Michigan vs Notre Dame Preview 2019

"To Hell with Notre Dame"

An interesting debate has sparked between Michigan fans as to whether or not Notre Dame should even be scheduled anymore. On the one hand, it's a storied rivalry that has resulted in some of the most exciting games of the last decade of Michigan football. On the other hand, it's an overplayed non-conference game with higher probability of losing and hurting playoff implications.

I was well on-board with continuing to schedule Notre Dame until I realized that Michigan's upcoming non-conference games include Washington, UCLA, Texas, and Oklahoma. I love traveling to away games but traveling to Indiana is as dull as it gets. I can't wait to see Michigan play in the Rose Bowl and then go camping in Joshua Tree, or travel to Husky Stadium and then hike up Mt. Rainier.

In an ideal setting, this game had serious playoff implications on the line, but Notre Dame's loss to Georgia and Michigan's two losses have negated that. With that being said, what exactly is on the line here? Losing does nothing to the Big Ten standings. Winning gets Michigan into a slightly better bowl. With bragging rights being pretty much the only thing left on the table, I can see the actual reason I enjoy scheduling Notre Dame - it's just a fun game.

One concern about the College Football Playoffs is that more and more teams will shy away from scheduling big games - why risk playoff implications when you could just schedule another cupcake and let the conference schedule coast you to the top of the rankings? How many times this season, especially in the non-conference, have you asked "what good games are on?" only to look up the schedule and be disappointed? If top teams are only going to schedule sure-win games in the non-conference then why should anyone care about non-conference games at all?

Notre Dame is probably out of the playoff talks. Michigan is out of the playoff talks and most likely out of the Big Ten title contention. Very little about the outcome of tomorrow's game matters in the greater scheme of this season - and that's fine. It's probably going to rain all game, both teams will play sloppy, and in the spirit of most Michigan vs Notre Dame games it will probably be a bed of chaos. Let's stop worrying about what this game means for the entire season and just enjoy a fun game.

Notre Dame Offense vs Michigan Defense

The Irish walk into the Big House with the #13 offense in the country per SP+. QB Ian Book (#12) has 1,419 yards on the year, less than Shea Patterson, but with a 14/2 TD/INT rate. 10 of those touchdowns came against New Mexico and Bowling Green (BGSU is #127 in SP+). Throwing a touchdown on 25% of your pass attempts against one of the worst defenses in the country doesn't really say much, but Ian's games against Georgia tells a more realistic story as to what we'll see Saturday.

29/47 (61.7%) with 2 TDs and 2 INTs against the country's #5 defense. One of these interceptions was on a tipped ball, the other was a very athletic play by a Georgia defender. Those two interceptions are two of Notre Dame's only four turnovers of the season.

Yes, Notre Dame has only turned the ball over four times this season. Michigan has turned it over 14 times.

A sloppy, rainy game might add one or two to that number but the turnover battle might be the difference in this game for the Notre Dame offense.

Book's favorite target is WR Chase Claypool (#83), a towering 6'4" receiver that has 395 yards on the year. Book's next favorite target is the even taller 6'6" Tight End Cole Kmet, who has 265 yards through seven games.

Running back Jafar Armstrong (#8) has been injured, leaving Tony Jones Jr. (#6) as the go-to guy. He's averaging about 80 yards per game but only had 21 against Georgia. His 176 yards against USC helped the Irish hold onto their lead in a game that was way closer for comfort than they would've liked. Ian Book is the other running threat but with only 188 yards on the year (-11 vs Virginia). Book is about as much a run threat as Shea Patteron is right now (for better or for worse).

Notre Dame's offense is efficient and rarely turns the ball over. They're a high-ish tempo spread team that has been vulnerable to higher-ranked defenses, and Michigan is the best defense they'll fave this season. The Irish rely mostly on their passing attack and if Saturday is a rain-game they may struggle to move the ball at times. That being said, with giant receivers/tight ends, chucking it downfield (much like last year) could be their key to a successful night. They put up 17 points against Georgia and that number seems like it might be about right, give or take a touchdown. But this rivalry likes to take any logic and chuck it away.

Notre Dame Defense vs Michigan Offense

Was that... Speed in space we saw in the 2nd half of the Penn State game??

For the first time against an opponent with a pulse, it seemed like Michigan's offense had figured something out, it just wasn't enough to overcome the first half woes against Penn State. Notre Dame's defense is not quite as scary as Penn State's, and even more importantly the offense won't have to deal with a deafening white out away environment.

Notre Dame's defense is #41 in yards per play, #21 in team sacks, and #41 in yards/game. Against the #11 and #15 offenses in the country they've surrendered 23 and 27 points respectively. At #35 in SP+, the Irish defense actually ranks sixth on Michigan's schedule. Can Michigan build on the momentum they had in the 2nd half in Beaver Stadium?

Notre Dame's 18 sacks this season ties for 21st in the country, but this stat is a bit inflated since 8 of them came against Virginia.. 12.5 of the sack total came from the defensive line. DE Julian Okwara (#42) leads the charge with four, three of which came against Virginia. DE Khalid Kareem (#53) has 3.5 sacks, 2.5 of which were against Virginia. DE Jamir Jones (#44) has three sacks, one of which, yep you guessed it, Virginia. Virginia's QB being sacked 22 times this season ranks at #115 so if anything, the takeaway here should be that Virginia's QB is having a rough season (the Cavaliers had 4 rushing yards in that game FYI).

Michigan's offensive line is not Virginia's and has so far held up well against the top half of Big Ten defensive ends. I don't anticipate Michigan's running game to be anything more than it's been all season, though. Shea should have time to let plays develop (if he doesn't get happy feet). We've yet to see if Michigan's running attack can consistently not look like running into a wall.

Notre Dame's starting linebackers account for 25% of the team's tackles. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (#6, link included because I copy/pasted from ESPN and didn't feel like spelling it out) will be the nickel/linebacker hybrid Carl Grapentine will have the most fun repeating all night. 

Safety Alohi Gilman (#11) is the one who leads the team in tackles with 38. His lone interception came against Virginia (because obviously). Safety Jalen Elliot (#21) had a pair of interceptions against New Mexico and is 5th on the team in tackles.

This game should look a lot better than last year with Shea not running for his life on every play. But the weather will make things unpredictable. Michigan's hasn't established a dominant running game against tough defenses this season and rain will neutralize a passing attack. If weather weren't a factor I might even say I'm excited about the match-up here. 

Best Case Scenario
Michigan's defense puts up a better performance than Georgia's defense did. Weather does not play a huge factor and Michigan's offense looks like it pick up where it left off in the 2nd half of the Penn State game.

Worst Case Scenario
Michigan is unable to move the ball, especially in the poor weather. If the game turns into a slopfest, it may come down to turnovers, which Notre Dame holds a clear advantage on this season. Rain is the great equalizer in football, and overall I'm not sure who that favors most in this match-up. The answer just may be the turnover margin.

The Part Where Patrick Gets the Score Completely Wrong
Michigan - 20
Notre Dame - 17

Past Highlights

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