism, there is no such concern with Marshall. The Long Beach native showcases very good range and downfield speed, and while he doesn’t have the most fluid of hips, he has flexible ankles and has good change of direction ability for a player of his size. Marshall might not light up stopwatches while running in shorts, but he carries his pads well on the field. Additionally, he has shown the athletic versatility to play as a receiver, with the ball in his hands, as outside corner, a nickel back, a deep safety, and as a kick returner.

Coverage

Coverage - Iman MarshallMarshall lined up most frequently in zone coverage as opposed to man coverage during his high school career at Long Beach, and seems best suited to zone going forward. Marshall has great length and demonstrated it often, frequently taking away passing windows and getting his hand in to break up would-be completions. His instincts and ability to read the play in front of him and the ball in the air are top-notch, which should translate into early playing time and success in college.

In terms of man coverage, Marshall lacks great change of direction and transition out of his backpedal, and could struggle to keep up vertically on an island versus the fastest and quickest receivers in college football. Marshall is not afraid to get physical in coverage, especially near the line of scrimmage, and has the length of a prototypical press corner. As a senior, Marshall was deployed as a single safety and charged with playing the center field which he manned capably.

Ball Skills

Ball Skills - Iman MarshallAs Marshall’s experience playing the wide receiver position at times throughout his career can attest to, he has very good ball skills, not only for the interception, but to catch passes on offense. Marshall doesn’t flash an outstanding catch radius or show off with eye-popping one-handers, but he has sure hands to pluck the football and the ability to put himself in position to do so. He adjusts well to passes thrown over his head and on his back shoulder. Marshall’s length and leaping ability are useful in competing for contested passes and high-pointing the football. When Marshall has the ball in his hands, he can be dangerous on interception and kick returns, showing shifty footwork and strength to ward off tackles.

Run Support

Run Support - Iman MarshallOne thing that can be infuriating while watching cornerbacks at any level of football is how noncommittal they can be towards playing the running game. This is certainly not the case with Marshall as he is an aggressive run defender who plays with strength and instincts. While Marshall could do a better job of getting off of blocks given his ability and the relative level of competition he faced, he pursues with great range and hustle. Marshall shows good tackling technique for a defensive back and wraps up while still delivering jarring hits on the football. With his combination of size and willingness versus the run, Marshall could convert to the safety position if needed by a coaching staff.

Bottom Line

Marshall may not possess blazing timed speed or the most explosive change of direction capabilities, but he stands out in every other category that is important to the cornerback position at the collegiate level. His great instincts will go a long way toward leveraging a role for himself on the football field and he possesses long-term potential to go pro within a few years. If Marshall does indeed sign with the Wolverines this winter, he could form one half of what could be a devastating duo at the cornerback position with last year’s five star recruit Jabrill Peppers. On the whole, Iman Marshall compares to former Virginia Tech and current Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller.

MG&B Grade (out of 10)
9.2 (5-star)

Following his visit to Michigan earlier this week, Marshall is visiting LSU this weekend and plans to wrap up his official visits with Oregon next weekend. Jim Harbaugh and staff plan to make an in-home visit to Marshall and his family — Marshall made the trip to Ann Arbor alone — before signing day on Feb. 4, but pulling him from hometown USC will be a tall order.

Final Look: Notre Dame

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


Gardner vs ND(MGoBlue.com)

Last season, Michigan pulled off a big win over Notre Dame in the Big House, a performance that garnered some (premature) national championship talk. A week later, lowly Akron came to town and nearly pulled off a monumental upset. In fact, Michigan needed a last second goal line stop to stave off defeat.

This time around, Michigan heads into a matchup with lowly Miami (Ohio) with its tail between it legs, fresh off of a humiliating 31-0 defeat in South Bend. Before we fully turn our attention to Miami, let’s take one last look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from Michigan’s loss last Saturday.

Three key moments

Typically, this will feature three big moments that helped Michigan win the game, but that doesn’t mean they will always be positive. In the case of Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame, there isn’t much positive to glean, so here are three key moments that shaped the game.

1. Matt Wile’s missed field goals

Notre Dame won the coin toss and elected to receive, thinking that they could set the tone of the game by marching down the field and scoring. But Michigan’s defense held firm and forced a punt. The Michigan offense took the field full of confidence and wasted no time moving the chains. On the second play, Devin Gardner hit Devin Funchess for 12 yards. On the next play, Dennis Norfleet rambled 13 yards and Michigan was already to midfield. Michigan converted a fourth down and then Funchess caught a seven-yard pass at the ND 30. But the drive stalled there as a pass to Norfleet lost two, and on 3rd-and-5, Derrick Green picked up three. Matt Wile trotted onto the field to attempt a 46-yard field goal to give Michigan an early three-point lead. But it missed wide right. Notre Dame answered with an eight-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to take an early 7-0 lead.

Matt Wile's missed field goals on Michigan's first two drives were demoralizing in a tough road environment (MGoBlue.com)

Matt Wile’s missed field goals on Michigan’s first two drives were demoralizing in a tough road environment (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan got the ball back, and on the third play, Gardner found Funchess for 27 yards to get into Irish territory again. On first down from the ND 34, center Jack Miller false started, moving Michigan back five yards. Three plays later, Michigan faced 4th-and-6 instead of 4th-and-1, so Wile came in to attempt another field goal, this time from 48 yards out. His plant foot slipped and the kick never had a chance. Six points left on the field.

Notre Dame didn’t score on its next possession, instead punting it back to Michigan, but this time the offense was unable to string together a drive. We will never know how the game would have changed had Wile made those two field goals, but Michigan would have at the very least led 3-0, trailed 7-3, then pulled within 7-6 early in the second quarter. In reality, it snowballed from there and Michigan’s offense that moved the ball fairly well on its first two possessions went into desperation mode. Even after the Irish scored again, heading into the half down 14-6 would have been much more manageable, until…

2. Notre Dame’s third touchdown

After Notre Dame went up 14-0, Michigan got a seven-yard run by Norfleet on the first play of its ensuing possession. But then the Devin Gardner tuck rule that wasn’t the tuck rule fumble occurred and Michigan lost 12 yards. Facing 3rd-and-20, Nussmeier elected to go the safe route with a Justice Hayes draw that gained 10. Michigan punted back to Notre Dame.

A 12-yard punt return gave the Irish possession on their own 44 with 1:24 remaining in the half. A few plays later, on 3rd-and-1 at the Michigan 24, Golson lofted a perfect pass into the end zone and William Fuller leapt over Blake Countess for the touchdown. That play was essentially the death blow. At halftime, trailing 21-0, the game felt completely insurmountable. Had that pass gone incomplete and Michigan held ND to a field goal, 17-0 would have somehow felt better. And had Michigan made its two field goals, 17-7 would have felt even better, especially since Michigan was getting the ball to start the second half. But that’s a lot of ifs.

3. Gardner’s first interception

While the 21-0 halftime lead felt more like 49-0 because Michigan’s offense hadn’t put up any points and the defense was allowing Golson to pick it apart, there was still a sliver of hope for most Michigan fans because of the comebacks the Wolverines have pulled off against the Irish in recent years. But that was all dashed when Gardner was picked off on the fifth play of the third quarter.

Michigan had picked up a first down on a nine-yard Gardner run and a two-yard Derrick Green run. Gardner then ran for six yards, but on second down, Green was tackled for a three-yard loss, setting up 3rd-and-7 at the Michigan 39. Gardner dropped back to pass and fired across the middle for tight end Khalid Hill, but safety Max Redfield stepped in front and picked it off. He returned it 17 yards to the Michigan 38, and although the Michigan defense forced ND to punt, the Irish downed the punt at the 2-yard line. The interception flipped field position and it paid off for the Irish on their next drive as they punched it in for a 28-0 lead.

Given the ifs above, and if Gardner hadn’t thrown that interception and instead Michigan scored, it could have been 17-13 and we would have had a ball game. But again, if there are that many ifs in a game, you’re not going to win, especially on the road against a good opponent.

The numbers game

365: Michigan’s consecutive games without being shutout, dating back to Oct. 20, 1984, prior to last Saturday’s 31-0 loss at Notre Dame

24-17-1: Michigan’s all-time record against Notre Dame

172: The number of passes Devin Gardner had thrown since his last interception on Nov. 3, 2013 against Michigan State

9: Devin Gardner’s rank on Michigan’s career completions list, passing Steve Smith

Drive Chart
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*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics, Dash indicates direction of drive, Green dash = scoring play, Grey = punt, Red = turnover, Pink = missed field goal, Black = end of half

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Big Ten power rankings: Week 2

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

It was a dreadful week for the Big Ten as a conference, as the top teams crumbled against strong competition and the rest of the teams struggled against weak teams. Purdue and Northwestern both fell to MAC schools and Iowa barely escaped Ball State. Nebraska, Illinois, and Maryland were favored by multiple scores but all only won by a single possession. At night the conference’s supposed top three teams lost by a combined 64 points in a week that may have eliminated the Big Ten from playoff contention.

East Division
1. Penn State (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Akron 21-3 This Week: Sat at Rutgers, 8pm, Big Ten Network

What could be better than crushing Akron to move to 2-0 on the season for Penn State? How about learning that, after an offseason resigning themselves to literal championship irrelevance, the team will be eligible to play in the postseason after all? The news comes for a Penn State team that looks dangerous behind sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg and could make a run at the East Division crown.

2. Michigan State (1-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #3 Oregon 27-46 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Eastern Michigan)

Very few teams in the country have the talent to beat Oregon on its own turf, and Michigan State is not one of those groups. But that doesn’t mean the Spartans can’t make a run at the first college football playoff. Losing by 19 points should never satisfy a fan base that hopes to support an elite program, but Michigan State certainly looked like the class of the Big Ten when it led 27-18 in Autzen.

3. Maryland (2-0, 0-0) – Up 4
Last Week: Beat South Florida 24-17 This Week: Sat vs West Virginia, 12pm, Big Ten Network

After demolishing James Madison in Week 1, Maryland still had everything to prove in its first year as a member of the Big Ten conference. On Saturday it was more of the same as the Terrapins went on the road and beat a South Florida team that finished 2-10 last season.

4. Indiana (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Bowling Green, 12pm, ESPNU

Scheduling a bye may have been the best possible move for Indiana in a week when nearly every Big Ten powerhouse lost by more than 10 points. The Hoosiers go on the road to face Bowling Green this week before a big matchup in Missouri.

5. Rutgers (2-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Howard 38-25 This Week: Sat vs Penn State, 8pm, Big Ten Network

Following a huge road win in Washington State to bring in the new season, Rutgers struggled with Howard when it returned back home. In the end, four touchdown passes from Gary Nova was enough to move Rutgers to 2-0.

6. Ohio State (1-1, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Virginia Tech 21-35 This Week: Sat vs Kent State, 12pm, ABC/ESPN2

Week 1 against Navy was just a fluke, right? Unfortunately for Urban Meyer, his team proved that notion wrong on Saturday night when Virginia Tech walked into the Horseshoe and stomped his Buckeyes 35-21. J.T. Barrett was 9 for 29 with three interceptions in what turned out to be a disastrous performance. Would Ohio State be the best team in the conference with Braxton Miller? It’s certainly possible, but without the former Heisman candidate the team is revealing massive holes at more than just backup quarterback.

7. Michigan (1-1, 0-0) – Down 5
Last Week: Lost to #16 Notre Dame 0-31 This Week: Sat vs Miami (Ohio), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

In the final matchup with Notre Dame on Saturday night, Michigan proved how much a team can change over the course of a week. After a nearly perfect showing against Appalachian State in the opener, the team completely collapsed in South Bend. Doug Nussmeier’s offense posted the school’s first scoreless effort in 30 years while Greg Mattison’s ‘more aggressive defense’ sat back and let Everett Golson pick it apart like a thoracic surgeon. One loss can’t derail an entire season, but the 31-0 shelling fans witnessed Saturday is as close as it gets. Brady Hoke’s best road win in four seasons at Michigan is over an Illinois team that finished 7-6 after scraping out a victory in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2011. Nothing short of wins in East Lansing or Columbus should save this coaching staff.

West Division
1. Minnesota (2-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Middle Tennessee 35-24 This Week: Sat at TCU, 4pm, Fox Sports 1

Minnesota’s presence atop the West Division standings says more about the rest of the conference than it does about the Golden Gophers. Minnesota has played two cupcake opponents at home, but through Week 2, beating those teams by double digits is enough to earn the top spot.

2. Wisconsin (1-1, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Western Illinois 37-3 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Bowling Green)

Blowing a 17-point lead to LSU on the national stage almost came back to bite Wisconsin again, as it led Western Illinois just 9-3 at halftime. But the Badgers came back in the second half and scored 28 unanswered points and are the obvious favorite in the West Division.

3. Nebraska (2-0, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Beat McNeese State 31-24 This Week: Sat at Fresno State (0-2), 10:30, CBS SN

Nebraska highlights a host of teams that struggled to beat inferior opponents on Saturday. McNeese State fought the Cornhuskers to the bitter end in Lincoln, losing by just a touchdown.

4. Illinois (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Western Kentucky 42-34 This Week: Sat at Washington (2-0), 4pm, FOX

Though Illinois beat Western Kentucky by only eight points, quarterback Wes Lunt has emerged as a leader of the offense. Lunt has thrown for 741 yards and seven touchdowns through his first two weeks.

5. Iowa (2-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Ball State 17-13 This Week: Sat vs Iowa State (0-2), 3:30pm, ESPN

Iowa was a popular pick to challenge Wisconsin for the West Division title at the beginning of the season, but two poor showings have buried that belief despite a 2-0 start for the Hawkeyes. Ball State nearly upset Iowa in Iowa City, but fell just four points short.

6. Purdue (1-1, 0-0) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Central Michigan 17-38 This Week: Sat vs #11 Notre Dame, 7:30pm, NBC

Former Michigan running back Thomas Rawls shredded Purdue for 155 yards and two touchdowns as Central Michigan absolutely rolled the Boilermakers 38-17 in West Lafayette. Purdue trailed the whole game and is clearly inferior to mid-level MAC schools at this point of the season.

7. Northwestern (0-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Northern Illinois 15-23 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Western Illinois)

Two losses to start the 2014 season have left Northwestern with a 2-9 record since the middle of last season as the program continues to unravel underneath Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats are the only team in the conference without a win.

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

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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