Game Prediction: Michigan @ Notre Dame

Michigan and Notre Dame are two of the winningest programs in the history of college football. The first ever meeting between the two teams came all the way back in 1887 with Michigan prevailing. The latest game between the Wolverines and Fighting Irish came in 2014 with Notre Dame coming out victorious 31-0.

In that game, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner threw for 189 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions. Notre Dame QB Everett Golson, on the other hand, passed for 226 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

But a lot has changed since then. That was Brady Hoke’s last season in Ann Arbor as Jim Harbaugh was hired in 2015. U of M also changed athletic directors in that time with Warde Manuel replacing Dave Brandon. Both coach and AD were instrumental in renewing this storied rivalry after a three-year hiatus.

As for the upcoming game Saturday, both teams have high expectations heading into the 2018 season. Notre Dame is ranked 12th in the Associated Press poll while Michigan is ranked 14th.

I think there are two keys that will decide the winner Saturday in South Bend. The first is the play of the quarterbacks. While most would say that QBs are almost always instrumental in the success of their team, both of these squads will ride or die with the play of their signal caller throughout the season.

I’ll first start off by looking at Shea Patterson, the Ole Miss transfer, who was named Michigan’s starting quarterback by Harbaugh recently. Patterson, a junior, had mild success last year in the Southeastern Conference. In seven games (he missed the rest of the season due to a knee injury), he threw for 2,259 yards with a 64% completion percentage. He also threw for 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Not the greatest stats, but respectable in his conference.

Next comes Brandon Wimbush, the senior for Notre Dame. In 12 games last year, Wimbush passed for 1,870 yards while completing 49.5% of his throws. But he is also a threat on the ground as well. Last season he rushed for 803 yards and ran for 14 touchdowns. But the thing many Notre Dame fans will remember about last season is Wimbush getting replaced by Ian Book, who led the Irish to a win over LSU, in last years Citrus Bowl.

Both of these quarterbacks come into this game with something to prove. Patterson wants to prove to himself to the university and fans that he can be “the guy” for Michigan as many believe the quarterback play has been what has been holding them back the last couple years. Wimbush wants to show that coach Brian Kelly made the right decision by naming him the starter and that the Citrus Bowl performance was a fluke. It’ll be interesting to see what QB out-duels the other come kickoff.

The next key to the game has got to be the defensive units for both teams. They are both projected to be some of the top defenses in the country this year, and with good reason.

Michigan returns nine starters on the defensive side of the ball that ranked 3rd overall in total defense. Players like defensive tackle Rashan Gary, linebacker Devin Bush, and cornerback Lavert Hill are expected to lead the charge for the maize and blue. All three are potential All-Americans and NFL players.

Notre Dame returns nine starters on defense after ranking 31st in the nation in scoring defense last season. Their leaders include junior cornerback Julian Love and senior lineman Jerry Tillery.

This game will answer a lot of questions for one fan base and leave the other asking even more. Is Shea Patterson the answer? Should Brandon Wimbush be the starter? Is this Michigan defense as good as advertised? Can Harbaugh win a rivalry game? A big game?

So now for the prediction. I think this game will be a close one, a lot closer than some think. I believe Shea Patterson struggles early on and is rattled by the fans in South Bend. But, ultimately he will find his groove late and lead a scoring drive or two in the second half. I think Gary, Bush and the rest of that tenacious defense for Michigan will come to play and force Wimbush into a turnover or two late in the game as U of M starts the season 1-0.

Michigan 24, Notre Dame 17.

 

 

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Can Michigan Win Their Next Two?

Jim Harbaugh’s 8-2 Michigan Wolverines are currently on a three-game win streak (Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland), all in which they beat by two or more possessions. Redshirt freshman QB, Brandon Peters, has seen the start in two of the last three games, but was given significant playing time against Rutgers after struggles from John O’Korn.

Peters through three games: (28 for 46, 329 yards, 4 touchdowns, 60.9 completion percentage, 7.15 yards per attempt, long: 35).

The run game has also been lifted since Peters stepped under center; the two biggest contributors to the latest emergence of the rushing attack are both sophomores, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans.

Higdon this season: (129 attempts, 854 yards, 6.6 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns, long: 77); Evans this season: (104 attempts, 569 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns, long: 67)

The quality of defenses in the past three games haven’t exactly been A-list, but it’s nice to finally see Michigan establish the identity they’ve been looking for. This is just what this team needs before playing in this two-game skid against top teams, undefeated Wisconsin and an Ohio State team coming off an absolute rout over Michigan State.

There were concerns in the 2nd half of the Maryland matchup on Saturday; despite winning in convincing fashion, 35-10, the Terps were able to outgain Michigan in total yards (340-305). It was evident that Michigan took their foot off the gas coming out of the locker room into the 3rd quarter. Maryland was also able to outscore the Wolverines in the 2nd half, 10-7, went on a 10-0 run deep into the fourth quarter.

Should Michigan fans worry about their incapability to put a stake in Maryland yesterday, or are they simply over thinking it?

Either way, the schedule faces its most difficult consecutive weeks to date. Michigan still has a sliver of a chance to win the East, but I’d imagine the realistic goal for this team is what’s in front of them, finishing the regular season 10-2.

Since 2006, Michigan is 0-15 against top 25 ranked teams in road match-ups. The last two top ten ranked teams that Michigan has beaten? Both were against Wisconsin at home (2008, 2016).

This Saturday, Michigan will play the only undefeated team left in the conference, top 5 ranked Wisconsin. As of today, the Wolverines are just an 8.5 point spread underdog, which is awfully generous in my opinion. The Big Ten West front-runners have convincingly handled every team put in front of them this season, top wins over Northwestern and Iowa, who both cracked the CFP top 25 in week 11.

The following Saturday, November 25th, Michigan will host Ohio State in the Big House. The last time Michigan beat their rival was November 26th, 2011 in Ann Arbor when current Cincinnati head coach, Luke Fickell, was the interim head coach for the Buckeyes. The 21st century has not been a kind one for Michigan in regards to this rivalry, and if we’re being honest, it hasn’t been kind to Michigan for multiple reasons. Despite already having two losses with two more games left to play in the regular season, Ohio State has looked good for the most part this season and Michigan simply hasn’t.

The S&P probability is giving Michigan just an 8.7 percent chance to win the next two, a 41.6 percent chance to win just one of the next two, and a 49.7 percent chance to lose both and finish 8-4 on the regular season.

Michigan’s offense has been primarily executing, most especially in the run game, which is an important key for success in their next two games. Very crucial for this unit to build off the recent success and to stick with a similar game-plan which is a run-first, pass conservatively scheme, nothing too fancy.

There’s nothing that could lift a young quarterback’s confidence like coming off the bench and assisting in running the table for a Michigan team that was facing offensive struggles prior to him seeing the field. Brandon Peters is the more favorable candidate for the starting job in 2018, will likely have a competition against a likely healthy Wilton Speight. Win or lose the next two, Peters will gain experience and get a better feel for what type of intensity college football has to offer.

Don Brown’s defense has done their job in just about every week except for the Penn State game that displayed multiple schematic issues. Khaleke Hudson has been a significant play-maker for this unit in replacing Jabrill Peppers at the viper position. A young secondary that initially had some communication issues seems to now be hitting their stride, defensive backs like sophomores David Long and Lavert Hill are making names for themselves as of late.

There isn’t a whole lot of reason for odds-makers in Vegas to put any confidence into Michigan in the next two weeks. They’re underdogs this Saturday, and will surely be underdogs next week for the Ohio State game, the odds will be stacked against them.

As for a fan-base who has had quite the emotional roller-coaster with their beloved head coach, they crave these potential signature wins over Wisconsin on the road, and beating Ohio State at home. These wins would not only make Michigan fans believe in Harbaugh again, but it should also silence his doubters. One of the biggest issues that fans and anaylysts have had over Jim Harbaugh is his poor record against rivals thus far at Michigan, which is 1-4.

Winning out would lift Jim Harbaugh to his third consecutive ten win season at his alma mater and would be entering 2018 with a talented team and a confident, sophomore quarterback who has 6 games of experience under his belt. Even though Michigan’s chance at the Big Ten is highly an unlikely one, there’s still a lot at stake for the remainder of the season.

 

Don Brown’s “Pressure of the Week” – Air Force

by Mark Edwards

With the unique and highly effective triple option offense of the Air Force Academy entering the Big House, Michigan Defensive Coordinator Don Brown must have felt like it was Halloween.  With his normal “heavy blitz” apparel being replaced by a “read-react disciplined approach”, this week I’m going to feature the discipline of the Michigan defense while also the speed of the back seven.

THIS WEEK’S PRESSURE

SITUATION:  2nd & goal, Air Force ball on Michigan’s 6 yard line

TIME:  8:16 left in fourth quarter

WHY THIS SERIES:  Michigan held a nine-point lead in front of an anxious Michigan Stadium.  Air Force had driven the ball to the doorstep of “full-blown” panic among the fan base who doesn’t understand why we should be upset with Dave Brandon for scheduling triple-option service academies.  It was at this point that Don Brown’s unit needed to step up and make a stand.

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FRAME #1

OFFENSIVE FORMATION: Double Wing Ram (meaning you have four offensive linemen to the right of the center)

AIR FORCE  PERSONNEL: 32 (3 running backs, 2 tight ends)

DEFENSIVE BASE:  3-3

MICHIGAN PERSONNEL NOTES:  Michigan has three down linemen with linebacker Noah Furbush #59 standing up in the A gap.  Linebacker Devin Bush Jr (#10) is four yards from the ball while fellow linebacker Mike McCray (#9) is lined up in the B gap at three yeards.  This is obviously a reaction to the unbalanced formation from Air Force.  Note that cornerbacks Lavert Hill (#24) and David Long (#22) are one yard from the line of scrimmage in a contain shade.  Lastly, Michigan viper Khaleke Hudson (#7) is the spy at seven yards over the center.

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FRAME #2

What is Air Force doing here?  Air Force has motion wingback #33 Tim McVey to the right, which is the motion for the triple option pitch back as well as their toss sweep motion.

What has changed:  While the ball hasn’t been snapped, Michigan S Tyree Kinnel (#23) is rotating back to the middle of the field.  Devin Bush Jr. is already running downhill to the weak side A gap.  Lastly, Hudson is rotating down to the C gap on the strong side, which is where the motion is headed.

Michigan’s pressure:  The only pressure is the Bush attack on the weak side A gap.  The secondary rotation is predetermined and was consistently used in the red zone in yesterday’s game.

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FRAME #3

What is Air Force doing here?  Now that the ball is snapped, Air Force is running their power toss play.  It is called power toss because they are pulling the right guard (#74) , right tackle (#77) and the extra tackle (#60) to the top of the screen.  They have blocked down with their tight end, which is meant to set the alley for the RB to run through.  The wing back (#12) is arcing to the flat defender, which is Michigan safety Josh Metellus (#14).

What has changed:  The Michigan defensive line has been cut blocked on the bottom of the screen.  Air Force is attempting to “reach and run” to the top of the screen which let’s Hurst (#73) and Winovich (#15) to run wide to the top of the screen.  McCray is spying the fullback who stepped to the weak side.

Michigan’s pressure:  Bush Jr. has blitzed away from the play and is forced to redirect in pursuit.  Hudson is still coming downhill in an inside-out relationship.  Metellus is attempting to run wide as his job is to set the edge.

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FRAME #4

What is Air Force doing here?  Air Force has lost the point of attack.  Michigan CB Lavert Hill has defeated the extra tackle (#60) and the Air Force RB is now going to be forced to bounce the play to the edge.  This play was designed to run up the hashmark much to the chagrin of every rocket football coach who tosses the ball the fast kid who runs around everybody.

What has changed:  Besides Hill, Hudson (#7) is now unblocked and running through the C gap while Metellus is still in position to force the run to go inside of him.  Why does Metellus do that?  His job is to make Air Force cut the ball back to the pursuit (Look at #73, #15 #7 and #9.

Michigan’s pressure:  While I don’t know if I would call it pressure, I’d say that the pressure come from Hudson because Hill’s technique/responsibility is so well-played.

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FRAME #5

What is Air Force doing here?  They have lost 5 yards and left themselves with a 3rd & goal from the 11 yard line, which is what this offense is ill-suited to conquer.

What has changed:  Hill (#24) has defeated #60’s block and it is now a gang tackle, which is a true sign that you are defeating the triple option.  In the spread offense world, it’s all about the “1 on 1” match up.

PRESSURE OF THE WEEK DIAGRAM

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FINAL THOUGHT:

I cannot tell you how impressed I was with Michigan’s defense and their ability to be disciplined.  I know that many fans left less than entertained but when you play a triple option offense, this is how you win.  Handling your assignment with physicality is exactly what you would expect from Don Brown’s defense and this play is a great representation of it.  This play led to a failed third-down conversion and a missed field goal.  Effectively, the game was over when that kick sailed wide.