Michigan Football: Coach’s Corner — What May Happen — Michigan Wolverines vs. Notre Dame
Well now, this should be a fun and interesting game to watch and predict. That is, if there is no emotional baggage to attach to one’s psyche if the outcome does not go as planned.
There are always things that do not matter much in “analyzing” an upcoming game. It does not matter who won the game last year, the year before, or the year before. The stats from previous years do not guarantee anything, but may show a possible trend. It matters some what a particular player did the previous year. But things change. It does not matter much who is mad at whom: once the first few plays are over, then things settle down to football. What matters are this year’s variables and the players taking the field.
It does matter who the home team is and it is Notre Dame. The atmosphere counts, and just like Michigan’s magical atmosphere of last year, one should expect the same at Notre Dame stadium for this year’s under the lights event.
Sometimes things happen that can effect the best laid plans and ultra-bright critical thinking analysis, such as coughing up a punt, fumbling on the one yard line, a tip that ends up as a looky-here type of play, and etc.
However, the following makes sense about the events of Saturday and can be compressed into weighting two large factors: (1) Michigan’s willingness and ability to pass, and (2) Michigan’s ability to contain the edge against both running plays and a mobile quarterback that can break contain. And for good measure throw in to the mix that Notre Dame passed in the flat with efficiency last week.
On the surface, the front seven of Notre Dame’s defense seem very solid and frankly this group is indeed solid, containing some speed, strength, and an ability to play better against the run than previous Notre Dame teams. Many say that Notre Dame lost games that should have been won in previous years because the defense gave up too many points. But the Notre Dame offense has been guilty of giving up points or placing the defense in tough spots.
Michigan’s inside running game has been mediocre, and this part of last year’s success misses David Molk. He was the glue, the toughness and the straw that stirred the drink. Three linemen, Barnum, Mealer, and Omameh, are great team players giving it their all, but this interior group is not blowing out holes or even creases consistently. However, the quarterbacks and running backs must do their share with good reads. And Denard can turn a crease into end zone gold.
Michigan will try and run the ball on the inside read but will have to deal with massive nose tackle Louis Nix and premiere linebacker Manti Te’o. But expect the bulk of Michigan’s success to be with Denard keeping the ball on the wildcat look where he gets the extra blocker and can pick through one small hole to another. This will almost certainly be Michigan’s bread and butter go-to play until Notre Dame stuffs the line to create a defensive avalanche.
Then Al Borges needs to unveil his preparation for such an obvious scenario. It could be jet sweep, it could be play action off the fake wildcat and step back, it could be a reverse, and there is a small back in Michigan’s receiver corps that can throw the ball pretty well. Something must materialize if Michigan’s two base plays break down.That brings us to the main discussion: the Michigan passing game. On the surface and through observation of the last three weeks, one may deduce that a team can throw against the Irish secondary that has faced injury adversity. And one may deduce that going against a perceived weakness of the opposition is a safe and smart way to go about things. But this match-up becomes interesting because it is one team’s perceived weakness (Notre Dame’s pass defense) against the other team’s perceived weakness (Michigan’s lack of a sound and effective passing game). So Al Borges has a choice: start off immediately and go for yardage with the passing game and attack the perceived weakness, or wait until the need demands the strategy, which is what happened last year.
Hitting the passing game at the top may just help with some read and wildcat production. Waiting until later may just be too late. This will be interesting to see the choice unfold. And of course this choice is based on the assumption that Michigan will have tough sledding in the interior running game.
The receivers and Denard have a nice opportunity to demonstrate that the passing game has shown improvement. The emphasis of the passing game will probably be a mesh of what Coach Borges has seen on film and what has been working in games and practice for Michigan. Almost certainly Michigan will attempt a few screens, bubble and out of the backfield. Almost certainly Michigan will try and throw some quick, safe outs and sit-down hooks. And Michigan will take a shot or two deep. Michigan will be aware of what worked last year and Notre Dame has worked to “correct” the big plays Michigan made down the stretch.
The second important game question is how well Michigan holds up on the edge. Cierre Wood can hit the edge as demonstrated last year and last week against Michigan State. Atkinson and Riddick both have enough power and speed to continue the running test against Michigan’s front seven. Frankly it would be a pleasant surprise if the edge held. Notre Dame has an excellent and physical offensive line.Notre Dame can hurt Michigan on the edge but also in the flat where linebackers or a lesser slot defender will be isolated. The bubble screen is a likely play and Notre Dame is very aware of the success Virginia Tech had last year with the bubble. Like Michigan, Notre Dame will take a shot or two downfield, but Coach Kelly may minimize this option due to the experience of the red shirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson. Coach Kelly is probably not willing to let Notre Dame beat Notre Dame with turnovers and concentrate on plays the Wolverines find hard to defend.
There are two athletic quarterbacks in this game that can clearly run and create broken plays. Each side will have different strategies in shutting down the mobile quarterback. Notre Dame is in better shape to form a bubble pocket around Denard, whereas Michigan may be forced to gamble and bring the heat more often.
Notre Dame ran a nice counter play last week against Michigan State and the spread has many options that offer opportunities to get outside.
Michigan’s preparation this week is a critical factor. The defense will have to rely on both knowledge and technique to hold the Irish to a reasonable point total. By contrast the offense will need to move the ball and score. One, two, three, kick may get the Blue into a comeback mode that gets out of hand.
We will see if the predictable indeed rules the game action, or if the uncertain sneaks into the mix and determines the outcome. Last year the predictable sat at the table for the first three quarters and then left upon the arrival of the unpredictable.
It seem that about every year the Notre Dame game is a swing for predicting the fortunes of Michigan football. This year the gate that will swing is on away turf and of a stronger nature. But if history means anything, the games have been close and the underdog has done well.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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