Kent Baer says he doesn't expect anything other than same old Michigan team on Saturday—they will run the football. "They're the typical Michigan team," Baer said. "I've always looked at it over the years as almost being stubborn to a point with the run-that's just what they do. They've got big, strong, physical offensive linemen and great backs. Obviously they're a good running team and they're great a doing it. We've got our hands full--that's for sure."
Michigan does have some talented wide receivers in Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston so this Michigan team presents problems both with the run and the pass. With starting corner Jason Beckstrom nursing an injury and second-string corner Dwight Ellick out for the game, Baer says the next guy will just have to step in and do the job.
"You're always concerned but there's not much you can do about it," said Baer of the injuries in the secondary. "I've learned over the years that the next guy has got to step in and do what you expect him to do and I feel good about that part of it. They're great receivers—I read somewhere where he (Braylon Edwards) was rated one of the top 3-4 receivers in the country."
Michigan will probably be one of the most balanced offenses that the Irish defense will play this year. Baer says playing a balanced offense makes his job a lot harder. "It does because you've got to find ways to stop the run and then all the sudden you've got too many guys down in the box and your suspect to a play action pass or beaten over the top. You've got to pick and choose what you do and how you do it and make sure you're smart about it. I think our number one goal is to do a great job against the running game and force some pass situations."
The return of a healthy Cedric Hilliard should help the Irish defense against the running game. Hilliard was banged up the latter part of fall camp and against Washington State but he was moving very well and running full speed this week in practice.
Baer thinks Hilliard will help his defense a great deal on Saturday. "I think so; I think we are probably more healthy right now on our defensive line than we've ever been since we started camp. If he can stay healthy through this week, I expect him to play a lot. I know he's been practicing and I like it when he's in there because it makes us a better football team."
The Irish didn't have a lot of sacks against Washington State (3) but Baer says he was pleased with the pass rush against a good Cougar offensive line. "I was very pleased. When they went to a five-step drop and we put some pressure on them just rushing four guys, as the game went on they got away from that and went three step (drop). We were very pleased with the pass rush and need to continue to do that because it's going to help us down the road."
At the end of the Washington State game, Baer decided to just rush four on the Cougar's final drive before the end of regulation. Sammy Moore caught a 34-yard pass from Matt Kegel to tie the game. We asked Baer if he ever second guessed that decision. "I think if you don't tend look at it you might tend to be a little bit stupid and I don't consider myself being that way. I thought they had a long way to go and we were playing some young guys and maybe we were a little bit too conservative, I don't know. The bottom line is we won the game. Sometimes you don't want to put some young kids in tough situations and that was probably my thought."
Freshman Victor Abiamiri received his first game experience against Washington State. Abiamiri is said to have vast potential and we asked Baer if he felt Abiamiri could help with the pass rush this year. "That remains to be seen. He has got an awful lot to learn in technique and he's certainly a great athlete. We're going continue to give him snaps and I think the more comfortable he becomes at the position and understands what we expect out of him, I think he's going to become that. He's going to do nothing but get better and better."
Baer says he doesn't expect too many surprises from Michigan on Saturday. He says they have a great rushing attack and will probably line up and use their great backs behind their veteran offensive line.
"I think it will be very similar to what they did a year ago," said Baer. "They're going to be stubborn about running the football and give us different formations to do it. They're going to give us five or six different runs, play action pass and try to catch us off guard. I think it's going to be very, very similar to what they did a year ago. When you rush for 367 yards a game, they don't ask their quarterback and receivers to do a whole lot and I wouldn't either. We expect more out of their passing game and I know they will. We've got some kind of idea of what they're going to do against us."
The Irish defense and Baer will have to play a solid game against Michigan in Ann Arbor to get a victory. We think the Irish match up well against the Wolverines. It should be strength versus strength in this game. The game will likely be won in the trenches—just as many Notre Dame/Michigan games have been won in the past.