Monday, September 05, 2005

Notre Dame v. Michigan Analysis

With the corpse of the Pitt Panthers still warm, I'll attempt to put away my elation and analyze the matchups for this week's game against the hated Skunkbears of Ann Arbor (more widely referred to as the Michigan Wolverines).

Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers v. Michigan Secondary

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:
Brady Quinn, QB, Jr., 18-27, 227 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 5 rushes, 49 yards
Rhema McKnight, WR, Sr., 3 receptions, 51 yards
Maurice Stovall, WR, Sr., 2 receptions, 27 yards

Matt Shelton, WR, Sr.
Jeff Samardzija, WR, Jr., 3 receptions, 34 yards, 1 TD
David Wolke, QB, So., 1 rush, 22 yards

Michigan Starters:

Leon Hall, CB, Jr., 5 tackles, 1 breakup, 1 INT
Grant Mason, CB, Sr., 8 tackles
Willis Baringer, FS, Jr., 4 tackles
Brandent Englemon, SS, So., 5 tackles

Darnell Hood, CB, Jr., 2 tackles, 1 forced fumble
Morgan Trent, CB, Fr.
Ryan Mundy, FS, Jr.
Jamar Adams, SS, So., 1 tackle

I'm sure that Coach Weis is drooling about the possibilities opened up by the Michigan secondary, who was supposed to be solid, but looked absolutely porous in their opening game against Northern Illinois. Michigan fans are trying to cheer themselves up, claiming that the Michigan D was playing vanilla, trying not to show anything in preparation for Notre Dame. However, no amount of complexity added to this defense will increase Michigan's awareness. Unless Michigan improves drastically, Brady could have a career day on such a big stage tossing to our receivers, who we didn't even need to use much in the win over Pitt. Look for Brady to throw for three or more passing TDs (including tosses to the Tight Ends).

Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Michigan Linebackers

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:

Darius Walker, RB, So., 20 rushes, 100 yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions, 52 yards, 1 TD (3 total TDs)
Asaph Schwapp, FB, Fr. 2 rushes, 6 yards
Anthony Fasano, TE, Sr., 4 receptions, 42 yards

Rashon Powers-Neal, FB/RB, 8 rushes, 41 yards, 3 TD, 1 reception, 18 yards
Travis Thomas, RB, 8 rushes, 40 yards
Marcus Freeman, TE
John Carlson, TE 2 receptions, 3 yards

Michigan Starters:

Prescott Burgess, OLB, Jr., 5 tackles, 1 breakup, 1 forced fumble
David Harris, ILB, Jr.
Chris Graham, ILB, So., 10 tackles, 2 TFL
LaMarr Woodley, Rush LB, Jr. 1 tackle, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble

Pierre Woods, LB, Sr., 1 tackle
Scott McClintock, LB, Sr., 9 tackles

Michigan's defensive woes in their opening game were largely due to the lack of a star in this unit. Charlie Weis' playcalling and D-Walk's ability frequently made H.B. Blades look just plain silly last week, and there is nothing I see in this linebacking corps that leads me to believe we can't do more of the same. Our improved short yardage running game behind Asaph Schwapp, utilizing Bettis-like runs by Powers-Neal, opens up many options for this group, especially play action passes to the Tight End. Look for Fasano, in particular, to have a big day. Because of the style of offense, I expect Darius to get two TDs on breakaways, in addition to a couple more between the tight ends and short yardage backs.

Notre Dame Offensive Line v. Michigan Defensive Line

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:

Ryan Harris, LT, Jr.
Dan Santucci, G, Sr.
Bob Morton, LG, Jr.
Dan Stevenson, RG, Sr.
Mark LeVoir, RT, Sr.

Scott Raridon, G, Sr.
Brian Mattes, G, Sr.
John Sullivan, C, Jr.
Michael Turkovich, T, Fr.
Paul Duncan, T, Fr.

Michigan Starters:

Gabe Watson, NT, Sr., 3 tackles
Pat Massey, DT, Sr., 1 tackle, 1 forced fumble
Jeremy Van Alstyne, DE, Jr., 2 tackles

Will Johnson, NT, Fr., 2 tackles
Alan Branch, DT, So.
Rondel Biggs, DE, Jr., 1 tackle

Notre Dame's O-line looked like a group of All-Americans against Pitt, and Michigan will be more of a challenge, but not enough to keep the Irish from having all the time they need and running lanes as wide as an interstate to run through. Notre Dame will run around the nose tackle, and through their tackles and ends. Expect Charlie to test the depth here as well, running a series of short, up the gut runs late in the first half to wear down the D-line.

Michigan Quarterback and Receivers v. Notre Dame Secondary

Edge: Michigan

Michigan Starters:

Chad Henne, QB, So. 20-31, 227 yards, 2 TD
Jason Avant, WR, Sr., 9 receptions, 127 yards, 1 TD
Steve Breaston, WR, Jr., 2 receptions, 15 yards

Matt Gutierrez, QB, Jr., 1-2, 12 yards
Carl Tabb, WR, Jr., 1 reception, 11 yards
Doug Dutch, WR, Fr.
Mario Manningham, WR, Fr.

Notre Dame's Starters:

Mike Richardson, CB, Sr., 3 tackles, 1breakup
Ambrose Wooden, CB, Jr., 12 tackles, 1 breakup
Tom Zbikowski, SS, Jr., 8 tackles, 1 breakup, 1 INT
Chinedum Ndukwe, WS, So., 3 tackles, 1 breakup, 1 fumble recovery

LaBrose Hedgemon II, CB, Jr.
Leo Ferrine, CB, So.
Terrail Lambert, CB, So.
David Bruton, S, Fr.
Kyle McCarthy, S, Fr.

Michigan's passing game will likely be the second-best we'll face this year, with sophomore phenom Chad Henne throwing to experienced and talented WRs Steve Breaston and Jason Avant. Their ability to stretch the field and glue-like hands, typical of Michigan receivers, will test the Notre Dame secondary. If Notre Dame's ability to stop the pass is anything like what they did against Pitt, expect Steve Breaston to be effectively neutralized and Avant to have an average game. However, Michigan has a running attack, putting more pressure on the safeties. Because of this, I expect Michigan's passing to have some big plays when Tommy Z is sucked in by the play fake. Breaston is far better than Greg Lee, and he's Michigan's second receiver. They will give our corners fits. I expect this unit to go for 2 touchdowns for Michigan.

Michigan Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Notre Dame Linebackers

Edge: Michigan

Michigan's Starters:

Mike Hart, RB, So., 27 rushes, 117 yards, 1 TD, 4 receptions, 49 yards, 1 TD (2 total TDs)
Brian Thompson, FB, Jr.
Tim Massaquoi, TE, Sr., 3 receptions, 19 yards

Kevin Grady, RB, Fr., 9 rushes, 42 yards, 1 TD, 1 reception, 16 yards
Will Paul, FB, So.
Tyler Ecker, TE, Jr.

Notre Dame Starters:

Brandon Hoyte, WLB, Sr., 9 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Corey Mays, MLB, Sr., 3 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack
Maurice Crum, Jr., Apache, Jr., 5 tackles

Joe Brockington, LB, Jr.
Mitchell Thomas, LB, Jr.
Anthony Vernaglia, Apache, So.
Steve Quinn, Apache, Fr.

Michigan's running attack is a scary two-headed monster. If returning starter Mike Hart is a terror on his own, true freshman backup Kevin Grady is something akin to Exorcist when the two of them are both being used. Their only drawback is that neither back had the explosive playmaking ability of, say, Reggie Bush. That said, Notre Dame's linebackers showed me something in last week's game, and they will be able to contain the running game to some extent, especially because Tom Zbikowski is always aggressive in run defense. Michigan has some great tight ends, as well, and they could give us some problems on play action, where our respect for the running game puts us out of position in defending the short pass. Improved defensive line play could drag this matchup into a near-draw, but right now Michigan gets the edge; this unit will score perhaps twice.

Michigan Offensive Line v. Notre Dame Defensive Line

Edge: Draw

Michigan Starters:

Adam Stenavich, LT, Sr.
Leo Henige, LG, Sr.
Adam Kraus, C, So.
Matt Lentz, RG, Sr.
Mike Kolodziej, RT, Jr.

Rueben Riley, T, Jr.
Alex Michell, G, Fr.
Mark Bihl, C, Jr.

Notre Dame's Starters:

Victor Abiamiri, DE, Jr., 6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack
Trevor Laws, DT, Jr., 1 tackle
Derek Landri, DT, Sr., 2 tackles
Chris Frome, DE, Sr., 1 tackle, 1 TFL, 1 sack

Brian Beidatsch, DT, Sr., 2 tackles
Dwight Stephenson, Jr., DT, Jr.
Ronald Talley, DE, So., 2 tackles
Justin Brown, DE, So., 2 tackles

I wish I could give this matchup to the Irish, but Michigan's O-line is the only one we will see that compares favorably to our own. Our D-line did OK rushing Palko last week, but the didn't wow me. This line is also pretty darn good at opening up running lanes for their backs. The Irish will be tested here, and the D-line's performance will probably be the key to this defense's ability to keep the Irish in the game. If the D-line can stop the run and rush the passer, Notre Dame will win big; if they struggle, this game could quickly turn into a shootout.

Notre Dame Head Coach v. Michigan Head Coach

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Head Coach: Charlie Weis, 1st year, 1-0

Michigan Head Coach: Lloyd Carr, 10th year, 86-26

Until somebody shows me that they can plan for Charlie's preparation, I'm going to give the edge to Charlie every time. Carr's playcalling at home is much more aggressive than when he is on the road, and he won't be scared of the Irish, but look for Charlie to make him look like he did last year against an undercoached Ty Willie team. Charlie hasn't even used his depth at receiver or tight end in any great measure, and he will open up the entire can of offensive whoop-ass against Michigan if necessary, although as much as he will refuse to admit it, Weis would love to have an ace or two up his sleeve come October 15th. The biggeest reason this edge goes to Weis is a sense that Carr's defensive coordinator is in way over his head according to several Michigan message boards, while last week against Pitt, Rick Minter showed why he deserves every penny of his salary and then some.

Final Prediction:
Notre Dame 38
Michigan 28

Notre Dame's defense struggles to stop this many offensive weapons, but they look stingy when compared to the Michigan D. This game isn't as close as the score looks, as the Irish start pounding the ball in the second half, and time runs out on Michigan's National Title hopes.

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