Friday, September 10, 2010

Notre Dame preview

Tomorrow, Michigan heads into South Bend for the first time since 2008's disastrous fumble fest, a game that saw Michigan outgain Notre Dame by 128 yards yet still lose by a commanding 18 points thanks in large part to 6 Michigan turnovers. Last year's shootout was a far different affair and one that has become legendary in Michigan football lore--a game defined by the heroics and unflappable style of now-third stringer Tate Forcier. And tomorrow's game looks to be similarly unrecognizable: Denard Robinson is now at the helm of a diabolical offense, Michigan's defense looked functional in its season opener, and Notre Dame is now being run by somebody that has half a clue what he's doing.

Like last year, this game is supposed to define the paths of the two teams' respective seasons. The winner, so people are suggesting, may be on their road to redemption in the face of football armageddon. But I don't think this game will be quite so prophetic for a number of reasons. But on to the numbers...

[Numbers go here]

In lieu of my usual charting of the team's national standings and per-game averages, I'm going to take a bit of a different approach, due primarily to the fact that national averages mean exactly bupkis right now. Last week, Notre Dame faced off against in-state "rival" Purdue, beating them 23-12 on the strength of Armando Allen and Dayne Crist. Allen rushed 18 times for 96 yards (5.2 YPC) and one touchdown, but looked particularly bulldozery doing it. Allen wreaked havoc on Michigan last year--as did most competent running backs--gaining 139 yards on 21 carries (6.6 YPC). And were it not for his heel landing gingerly on the sideline, he would've added a very long touchdown reception to his 24 yards receiving.

Slowing Allen will be vital if Michigan wants to have any chance at winning this game. Fortunately, Michigan's defensive line is the most experienced part of the defense and should be able to attack Notre Dame's offensive front. If Allen is held to the 5.2 YPC that Purdue did (certainly an attainable goal), Michigan will have a good chance to win the game. If he starts rumbling through to the second level endlessly, the Wolverines will be in trouble because...

Quarterback Dayne Crist, first-time starter but former 5-star recruit, managed to complete 19 of 26 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. And at his disposal is all-purpose pterodactyl Michael Floyd, who you may remember from The Shaming of Boubacar Cissoko starring Boubacar Cissoko, last year in the Big House. Floyd had seven receptions for 131 yards against Michigan last year and looks to repeat that performance against an even weaker secondary. Michigan will be playing a lot of zone coverage in this game and hoping they can create enough pressure that Crist doesn't have time to hurl the ball downfield to Floyd who, make no mistake, will blow right by everyone in the secondary on more than one occasion. Stopping the Crist-to-Floyd connection (a duo that produced 5 receptions for 82 yards against Purdue last week) will be the other key to slowing what should be a potent Notre Dame offense that will look to set up big plays through play action (be terrified of junior tight end Kyle Rudolph who could very easily run seam routes all over Michigan's defense) and the vertical passing game.

As far as Michigan's machinations, Notre Dame presents a whole host of challenges that UConn didn't. For starters, the Irish run a 3-4 defense which should help them contain Denard Robinson better than UConn did, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more nickel packages against Michigan's spread to try and better match the speed of the Wolverines offense. Other than that, we don't really know much. Having the UConn game mostly wrapped up in the first half, Michigan stopped showing new tricks and hitches in their offensive strategy. But I have no doubt that Rodriguez has more than a few things up his sleeve for this game.

Prediction: This is a difficult game to call. Aside from not having much information on the opponent yet, making a prediction based on last week's performance is near sighted and assumes that Denard Robinson is going to once again be the most prolific quarterback in Michigan history. Like Forcier last year, teams will adjust to his style and learn how to shut him down. Notre Dame wasn't able to do that last year and chances are they won't be able to do it against Robinson tomorrow either. Regardless, seeing a more human side of Robinson seems realistic. Whether or not Michigan can scrape together a win from that is yet to be seen.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, is going to look to exploit a beleaguered, young, and frankly talent-barren secondary with more weapons than Michigan will likely face all year. This could get dicey if the Irish are passing the ball like they did last year against the Wolverines, which is frankly pretty realistic. And if Armando Allen is the revelation he appeared to be last week, the promising week-one Michigan defense may reveal itself the hollow shell we all thought it was.

Per usual, and until it becomes a habit, winning the turnover battle will be key. If Michigan holds onto the ball and limits Notre Dame's offensive chances (long, sustained drives that wear away a thin defense might be Michigan's key to success), this game could look pretty similar to last week's UConn contest.

Notre Dame strikes early and possibly multiple times, but in the end, Michigan's consistency and Notre Dame's inability to stop the offense will provide the Wolverines with a second win. Michigan 35-34


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