KB: One game, that is all there is to see from first year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier manning the Michigan offense. That being said, it’s clear Nussmeier will look to take what the defense is giving his offense, establishing the run will be important, and the quick passing game, aiming to take advantage of some speed on the edge.
Benefiting Nussmeier so far is the fact that since Brady Hoke’s arrival, Michigan has been looking to add the ingredients necessary to employ a downhill, pro style attack. From a personnel standpoint, he’s not lacking in options. If Devin Funchess will be anything close to the type of receiver he showed capable of in week one, that should help benefit Michigan in the running game, being able to stretch the field and back the defense off a bit.
Question: A large number of Irish fans have seen Devin Gardner twice: when he riddled Notre Dame and when he was outstanding vs. Ohio State. When Gardner isn't at that level, what's the reason? How have defenses been successful against him in the past?
KB: Coming out of high school, Devin Gardner excelled in two key areas required out of successful quarterbacks; decision-making and leadership. In Gardner’s time in Ann Arbor, both have been lacking. After witnessing his first five starts at quarterback in 2012, it looked as though Gardner would be the answer to Michigan’s issues at the position in 2013. He was anything but that.
The fact that the offensive line couldn’t protect him or that the running backs failed in pass protection can’t go without mention, but time and time again Gardner had time to throw and still made poor decisions. With Doug Nussmeier, the message has been very simple: don't try to do too much and understand that sometimes throwing the ball away is a great play. Gardner has a playmaker’s mentality and it often has gotten him in trouble in the past.
Something that will still test Gardner this season and moving forward is how he handles blitz packages and significant pressure. Gardner doesn’t seem to have a great feel for where pressure packages are coming from, nor a solid comfort level stepping up into the pocket to deliver the football.
If Notre Dame brings the heat Saturday, and they should, there’s a chance Gardner will struggle mightily. If the Irish sit back and allow Gardner the time to find a rhythm in the passing game and pick his spots up and down the field, he’ll look like the world beater he did a year ago.
Question: Michigan's offensive line was horrendous last season save for a win over Notre Dame and the inspired effort vs. the Buckeyes. What gives the unit hope for 2014 after losing its two best players, NFL quality players, at tackle?
KB: Horrendous might even be an understatement when it comes to the protection issues Michigan ran into in 2013. This was the biggest question facing Michigan in the off-season and heading into a crucial year for Brady Hoke. The answers given? This young, relatively still inexperienced group spent a lot of time together on and off the field since last year and have built a strong bond and comradarie among everyone. Accountability was a major point of emphasis as well and it appears there’s been some more ownership among each other.
Translating that to the field though, that’s a different story. Simplicity is the common word thrown out among the offensive linemen, that Doug Nussmeier has come in and given them, and the entire offense, a language that makes sense and connects the dots at all points to ensure everyone is on the same page. Regardless, after one week in the win against Appalachian State, the offensive line opened up more holes up the middle than it did in any game all of last season (no matter how poor the opponent was).
Question: I thought Jake Ryan was one of the most underrated players in football as a hybrid OLB/DE. How has he adjusted to a move to MLB and is he at full strength after last summer's knee surgery?
KB: Playing on a defense that just doesn’t stack up as well as others on a national level certainly hurt Ryan’s exposure and appreciation early in his career. This was a significant move in the off-season and one that will be critical if Michigan really does believe they’ll have a stronger defense than a year ago. In his first start at middle linebacker, Ryan, not looking to make excuses, did say it was an adjustment and criticized himself for looking to do too much, jumping in and out of gaps and really not trusting that the rest of his team would be in position to make the play.
Dropping into pass coverage has never been a strong suit for Ryan, a notably aggressive and instinctive pass rusher, and that is the one area that could be concerning moving forward. As far as why Michigan made the move, Ryan’s nose for the football and natural ability in that capacity should allow him to come free for a boat load of tackles this season.
Question: How do Michigan fans view the disruption of this rivalry? Is it "good riddance" if they can win in 2014, thus taking five of the last six? Or will a loss to Notre Dame be a crushing blow in a season where their next big game is in mid-October?
KB: I really thought the announcement that Michigan and Notre Dame would be ending their yearly series, at least for now, would create a bit more anger and disappointment than I’ve seen from the fanbase. I think from the fans that have been around a while, the elimination of one of Michigan’s three great rivalry games is a huge blow to tradition at a time when tradition just quite frankly isn’t as important as innovation. But from what I’ve gathered, and based on the job Michigan has done at scheduling other non-conference opponents, the sting of the loss of Notre Dame has been eased just a bit.
It was clear Notre Dame was never going to join the Big Ten conference, or if they did, it would be an agreement like they have with the ACC. That being said, the Big Ten appeared to want an all or nothing scenario in my opinion, and I think fans have kind of taken on that same mentality with it. That is, if Notre Dame didn’t want to join then why keep playing them even if it is a solid, marquee game on the schedule for numerous Big Ten teams year in and year out?