Preview: Notre Dame

Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
September 10, 2011, 8:00 PM

TV: ESPN-National (Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit, Erin Andrews)
Radio: WWJ-950 AM, WTKA-1050 AM, Sirius/XM 91 (Frank Beckmann, Jim Brandstatter, Doug Karsch)
Line: UM +4.5
Over/Under: 55.5
Series Record: UM leads 22-15-1
Last Meeting: 2010: UM 28 - ND 24
UM Record/Rank: 1-0 (0-0), NR
ND Record/Rank: 0-1, NR
Forecast: Party Cloudy, 71º-75º, 40% chance of rain showers.

A little background
No two programs in the country can claim to have had more cultural influence throughout the history of college football than Michigan and Notre Dame. Their first ever match-up was in 1887. Michigan won the first 8 contests. Since then, Michigan has won 14 games and Notre Dame has won 15. They tied in 1992.

Michigan has won 4 of the last 5 games between these two schools. The latest coming in South Bend last year 28-24. Over the last 22 matchups, however, the favorite to win is only 7-14-1. Right now, Michigan is a 4.5 point underdog.

As we all know, both teams will be wearing throwback legacy jerseys courtesy of Adidas who supplies both schools with unis, shoes and stuff. Expect it to seem like National Adidas Day this Saturday.

Cue over-produced apparel company promo photo:

Cue over-produced apparel company promo video:

Hype video? Hype Video.

Statistical Breakdown (based on week 1 stats)
Obvious disclaimer. Notre Dame played 4 full quarters of football, Michigan played less than 3. Please consider that when viewing this breakdown.
MICHIGANValue (Nat. Rank)Value (Nat. Rank)NOTRE DAMEAdvantage
Rushing Offense (ypg)190.00 (40)126.00 (57)Rushing Defense (ypg)PUSH
Passing Offense (ypg)98.00 (103)128.00 (21)Passing Defense (ypg)ND+++
Pass Efficiency132.52 (52)106.84 (46)Pass Efficiency DefensePUSH
Total Offense (ypg)288.00 (91)254.00 (25)Total Defense (ypg)ND++
Scoring Offense (ppg)34.00 (T-51)23.83 (52)Scoring Defense (ppg)PUSH
Rushing Defense (ypg)96.00 (42)117.00 (79)Rushing Offense (ypg)MICH
Passing Defense (ypg)183.00 (50)391.00 (5)Passing Offense (ypg)ND+
Pass Efficiency Defense114.14 (54)131.55 (55)Pass EfficiencyPUSH
Total Defense (ypg)279.00 (34)508.00 (15)Total Offense (ypg)PUSH
Scoring Defense (ppg)10.00 (23)20.00 (79)Scoring Offense (ppg)MICH+
Net Punting Yards33.00 (83)-1.00 (107)Punt Return YardsMICH
Punt Return Yards5.00 (60)27.40 (103)Net Punting YardsMICH+
Kickoff Return Yards19.00 (T-77)16.75 (21)Kickoff Return DefenseND+
Kickoff Return Defense31.33 (107)22.00 (52)Kickoff Return YardsND+
Turnover Margin3.00 (T-9)-5.00 (112)Turnover MarginMICH+++
Penalty Yds/Game5.00 (3)73.00 (95)Penalty Yds/GameMICH+++
Sacks2.00 (T-37)2.00 (58)Sacks AllowedPUSH
Sacks Allowed0.00 (T-1)2.00 (T-37)SacksMICH
Redzone Offense (%)100.00 (T-1)100.00 (T-62)Redzone Defense (%)MICH++
Redzone Defense (%)66.67 (T-29)33.33 (T-111)Redzone Offense (%)MICH+++
Redzone TD %100.00 (T-1)33.33 (T-20)Redzone TD % DefenseMICH
Redzone TD % Defense33.33 (T-20)33.33 (T-98)Redzone TD %MICH++
3rd Down Conv. %50.00 (T-24)14.29 (T-2)3rd Down Defense %ND
3rd Down Defense %54.55 (107)35.71 (T-77)3rd Down Conv. %ND+
1st Downs Per Game17.00 (T-86)20.00 (T-66)1st Downs Allowed Per/GmND
1st Downs Allowed Per/Gm17.00 (T-42)27.00 (T-10)1st Downs Per GameND+

Difference less than 20 in national rank = Push
Difference more than 20 in national rank = Team
Difference more than 40 in national rank = Team+
Difference more than 60 in national rank = Team++
Difference more than 80 in national rank = Team+++

Common Opponents

When Michigan has the ball
Anyone who watched Michigan's offense last week, first of all would have probably really liked to have seen a fourth quarter. We ran 39 whole plays last, yeah. We moved the ball well...methodically at first, as we only had one drive in the first quarter. Couple that with 2 (!) defensive touchdowns and a resurgence of longer-yardage plays as the game wore on, and we got to see less and less of the offense.

But what we did see, was good. Things weren't that different from 2010. We ran roughly 70% shotgun, and had a fair share of designed runs for #16. So basically, our offense is about eighty percent of what we ran last year, and twenty percent Denard under-center and power running game.

Leading the charge in that running game will be, once again, Fitz Toussaint. He started last week, and led Michigan in runs and yards. He, along with Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith should all see the field again this week.

Along the line, Michigan looked very strong against a pretty decent WMU defensive front, even with LG Ricky Barnum out. Michael Schofield looked good in his spot. For all we know, Barnum should be back this week. We are switching away from a zone-blocking scheme to a more of what we had in the hay days of Lloyd-ball. I believe the strength of our line is the interior with Molk, Barnum and Omameh. But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Lewan and Huyge at the tackles who also played very well last week.

Notre Dame brings a solid defensive line to the Big House. Ethan Johnson is a good DE for ND, but two incoming freshman are probably better. And those are true freshmen defensive ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt. They will compete.

But by far the star of this defense is junior LB Manti Te'o. Experts think he could be a Butkus contender. But it's games like this where he'll need to make a strong case for himself. He is joined by junior Carlo Calabrese and senior Darius Fleming. This group has the potential to be great. But they've struggled against strong running teams. Navy had a field day against Notre Dame last did Michigan.

Make no mistake, Denard may not have a 500-yard day like he did in 2010, but he will test this defense, especially Te'o early and often. I expect Notre Dame to be itching to get a shot at redemption against Shoelace.

In the secondary, again, there's potential. But this group has yet to be proven. If you just look at stats, it's good but not that good. ND finished 54th in the nation in pass defense last year, and eight teams had more than 220 yards of passing against them. They will rely on a strong pass rush and hope the QB makes mistakes. Leading this group are the safeties senior Harrison Smith and junior Zeke Motta. Corners are seniors Gary Gray and Robert Blanton.

When Notre Dame has the ball
It's been widely reported that sophomore Tommy Rees will start ahead of Dayne Crist on Saturday. If it's anything like last year though, it won't really matter as every Notre Dame QB saw the field against us. But I do expect Rees to start and play the most. Last week he did a decent job in their loss to USF. He went 24 of 34 for 296 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. He did have a 70% completion percentage with a 151.36 passer rating...but his two interceptions came at very inopportune times.

Crist did play in the game last week, going 7 of 15 for 95 yards and a pick.

Leading the Irish rushing attack is junior Cierre Wood who had 21 carries for 104 yards and one touchdown last week.

The receiver corps are led by senior Michael Floyd. He's a superstar who can easily carry an entire unit. Not doubt that he will be the main target for Rees this Saturday, as he always is. Last week he had 12 catches for 154 yards and 2 TDs. Anyone putting up those kinds of numbers, I don't care who you're playing, has got to be a focus for any defense. Notre Dame's chances of winning this game are dependent on how well Rees can get the ball to Floyd. He's not a burner, but he can jump, so that's a huge bonus for a QB who could be scrambling a lot.

Along the line, this is where Michigan can really make things happen. Notre Dame has a slew of good OL prospects out of high school, but that hasn't really translated into success for the Irish up front. We saw this last year when we had pretty good success disrupting the Irish attack and getting to the QB. This led to three ND QBs seeing the field last year. The Irish will need to get better play out of their seniors. Center Braxton Cave, RG Trevor Robinson and RT Taylor Dever lead this experienced group.

For Michigan, the gameplan is pretty simple. We need to get to the QB. We showed some pretty effective blitzes against WMU last week and that really had an effect on Alex Carder, who was having a pretty good game early. If we can do that this week, combined with a very loud stadium, it should be enough to get Rees a little rattled.

When a foot meets a football
Notre Dame relies heavily on Theo Riddick for both kickoff and punt returns. And if Michigan can't shore up their kickoff coverage, this could be an area where we struggle again. Riddick had 2 kick returns last week for an average of 27 yards. Helping out with kick returns is Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth.

Place kicking for Notre Dame is David Ruffer who is one of the best kickers in the country. He hit 18 of 19 field goals last year, including a couple 50-yarders against Pitt and Miami. He missed a 30-yarder last week in his lone attempt.

Punter Ben Turk punted five times last week and averaged 34.2 yards per.

For Michigan, Matt Wile handled punting and kickoff duties last week and did pretty good with both. His kickoffs were pretty strong even with a stiff wind. His punts were a little erratic in terms of consistent yardage, but all-in-all, he handled himself well in Hagerup's absence.

Place-kicking for Michigan was handled by Brendon Gibbons who only attempted PATs. One was blocked.

Returning the ball for Michigan were Kelvin Grady on kickoffs and Jeremy Gallon on punts. I don't see any reason for any changes to be made here. Although Kelvin needs to settle down a bit as he almost tackled himself because he was running so out of control.

Gut feeling
Overall, it's tough not not be amped for this game. It's going to be a truly remarkable experience to witness the first ever night game kickoff under the lights at the Big House. The energy in the stadium is going to be off the charts. I don't think anyone really knows what it's going to be like, and I don't think there's any way to really prepare yourself. It will be intense.

But once the game gets underway and the teams settle down, it's going to be a battle...especially up front. I think this game is won along the lines. Michigan has the clear advantage on both sides of the ball in that respect. I don't think the Notre Dame offense is going to be able to overcome the atmosphere and noise, let alone the multiple blitzes that they're going to see from Michigan. Rees is going to have to be every bit as good as advertised to be able to lead the Irish through this game.

Michigan and Notre Dame enter this game going different directions. For Michigan, a good win over a decent WMU squad, led by a defense that really made a statement by playing better as the game wore on gave this embattled group a nice shot of confidence that was sorely needed. For the Irish, they played about as ugly as you can play against USF and really came out flat in their opener. For this game to go the Irish's way, they're going to have to play their best game and overcome a lot of obstacles in their way. But they do have the talent, at least on paper, to do so.

No doubt turnovers and special teams are crucial in games like this. Seems like turnovers always play a huge part in games like this. I also wouldn't put it past Kelly or Hoke to try and pull a rabbit out of a hat with a trick play at some point. A fake punt, onside kick...something.

I think Michigan wins this game (shocker), although it should be a close one. Michigan - Notre Dame games over the last few years have been extraordinarily great games...and I don't see this year's contest being any different. The atmosphere will be amazing, and these two teams will come to play.

Related coverage:
Hoke Presser (9/5), ND Week Notes
B1G Breakdown: Week 2
Greg Mattison and Al Borges Presser (9/6)
'Under the Lights' Presser
Hoke Presser (9/7)

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