Big Bash: `M' rates nod in almost every category

Up and down the line, Michigan as an edge over Notre Dame in talent, the result of Irish recruiting fortunes sagging during ex-coach Bob Davie's tenure. There is one exception and one area of a major concern as the Wolverines prepare to meet up with Touchdown Jesus in South Bend.

In analyzing the matchups, Michigan rates a nod over Notre Dame in almost every category heading into Saturday's renewal of their storied rivalry (2:30 p.m. EDT/NBC-TV) in South Bend, Ind.

The lone exception, of course, is placekicker.

Michigan walk-on Philip Brabbs has converted 1-of-5 field goal attempts in the Wolverines' first two games, both victories (31-29 over Washington and 35-12 over Western Michigan). The one everybody thought Brabbs would miss he made, a 44-yarder to beat the Huskies on the final play in the season-opener at The Big House.

Notre Dame, by comparison, has a seasoned veteran handling its placekicking duties, Lou Groza award candidate Nicholas Setta. He was known as Nick "The Toe" Setta when he played high school football in Lockport (Ill.), just south and west of Chicago, given that nickname by ex-Lockport mayor and then-Porter public address man Dick Dystrup. Setta made five field goals in Notre Dame's 22-0 victory over Maryland.

True, he had a few problems kicking in the Irish's subsequent win over Purdue, but he's been there and done that, to coin a trite phrase. Brabbs will be playing on the hallowed grounds of Notre Dame Stadium for the first time. My guess is he'll handle the pressure in true `M' fashion -- that is to say, fine. Walk-on Jeff Del Verne kicked four field goals in Michigan's 26-22 victory on Sept. 4, 1999, the last meeting between the two winningest programs in college football.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr might not expect as much from Brabbs -- nor will he need four field goals if the Wolverine offense is clicking on all cylinders. Carr will expect to see improvement, to see Brabbs' batting average climb above the .500 mark as the season progresses. He has a strong enough leg. What about a strong temperament?

"I blame myself," Carr said of settling Brabbs down. "We should have called timeout on Philip's first field goal attempt a week ago (against Western Michigan). We got out there a little late, and we should have called a timeout there, which is my fault. It is a mindset, like hitting a golf ball or baseball.

"There are so many things to think about that sometimes you can think too much. We lost four footballs a week ago on extra points (kicked over the netting and into the stands at Michigan Stadium). That has never happened. Brabbs hit four footballs over the netting. What that tells you is those kicks would have been good from 50 yards.

"What you have got to do is tell yourself that it is an extra point. Those are all things that every kicker faces. I see guys in the NFL miss them all the time. I was watching TV Saturday night, and I have never seen so many missed field goals and extra points in my life. I think part of that is kicking on a grass field and, of course, everybody expects them never to miss. We have to do better, and I hope and think that we will."

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