Houston Breakdown/Notre Dame Outlook

I break down the Houston film and talk about what it means for tomorrow's game versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

As was obvious upon viewing the game live, the defense really upped its level of play. After a week in which a number of questions arose from their previous effort versus Central Michigan, Michigan's defenders stifled the unorthodox Cougar attack at every turn. The improvements came from every position group. The defensive tackles did a much better job of maintaining position at the point of attack. The biggest improvement, however, was the collective efforts of the line and linebackers to maintain gap integrity and prevent the rushing lanes that had been so prevalent the week previous. On the infrequent occasions that there were missed gap assignments, the defensive backs, led by the Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor, cleaned things up quite nicely. For the first half of play Michigan held Houston to only three first downs, 68 total yards, and 0/8 on third down conversions. The Cougars couldn’t muster any offense in the second half other either, scoring a field goal when the game was no longer in question. Houston had very few long gainers on the day and the defense made a ton of big plays.


Defense

1st Drive

1st and 10 on Houston 29, 13:39
Jeremy LeSueur turns in a great individual play on the hitch pass to receiver. The Split end had gotten out in front to block, but Jeremy fought through it and made the solo stop behind the line of scrimmage for a one yard loss

2nd Drive

2nd and 8 on Houston 40, 10:29
Houston runs a variation on the option play where the weak side guard and tackle pull and the slot back to the same side takes the handoff from the QB in the direction of the offensive flow. If the end crashes, the QB keeps the ball and runs to the outside, opposite the run action. Otherwise, he hands it to the slotback, who follows the run action. On this play the run action was to the right and Jeremy Van Alstyne crashed hard on the play. Kolb then kept the ball and had A LOT of real estate to the wide side of the field, but Marlin Jackson came up to make the great solo tackle for no gain.

3rd Drive

2nd and 10 on Houston 41, 2:39
This looks to be a sprint right Option (pass) play. The receivers to the playside run flood patterns and the QB sprints in that direction… hitting one of them if either route is open, or running if the defenders drop off to cover the pass. There is great coverage by Michigan’s secondary as Kolb sprints to his right. Just as he gets outside the line, Reid bursts across the line of scrimmage, beating the tackle's block, and forcing Kolb to run in the other direction toward a number of Michigan defenders. This forced Houston into a blocking penalty/

3rd and 20 on Houston 31, 7:05
Hitch pass to the receiver again. The two safety’s (Shazor and Jackson) converge to jar the ball loose.

4th Drive

1st and 10 on Houston 29, 5:06
Short curl pattern over the middle to the slot back. Shazor BLOWS HIM UP! The receiver made a great play just holding on to the ball.

6th Drive

1st and 10 on UM 44, 13:15
Shotgun formation. Inside screen play to the short side wideout. Larry Stevens gets a sack on this play but he got it because of Jeremy Van Alstyne. JVA began his rush on the snap of the ball, but he sniffed out the screen and pulled up to cover the receiver. That forced Kolb to hold the ball and allowed Stevens to make the tackle for a loss of 12.

7th Drive

1st and 15 on Houston 15, 10:49
Jeremy Van Alstyne faces the same option play that he did earlier. This time his backfield pursuit angle isn’t quite as sharp. He gets good depth behind the line and maintains a position that allows him to make a play on the back or the QB. He makes contact with both as the handoff is being executed and forces a fumble.


There isn’t much that can be said about the offense that hasn’t been mentioned by many pundits already. The rushing game has been stellar thus far, while the passing game seems very much out of sync. The combination of drops and inaccurate throws have stymied any continuity from being established.


Offense

2nd Drive

3rd and 10 on UM 26, 11:20
There was a delayed blitz by the Houston middle backer. Massaquoi ran a crossing pattern through the vacated zone. John delivers the ball under stress but Massaquoi drops it.

3rd Drive

2nd and 8 on UM 26, 9:04
John Navarre has Carl Tabb open on an intermediate slant route, but he throws it behind Carl and it’s almost intercepted.

5th Drive

1st and 10 on UM 27, 3:23
Stretch play to Perry. Bass does a great job of pulling and nailing the strongside linebacker…allowing Dudley to get into the second level of the defense cleanly. Perry beats the middle linebacker to the outside and turns the corner. Dudley delivers an OUTSTANDING block on the safety, springing Perry for about 8 more yards. Total pick up of 12 yards.

2nd and 8 on UM 41, 2:38
Houston’s middle linebacker vacates his gap as he gets in position to blitz through the strongside B gap. That leaves a huge hole up the middle if he doesn’t get Underwood in the backfield. Pearson gets a great seal on the defensive tackle and Underwood runs through the weakside A gap for a big gain of 14 yards.

7th Drive

3rd and 9 11:03 on Houston 21
Square in to Braylon. John throws a pretty good pass, but it’s high. Braylon has to jump and it hits him in the hands, but he drops it.

8th Drive

2nd and 3 on UM 47, 8:39
John audibles into a deep post to Braylon. He has man coverage and beats the defender to the middle of the field. John makes an adequate throw, but the defender makes a little contact and also blocks Braylon’s view of the ball. That disrupted the play just enough for Braylon to miss bringing the pass in as it hit him in the hands. It would have been a great catch.

1st and 10 on UM 36, 6:56
Out cut to Braylon. John throws the ball too high.


Bottom Line

Houston was a valuable tune-up game for Notre Dame. It was important for the defense to regain the confidence and swagger that they possessed prior to the CMU game. The return of Shazor and Jackson obviously helped a great deal with that. Notre Dame, of course, will field a more formidable offensive attack. After viewing the tape of last year’s game I was reminded how effective Michigan’s defense actually was that day. The offense was terribly anemic in South Bend and the D held them in the game. It was one of Jim Herrmann’s best game plans as a defensive coordinator. Outside of the first drive, the defense held the Irish in check the entire first half. That continued in the second half until the big Irish drive where they reclaimed the lead.

Notre Dame’s success in the passing game was limited, but when they were successful, it came in the form of a big play. There was the waggle to Maurice Stovall in first drive (which was caught between the safeties) and the two big passes on the drive where they went ahead for good. The defensive backs should be more effective this year. Minus the play in the second half where he failed to chase a pass play, Markus Curry played a really good game. He and LeSueur will match-up well with the Irish receivers. The most important improvements will be in the safety play. U-M’s center fielders have greater range and are better tacklers this season. That should allow them to disrupt a few more plays.

The Irish’s bread and butter came on the ground. The veteran Irish offensive line, however, did not blow the Wolverines off of the ball. Michigan had a few situations where they failed to maintain gap responsibilities leaving holes for the Irish to run through (as was the case in the CMU game). Holiday got a few rushing yards on broken plays. In other instances, like the big 40 yard run by Grant, there was simply poor tackling.

A major part of limiting the Irish offense was the heat the Wolverines put on the QB. They dished out a ton of punishment on Carlyle Holiday and they will need to do more of the same on Saturday. Herrmann put together an excellent blitz package that harassed Holiday to the tune of six sacks and countless big hits on the day. They also held the Irish to 3/13 on third down. That the defense did so well was a testament to their conditioning because they were on the field for over 22 minutes in the first half. The offense was more productive in the second half, holding the ball for over 17 minutes and scoring 16 points. Unfortunately, they put the D in a few precarious sudden change positions after costly turnovers

With the inexperienced Notre Dame offensive front this year, expect Herrmann to give them a very large dose of blitz early in the game to see if they can handle it. On the other side, expect a few things. The Irish will run stretch run plays, more double tight sets then the Wolverines saw from them last year, and more deep throws than they threw against Washington State last week. It would come as no surprise to see the deep attempts early (similar to the opening play last year). I fully expect the defense to hold up if the offense doesn’t leave them on the field as long as they did in '02 in South Bend. If they’re able to keep the time of possession relatively equal, I think that Michigan can keep the Irish around 150 yards rushing.

The game will hinge, in my opinion, on Michigan’s ability to sustain drives. They weren’t very successful at this last year. John Navarre missed a number of open receivers in South Bend (most notably a few long would-be TDs to Bellamy and Edwards … along with missed first down throws to Bellamy and Butler on the final drive). Both John and his receivers have to regain the consistency they had at the end of last season or it’s going to be a long day.

Look for the tight ends and backs to receive more passes this week. Massaquoi very well could be a huge weapon, as could Perry in a passing role similar to the one he played in the Citrus bowl. Either target provides a safe destination for John’s passes and could aid him in re-establishing the continuity in the passing game.

I think that Navarre will play up to the level of the competition and lead Michigan to ... a 27-13 victory.


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