Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Return to Relevance for Notre Dame/Michigan Rivalry

Both Notre Dame and Michigan started their seasons on the right foot this past Saturday with home blowout victories. The Irish defeated Nevada 35-0 while Michigan blew out Western Michigan 31-7 in week one. Both teams started on the right foot in seasons they hope to turn heads and regain national respect on the football field.

Michigan is powered by a two headed monster at quarterback between Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, both freshman who were brought to Michigan by Rich Rodriguez. Forcier is the throwing quarterback (13/20, 179 yds, 3 TD vs WMU) while Robinson is in as a run-first threat (2/4 for 18 yards passing, 11 rushes for 74 and a touchdown vs WMU). Both quarterbacks are freshman and didn't see pressure from Western Michigan like they will see from Jon Tenuta and the Notre Dame defense this Saturday. Because of this added pressure and inexperience at the D-1 level I fully expect to see multiple turnovers by this combo on Saturday, I also don't expect to see Robinson be quite the threat he was against Western Michigan just because the overall speed of Notre Dame's defense isn't even comparable to WMU's. Nick Sheridan should also see time for Michigan at some point but don't expect much put on him.

The target of choice for Forcier will be Junior Hemingway who took in five receptions for 103 yards and two scores this past weekend. Kevin Koger was responsible for the other touchdown reception for the Wolverines on Saturday.

In the passing game don't expect Michigan to be throwing deep like they did on Western Michigan. The speed of the secondary (or lack there of) allowed Michigan to throw deep with much success this past weekend, however watching the ball that Forcier throws it still takes a while to get to his WR's. Quicker safeties and corners will feast on Forcier all season if this continues to be the game plan of the Wolverines. Expect Michigan to throw into the flats and over the middle of the field Saturday, I can promise Notre Dame won't be getting beat on the deepball against Michigan.

Carlos Brown has emerged as the biggest running threat for Michigan early this year, he had 10 carries for 54 yards last week, also pulled in a catch for 14 yards. Brown has come on strong for Michigan after getting only 35 touches in all of 2008. Kevin Grady and Michael Shaw will also get touches out of the backfield for Michigan.

Michigan's offense will be to try and attack Notre Dame up the middle due to the amount of yards Notre Dame gave up there a week ago (Vai Taun 114 yards on 18 carries). Part of that was due to the amount and style of blitzing ND was doing, the other part is likely that this part of the defense isn't its strong suit.

The Wolverines will also attempt to the quick hitters to receivers because of the blitzing by Notre Dame. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson will have to think a lot more on the fly than they had to a week ago against WMU a week ago, for that it plays into Notre Dame's favor. As long as the Irish keep contain when Robinson is in the game I am not terribly scared of his legs and would love to see him have to throw the football.

How Notre Dame will Attack on Offense:
Michigan's secondary was responsible for two interceptions a week ago and held the pass heavy Broncos to 263 passing yards a week ago (73 were on one play, late in the game). Charlie Weis and company know that the Irish's strong point is their passing game, especially after seeing what Jimmy Clausen was able to do with Michael Floyd a week ago.

Michael Floyd will attract extra defenders coming off his huge performance in week one, I expect the Irish to use Golden Tate in a bigger role this week. We should see routes where Tate uses his speed and awareness to catch the ball on shorter passes while in full stride. The Irish will try and get these plays towards Tate to go for big yardage, hoping Michigan will then have to lay off of Floyd a bit.

Also by getting Tate to run shorter routes over the middle it will cause a movement in linebackers, expect to see a miscommunication at least once that allows for Kyle Rudolph to get big yardage on a play. The Notre Dame passing game is downright scary and we will see that shown again this week.

The only thing that scares me this week is that Michigan was great against the run a week ago as WMU only put up 38 yards on 24 attempts (1.6 ypc). Notre Dame won't be this bad running the ball but I'm not expecting the running game to be a game breaker, either. James Aldridge is out and Robert Hughes will play in his spot at fullback on Saturday. Expect the Irish to run many screens and Armando Allen and Jonas Gray, this to try and free up space later in the game between the tackles.

To me Notre Dame has too much experience matched with talent to fall against Michigan this weekend. You can tell in watching the Wolverines that they will have moments in the sun in 2009 but they will have growing pains along the way. The overall youth of this team will cost them some games this season but they are headed in the right direction, no question about it.

Domer Sports Report Predictions:
Nick (1-0): Notre Dame 35 Michigan 20
Mark (1-0): Notre Dame 24 Michigan 14
Brian (1-0): Notre Dame 38 Michigan 21
Steven (1-0): Notre Dame 27 Michigan 14

Go Irish, Beat Skunkbears!
Nick Shepkowski works as a producer at 670 The Score in Chicago as well as a co-host of the Big Ten Network Football Podcast (right column on link). Random ND Fandom Fact: Nick has seen three ND/Michigan football games (2004, 2006, 2008) and the Irish are 2-1, he will not be in attendance on Saturday.

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