Friday, September 11, 2009

When Carcajous Attack Fighting Irish

Who wants Scotch?

Michigan vs. No. 18 Notre Dame, September 12, 2009 – Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan

When You Crave Irrational Exuberance On A Level That Only Brett Musberger Can Deliver:
“We’re here LIVE in Ann Arbor, Michigan! (Except that I’m physically really in Columbus, Ohio with Kirk Herbstreit, preparing for the USC-Ohio State shootout!). Alright fans, Rich Rodriguez and the 1-0 2009 Michigan football team will being going head to head with Charlie Weis and the 18th ranked, 1-0 Notre Dame Fighting Irish! This is a major statement game for both teams for the following reasons:

1.) Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez is under the gun for a 4-9 record so far at Michigan. Recent allegations of violating NCAA rules regarding practice rules has generated a lot of negative publicity to Rodriguez and the Wolverine football program.

2.) Rich Rodriguez is 0-2 versus Notre Dame all-time, including a 24-34 loss to the Irish in 2001 while coaching West Virginia his first season, and last year’s 17-35 loss in South Bend during his first season at Michigan.

3.) Fighting Irish coach Charlies Weis is on the hot seat at Notre Dame for his rather unimpressive 30-21 record since 2005 and for no meaningful victories over quality opponents since that first year. Weis is 2-2 versus Michigan since 2005. On the road against Michigan his troops are 1-1.

4.) In the modern era (the series restarted in 1978) Notre Dame leads Michigan in this series 13-11-1.

5.) The home team in this game has enjoyed considerable advantage. Michigan is 7-5 at home and 4-8-1 on the road versus Notre Dame since 1978.

6.) Both schools are unbeaten heading into this game for the first time since 2006.”

Notre Dame is the more veteran ball club this fall with 9 starters back on offense and 6 starters on defense, including star junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Michigan is a much more youthful team from head to toe although the Wolverines do have 9 starters returning on offense and about 7 starters on defense.

Three Great Reasons to Wipe That Ridiculous Smile Off Your Face:

1. “Jimmah” Clausen, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd
Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen has been dead-eye accurate the last two games against WAC defensive secondaries of Hawai’i and Nevada. Michigan’s secondary isn’t WACish from a talent perspective, but from an experience standpoint, yeah, Michigan can look quite a bit like a WAC defensive secondary come to think of it. Golden Tate and Michael Floyd are outstanding talents with track speed and good hands. Floyd had 3 touchdown snares last week (47 yards per catch!) and Tate has a 19.7 yards per catch average going so far. Also, the Fighting Irish have a solid TE in Kyle Rudolph and numerous other dangerous targets to soften Michigan at the edges, including Robby Paris, Deion Walker and tailback Armando Allen. Suffice it to say, Charlie Weis is going to attack Michigan’s weakest link: the Michigan safeties and banged up corners (Cissoko, J.T. Floyd). It’s going to take a Herculean effort of the Michigan defensive line and secondary to prevent what will very likely be at least 2 to 3 long touchdown bombs from Clausen.

2. The Fighting Irish Running Game
This Notre Dame offensive line has been much maligned since Weis has been head coach in South Bend. They gave up 21 sacks last year, but this fall Notre Dame has 4 highly talented senior offensive lineman and 1 sophomore guard in the starting lineup. They’ll be rotating in some players at tackle apparently, but this could be the year Weis finally gets the running game going with tailbacks Armando Allen, Jonas Gray, Theo Riddick, and their big fullback Robert Hughes. This group may not get the attention it deserves. Although Notre Dame has struggled to run the ball well against Michigan (and everybody else?) since 2006, I simply do not trust this Fighting Irish team to suck at running the football for a 4th straight year against Michigan.

3. Threat of Michigan Injuries
I stated for the Western Michigan game preview that this item will probably become a permanent addition for all of Michigan game previews in 2009, regardless of the opponent. I have yet to be proven wrong. Michigan will probably not have the services of starting wide receiver Junior Hemingway (ankle) this Saturday, and veteran tailback Brandon Minor is still not at 100%. It’s worth noting that Michigan’s secondary lost cornerback Boubacar Cissoko to injury in the latter half of the WMU game, though he is slated to play on Saturday. With Cissoko out of the game Michigan took it on the chin with a Hiller to Nunez touchdown bomb of 73 yards. Yikes! Any injury to the Michigan secondary versus Notre Dame spells almost certain death for the Wolverines’ chances of victory. That’s how bad things are on the Wolverine depth chart. And just to make sure that Michigan fans have a sufficient number of things to worry about for this Saturday’s game against Notre Dame, the Wolverine team walks a similarly precarious plank for the defensive line and linebacker positions as well. Any injuries there, start playing taps.

" I'm kind of a big deal. I embarrass the hell out of evil Leprechauns on national TV.
Oh, and I like Scotch."

When Carcajous Attack! On Defense:
OK, so Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson knows what it takes to beat Notre Dame. It wasn’t pretty, but his overmatched Syracuse team shocked Weis and the Fighting Irish in South Bend in 2008 24-23 with a far less experienced team. Of course, there’s no way in hell Weis and his Fighting Irish will discount a 1-0 Michigan team to the same degree. Michigan played well on defense last week against a pretty decent offensive football team in Western Michigan, featuring a dangerous quarterback like Tim Hiller (albeit gimpy from ACL surgery), a big, veteran offensive line, and a 1,000 yard rusher in Brandon West. The big difference with Notre Dame is at wide receiver, where Michael Floyd and Golden Tate are big play machinery for Weis’s NFL style offense. In my estimation, Michigan’s safeties Michael Williams and Troy Woolfolk are going to have to play out of their minds on Saturday for Michigan to pull off a win because Weis is going to go for the jugular early in this game to get the lead and take the Michigan crowd out.

The one thing that might favor Michigan slightly on defense in this game is Greg Robinson’s flexible defensive sets and the 4 man front of Brandon Graham, Ryan Van Bergen, Craig Roh and Mike Martin. If these guys can get penetration and pressure Clausen consistently, then Michigan has a good chance to keep the game close. Notre Dame is very balanced on offense, however, with good possession receivers to soften the edges, a capable TE to confuse the Michigan middle, and good tailbacks that are dangerous on screens and draw plays. Jimmy Clausen is way more mobile than Hiller was, so this will be a test for the Wolverine linebackers and DL as well. Then there is the deep threat of Floyd and Tate. Both can pull Michigan’s heart out of its ribcage in a matter of seconds. The Wolverines are going to need one hell of a creative defensive game plan to stop this kind of balance that the Irish will bring to the football field this Saturday. Michigan’s defense is unlikely to play like USC did last year. But they just might play as good or better than Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Stanford and Navy did last year against the Fighting Irish. And with that disorganized level of play, this young Michigan team has a shot at keeping the score close enough to win the football game.

Denard Robinson says: "Phone booth? What?...No, baby, just dial 1-800-TOUCHDOWN!"

When Carcajous Attack! On Offense:

I was surprised with Notre Dame’s 35-0 shellacking of Chris Ault’s Pistol Offense of Nevada last week in South Bend. Star quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a dual threat player, was just 52% from the field for 149 yards with 0 TDs, 2 INTs. He was also sacked twice. However, Nevada tailback Vai Taua did rush for 114 yards in this game with a 6.3 ypc average. I have few doubts that Michigan, given the robust 2009 theme of Gulo Gulo Semper Accursus, is going to do all they can to establish the running game early, eat game clock, and keep Clausen and Co. off the field as much as possible. If Michigan can’t run the football against this Notre Dame defense on Saturday, then this game will be a very long one for UM. Michigan quarterbacks played fairly well last week against an anemic WMU defensive front and horribly inexperienced secondary. Notre Dame’s defense is going to be much better than that. What’s more, given Notre Dame’s potential offensive firepower, the level of urgency is going to be very high for Rich Rodriguez’s offense to score touchdowns in this game not field goals and to get an early lead. This would allow the Wolverines defense to pin their ears back and maintain their aggressiveness. Jon Tenuta is the Notre Dame defensive coordinator and will no doubt have his linebackers unit blitzing on almost every down against Forcier and Robinson to try to shake the freshmen. Michigan’s offensive line must play significantly better than it did last week to establish the running game and protect against these blitzes. Michigan’s counter to Tenuta’s blitzing will likely be many more QB waggles, rollouts, screens and tight end dump passes over the middle to take advantage of the over pursuit. Michigan had success last week attacking the edges with bubble screens and hitches, and quarterback draws. I would expect this to continue again this week. Michigan will need to beware of cornerback Robert Blanton and safety Kyle McCarthy as both had picks from last week’s game versus Nevada. A couple of things Notre Dame needs to look out for this week will be the possible return of tailback Brandon Minor and the resurgence of the Michigan downfield passing game to TE Kevin Koger and WR Greg Mathews. Michigan is not explosively fast at the receiver positions, but Forcier is an accurate thrower on the run and in the pocket, while the Wolverine receiving targets are many, and talented enough to inflict plenty of damage. By the way, it should surprise no one (except hopefully Notre Stain) to see some newly concocted trick plays introduced in this game by Rich Rodriguez, Rod Smith and Calvin Magee.

The Last Time:
Michigan last played Notre Dame was on September 13, 2008. In this game, Charlie Weis injured his knee severely by one of his own players careening into the sideline. But little else went wrong for Notre Dame as the Fighting Irish capitalized on an incredible avalanche of Wolverine errors (7 fumbles, 4 fumbles lost, 2 interceptions, and 7 penalties for -79 yards) resulting in a 17-35 Irish victory over Michigan. Interestingly, Michigan out gained the Fighting Irish in this contest with 388 yards to 260 yards by the Irish. Michigan also had 21 first downs compared to Notre Dame’s 14, and the Wolverines were slightly better on 3rd down conversions as well (33% for UM, 25% for ND).

Yes, as stated above, Rich Rodriguez has never beaten Notre Dame in his coaching career. Ever since West Virginia lost a shot to play in the Gator bowl in 2002 due to the Irish’s enigmatic conference affiliation (Independent/Big East), Rich Rod has about the same affinity for Notre Dame as Bo Schembechler ever did.

What to Expect:
On paper Notre Dame should win this football game, I'm sorry to say. And they could very well do it in decisive fashion. The Fighting Irish have a veteran defense and a good defensive coordinator (Jon Tenuta), a veteran offensive line, 2 outstanding NFL-esque wide receivers in Floyd and Tate, a five-star, 3 year starter returnee at quarterback in Jimmy Clausen. The Fighting Irish also have a decent kicking game (Freshman PK Nick Tauch 5 for 5 on PATs, Senior punter Eric Maust 40.7 yard punting average).

So what does Charlie Weis and Fighting Irish fans have to worry about?

Well, first, this game is being played in Michigan Stadium. Since 1978, the visiting team historically doesn’t fare well in this series. Second, the Wolverine defense showed considerable improvement (aggressiveness and relentlessness) versus an experienced MAC offense last weekend and the talented pro-style QB Tim Hiller. Third, the Wolverines have something special going on at quarterback this fall with big play machines of their own in Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Fourth, there is the x-factor for Michigan’s offense this week, which could involve return of star tailback Brandon Minor. Tenuta’s blitzing defense still gave up 150 yards rushing and 150 yards passing last week and 5.5 yards per play against a decent WAC team. It also surrendered 100 yards rushing to the Wolfpack’s best rusher, tailback Vai Taua. Michigan is going to move the ball on the Irish this Saturday one way or the other, which could mean trouble.

If Michigan’s defense can somehow harass and pressure Clausen and prevent enough big plays from the evil wonder twin wideouts Michael Floyd and Golden Tate, then I like Michigan’s chances of keeping this game close and down to the wire.

Of course, if they do, then it’ll be down to which sides has the fewest penalties and turnovers and the best special teams play (field goals) to determine the final result.

Yeah, I said it. That means field goals!

Arrgggghhh! Run away?

We all remember with horror names like Chuck Male, Harry Oliver, John Carney, Reggie Ho. Well, this year the shoe is on Notre Dame freshman place kicker Nick Tausch who was perfect last week on PATs, but has yet to try a field goal for Notre Dame.

Michigan has senior place kicker Jason Olesnavage, who was 4 for 4 on PATs and was perfect on a long 44 yard field goal versus Western Michigan.

WCA Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Michigan 24

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