#18 Michigan vs. #11 Notre Dame
Notre Dame Stadium
Kickoff 7:30 pm EST
Forecast: High-50s, 50% chance of rain
#20 Notre Dame 20 - #10 Michigan State 3. Last week, Notre Dame proved what I've been telling people since the season began: Michigan State ain't that good. Le'Veon Bell averaged 4.1 YPC on 19 totes, which is actually a pretty good turnout for him (minus the one or two 60-yard runs he's been breaking off against weak competition). And Andrew Maxwell earned himself the Captain Checkdown Of The Week award with 187 yards on 23/45 passing (4.2 YPA). Though, MSU's shoddy offensive line did no Spartans any favors.
Notre Dame, played well, but their greatest achievement was getting everyone who votes in the polls to overrate them again. QB Everett Golson had a fairly lackluster day (14/32, 178 yards, 1TD). Bowling ball Cierre Wood--fresh off his two-game suspension--acquitted himself well with 56 yards on 10 carries. But this game was a defensive struggle: only 537 yards of combined total offense, a combined 6-31 on third down, and 16 punts.
UMass 13 - #17 Michigan 63.
Offense vs. Notre Dame
Fi Fie Fo Film
Denard's career stats versus Notre Dame: 35/64 through the air for 582 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs, and 48 carries for 387 yards (3 TDs). Though Michigan fans all have fond memories of Denard taking on the Irish, in a dozen alternate universes, people have a much different sentiment regarding the lace-less one and the Domers. This has not escaped Hoke and the rest of the coaching staff who have mentioned a few times this week that last year's game didn't go as planned until the final quarter of the game.
The name everyone remembers on Notre Dame's defense is linebacker Manti Te'o. His superstar has only been diminished by a fairly lackluster group surrounding him to date. Otherwise, Te'o has lived up to all the hype. Running through the middle of the field against Notre Dame is a harrowing affair with Te'o roaming around. Whether or not he'll be able to make the shoestring tackles that Nebraska's Levonte David did against Denard last year will go a long way to determining how this game plays out.
The other problem running the ball against Notre Dame is its intimidating defensive line, led by nose tackle Louis Nix III. The Fighting Irish have had three games against mediocre-to-good rushing teams (Navy, Purdue, MSU) and still rank 23rd in the NCAA in rushing yards allowed per game.
The weakness in Notre Dame's defense is a secondary that looks like Michigan's in 2010. To date, ND has lost safety Jamorris Slaughter, safety Austin Collinsworth, and starting cornerback Lo Wood to season-ending injuries. Despite these injuries, Notre Dame's passing rank is still high: 38th nationally in passing yards allowed per game and and 26th nationally in pass efficiency defense. However, the Fighting Irish have played Navy (an option team that never throws the ball), Captain Checkdown, and Purdue. They haven't really been tested this season.
The matchups to watch will be whether or not Te'o can adequately cover Devin Funchess on seam and wheel routes downfield and whether or not anyone in the ND secondary can cover Devin Gardner. The other potential turning point--and Michigan fans are used to watching for things like this already--will be whether or not an inexperienced secondary can maintain proper outside leverage and not let Denard/Fitz Toussaint get to the edge. With Borges utilizing bubble screens this year, testing young safeties in open space may be a way to gain easy yardage throughout the game.
Defense vs. Notre Dame
On paper, Notre Dame's offense is not very intimidating: 67th in rushing offense, 67th in passing offense, 74th at pass efficiency, and 61st in scoring offense. However, they also have Cierre Wood (pictured above). Last year, Wood racked up 134 yards on just 25 carries (5.4 YPC) against Michigan, and that was with NFL talents like Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen manning the defensive line. Now? Yeesh. Wood is fast and tough to bring down, and with a suspect defensive line and young/mediocre linebackers, this game will show just how good (or bad, as the case may be) Michigan's defense will be this year.
The passing defense is less harrowing. Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson is completing 58% of his passes this season, and has only 3 touchdown passes (1 INT). Michigan's secondary is equipped to defend whatever Golson can bring. Expect Greg Mattison to send a lot of blitzes his way to try and hurry the young quarterback into bad throws. When plays do break down, Golson has some scrambling ability, but not enough to really scare the Michigan defense. He'll probably pick up a few frustrating first downs on third and long, but if Michigan can limit those conversions, they should be able to make the Irish offense stall out.
The team's leading receiver is senior tight end Tyler Eifert, who will present some problems for Michigan. Guarding him will come down to Jordan Kovacs or various linebackers staying disciplined on play action and adequately covering him downfield. Otherwise, Notre Dame doesn't have many truly threatening wide receivers, the first time in what seems like a decade.
How does Michigan win? Defy previous performances. Michigan performances to date are not going to win this game. The defensive line needs to significantly outperform their turnout to date. It's not necessary to get a ton of pass rush from the interior (not going to happen anyway) or tear through the offensive line for tackles for loss, but they need to hold up against Notre Dame's talented offensive line and allow the linebackers adequate time to hit the proper holes and make tackles. Speaking of tackles, the Wolverine defenders need to do a better job of wrapping up the ball carrier.
Offensively, Denard needs to play like 2011 Notre Dame 4th Quarter Denard for the entire game. Luckily Denard probably has the most-complete set of offensive weapons that he's ever had. Funchess and Gardner are players that will need to beat up a bruised Notre Dame secondary. If the offensive line can hold up on running plays, that will open up the passing game for Denard and his receivers.
How does Notre Dame win? If all of this season's evidence is more prescient than Michigan fans hope. Notre Dame should win this game: it's at home, their resume is far superior to Michigan's, and they have more pure talent on both sides of the ball (probably; offense is a toss-up). The Fighting Irish can help themselves by forcing multiple turnovers from Denard, and if they're able to annihilate the Michigan offensive line the way the rest of their opponents have, it's going to be a long day for the Michigan offense.
Arbitrary percentage that Michigan wins: 43.79%
Final prediction. It's a close game, but Michigan's weaknesses in the first three weeks prove to be very real. The defensive line can't stop Wood from averaging over 5 yards per carry and the offensive line gets hammered by Notre Dame's front seven. Fitz Toussaint has another bad day and we all start panicking about the offensive line again as the offense fails to get in the endzone on multiple red zone trips. Denard has a good day through the air but also throws two interceptions. Michigan 23 - Notre Dame 24