Preview Notre Dame vs. Michigan

Preview of the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game

Notre Dame vs. #4 Michigan
Fighting Irish   Wolverines
Saturday, September 9th
Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI.
11:00 EST

Last 5: ND leads 3-2   Last 5 at Michigan
2004 ND 28-20 South Bend     2003 Mich 0-38
2003 Mich 0-38 Ann Arbor     1999 Mich 22-26
2002 ND 25-23 South Bend     1997 Mich 14-21
1999 Mich 22-26 Ann Arbor     1993 ND 27-23
1998 ND 36-20 South Bend     1991 Mich 14-24

Quick Hitters:
University of Michigan: Ann Arbor, MI.
Michigan Stadium Capacity: 107,501
Michigan Stadium Turf: Field Turf
Conference: Big Ten
Founded: 1817: Full-time Enrollment: 39,031
Head Coach: Llyod Carr, 11th Season
Overall Record: 95-29-0 (.766): Home 58-6 (.906): Bowl Games 5-5:
Llyod Carr vs. Notre Dame 3-3
Michigan 2004 record: 9-3
Returning Offensive Starters: 8
Returning Defensive Starters: 7
Michigan leads the series: 18-13-1
Last 10 games: Michigan leads 5-4-1
First game played between Michigan and Notre Dame: 1887
Michigan won the first 8 games in the series
Michigan has played Notre Dame more than any non Big Ten team (32)

Last season at this time when I wrote the preview for this game, I talked about two legendary programs that were completely different. Michigan was a program that deserved to be mentioned with the best in the country, while Notre Dame did not. The Irish ended up defeating Michigan last season in a game that wasn't as close as the final score would indicate, as Michigan added a last second touchdown to make the final score 28-20. Unfortunately that game didn't change anything for Notre Dame. It didn't put the Irish on even footing with their northern rival. The evidence of that came three weeks later as the Irish went out onto that same Notre Dame Stadium turf and got smacked around by an average Purdue squad.

On Saturday the Irish opened the Charlie Weis era by pounding a decent Pitt team 42- 21. As I mentioned in the preview to the Pitt game, Notre Dame should have pushed Pitt around the field – and they did. But like last year's victory over Michigan, I'm not certain it has proven anything in terms of Notre Dame's ability to compete against the best teams in college football. I certainly liked what I saw. I am happy for a week, but I need to see the Irish compete against a team that has top talent. I will get my wish this weekend as the Irish travel to play the No. 4 ranked Wolverines.

Everyone knows about the 38-0 blowout loss the Irish suffered two years ago in Ann Arbor. Don't expect that to happen, as this is a very different Notre Dame squad, and Charlie Weis will have his team prepared. At the same time, Irish fans should guard against having unrealistic expectations based on the team's performance against Pitt.

Both teams have very good quarterbacks, but like every year this game will come down to who runs the ball the best. Below are the rushing stats of the previous six games between Notre Dame and Michigan.

Year Mich Att/yrds Yrds/att ND Att/yrds Yrds/att Final Score
2004 30/56 1.9 30/135 3.8 ND 28-20
2003 59/188 3.2 25/49 1.7 Mich 38-0
2002 26/91 3.5 50/157 3.2 ND 25-23
1999 37/124 3.4 38/96 2.5 Mich 26-22
1998 38/150 4.0 55/280 5.1 ND 38-20
1997 34/168 4.9 44/149 3.9 Mich 21-14

Michigan On Offense:

Category '04 Rank Per Game
Rushing Offense #61 153.58 yards
Passing Offense #45 232.92 yards
Total Offense #46 386.50 yards
Scoring Offense #24 30.83 points
Pass Eff. Offense #44 130.47 yards

On offense, there shouldn't be any surprises. This is Michigan after all. Their bread and butter is the "I" formation with one tight end and two wide receivers. They look to pound the ball and wear down the defense. The offense will mix in two tight ends or three and four wide receiver sets depending on the down and distance. Last season with a freshman quarterback Chad Henne, Michigan passed on 47 percent of their offensive plays, which is consistent with a Lloyd Carr offense. Against Northern Illinois last week the Wolverines' running game was solid, gaining 208 yards on 48 carries (4.3 yards/attempt). Their longest run from scrimmage, 14 yards, came from the legs of true freshman Kevin Grady in the third quarter as the Husky defense started to stagger.

Northern Illinois is a very solid team, but they are undersized along the defensive line and have limited depth. Athough Michigan had solid rushing numbers, I would have expected them to run the ball with more authority. Michigan was solid, but they weren't pushing the Huskies around the field.

Michigan will run a variety of rushing plays inside and outside, but they majority of the work will be done between the tackles. Returning for the Wolverines is sophomore standout Mike Hart who led the team in rushing last season with 1,455 yards (5.2 yards/attempt). Last week Hart continued where he left off with 27 carries for 117 yards (4.3 yards/ attempt). Making an impressive debut was true freshman Kevin Grady who bulled his way for 42 yards on nine carries. The fullback is primarily a blocker and rarely carries the ball or catches it out of the backfield. In fact, Michigan has added former defensive tackle Will Paul to the fullback rotation.

Michigan football was built on running the football and Carr will always attempt to get the ground game working, but he certainly can look to the arm of sophomore Chad Henne to move the offense should a defense commit to stopping the Wolverine running backs. Expect the Wolverines to put the ball in the air at least 25 times. Carr uses the pass to spread the defense so that he can go back to the ground. Their passing attack is diverse, so they will throw to all the areas on the field. They always like to run the bootleg where they look to find the tight end dragging from the opposite side. Michigan will throw to the running backs and use the screen pass to slow down the pass rush.

When they are in the red-zone Michigan will pound the ball, but will not hesitate to put the ball in the air. Michigan loves to throw the fade pattern near the goal line. Michigan tends to run a reverse once a game to keep the defense honest. Michigan's offense starts with the run. Once Michigan establishes the run they will pick you apart with the pass. If you want to beat Michigan, you stop the run.

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +.

  + Chad Henne So 240-399-2,743 25/12 59.8 ('04)
  Matt Gutierrez 13-19-153 1/0 68.4 ('03)

Chad Henne (6-2, 225) is spectacular. He was the best freshman quarterback I saw last season, and as a sophomore, he is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. He throws a beautiful ball, it's accurate and he appears to understand the speed he needs to put on the ball. Henne's 25-yard touchdown pass to Steve Breaston at the end of last year's Notre Dame game was a glimpse of how good he will be. The ball arrived in a hurry and it never seemed to get more than 10 feet off the ground. It was a great read and an even better throw. Henne has poise under center and in the pocket. He's a leader. At times he will be wild, but I haven't seen a situation where he truely struggles.

Behind Henne is another talented player, Matt Gutierrez. He was the projected starter last year before suffering a preseason shoulder injury. Gutierrez doesn't have the physical tools that Henne has, but he is a heady player and the Michigan offense would operate as well with him in the lineup.

  RB Hgt/Wgt Rushes-Yards
  +Mike Hart So 5-9/192 282/1487 9 TDs('04)
  Kevin Grady Fr. 5-9/228 7/42, 1TD ('05)
  Max Martin So 6-1/215 32/135 1TD('04)
  Jerome Jackson 5-11/200 32/96 1TD('04)
  FB Hgt/Wgt  
  Brian Thompson S0* 6-2/230 Limited experience
  Will Paul 6-3/261 1st year FB former DT

Mike Hart had a monster season last year as a true freshman rushing for 1,487 yards. He's a smaller back that has the toughness and balance to run inside. There isn't one particular part of Hart's game that stands out, but he simply does every well. Behind the massive Michigan offensive line, he is hard to find. Once you do find him, it's often too late. He isn't a back that will make his own yards, and needs the offensive line to do their work up front to be successful.

As good as Mike Hart is, I believe true freshman Kevin Grady is better. He enrolled early so he is up to speed with the Michigan offense and college game. He's a big, strong back with a low center of gravity. As a true freshman he arleady has a college body. I was amazed when I got my first look at Grady, as he is every bit of 228 pounds. The first agonizing thought that entered my mind was, Notre Dame is going to have to see this guy for the next four years. Grady can get up to speed quickly and won't be brought down with one tackler. Defensive backs need to forget about being macho by trying to take him down by the shoulders, go for the ankles and pray for help. The combination of Hart and Grady will move the ball on anyone as they are a very impressive duo.

The talent doesn't stop there because Max Martin and Jerome Jackson are very capable runners as well. They can't match Hart and Grady, but if needed they are will get the job done.

Neither fullback is overly impressive. This is a departure from the talent Michigan has had at this position for as long as I can remember. I don't expect them to get the ball often, but then can handle the blocking duties.

  WR Hgt/Wgt Stats
  +Jason Avant Sr 6-1/213  38 rcpt/447 yds/ 3TDs (04')
  +Steve Breaston 6-1/178 Jr*  34 rcpts/291 yds/3 TDs(04')
  Carl Tabb Sr* 6-2/196  0 rcpts/0 yds/0 TD(04')
  Adrian Arrington So. 6-3/187  2 rcpts/12 yds/0 TD(04')
  Doug Dutch Fr* 5-11/191  0 rcpts/0 yds/0 TD(04')

In 2004, Braylon Edwards had 97 catches for 1,330 yards and 15 touchdowns. The group of returning Michigan receivers had a combined 74 catches for 750 and six touchdowns in 2004. Yet the loss of the All-American and first round NFL draft pick won't slow down the Wolverine offense. Stepping up last week for Michigan was senior Jason Avant with nine receptions for 127 yards and one touchdown. Avant has struggled being consistent at times, and he would go through stretches where he'd drop some balls, but he's seasoned and a leader. He'll be a difficult match-up for the Irish secondary because he understands coverages and he will find the gaps in the defense.

Breaston is dangerous with the ball in his hands. He's a water bug-type runner with exceptional quickness. Carr will try to get him the ball on a reverse, and even allow him to run the option in short yardage situations. Michigan has a tendency to throw him the ball around the line of scrimmage with hopes that he'll make someone miss and turn it into a big play. I haven't seen that happen as he's generally been brought down easily. Personally, I've been a little disappointed with his production in the Michigan offense with a 10.1 career yards per catch and six touchdowns. That being said every receiver is dangerous with Henne throwing the ball. Breaston can kill you returning the ball on punts.

Tabb is the fastest receiver of the group, but he's been less than extraordinary thus far in his career. Each year Michigan fans tout his speed, but each year he fails to show up in the box score. Doug Dutch is probably the forth receiver, but he has been slow to impress the Michigan coaching staff. There was even talk about him moving to the defensive side of the ball last season.

Adrian Arrington appears to be injured and he will likely be out for some time. While Michigan signed an impressive group of freshman recievers and they come in with a lot of press, they have some work to do before the break into the lineup or at least until they are a factor. I doubt they will be on Spetember 10.

  TE Hgt/Wgt Stats
  +Tim Massaquoi 5th 6-4/252 18 rcpts/184 yds/ 0TDs(04')
  Tyler Ecker 6-6/251 17 rcpts/157 yds/2 TDs(04') So*
  Mike Massey Fr* 6-4/238 - -

Massaquoi and Ecker aren't spectacular but they are steady. They will hurt the defense if they are ignored. Massaquoi came to Michigan with worlds of expectations, but he hasn't been the dominating player Wolverine fans thought he would be. Both are good blockers, but they aren't great blockers. They will catch the easy passes, but they generally won't make the spectacular reception. Neither tight end will be used to stress the secondary deep and instead Michigan likes to get them the ball from the hash marks to the sideline. With the inexperience at wide receiver, I expect Henne to look for his experienced tight ends more often this season.

  Offensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +LT Adam Stenavich;5th 6-5/321 27 Starts/ 32 Games
  LG Leo Henige 5th 6-4/328 2 starts/ 15 Gms - Limited Exp
  C Adam Kraus Jr* 6-6/307 3 Gms - Limited Exp.
  +RG Matt Lentz 5th 6-6/311 24 starts/ 33 Games
  +RT Mike Kolodziej Sr* 6-7/323 3 starts/ 21 Games

Michigan's offensive line is massive. Every player is well over 300 pounds, with three guys tipping the scale at over 320 pounds. This size provides a great place for Mike Hart to hide behind. While Michigan ran the ball well at times last season, they piled up huge numbers against a handful of teams, and then were sluggish against others. They lost All-American David Baas to graduation and the projected starter at right tackle Jake Long who went down with an injury during preseason camp. Experience does return upfront with fifth-year senior Adam Stenavich the best of the bunch. Michigan set the tight end next to him against Northern Illinois making the left side of the line the strong side. Stenavich does everything well. Don't expect a lot of plays to be made by Chris Frome this Saturday. The nice thing for the Irish is that Frome is more of your typical strong-side defensive end. Since Michigan used the left side of their line as the strong side, Frome is well equipped to handle the corner.

Matt Lentz is the other guy that stands out. He does everything well.

In 2005, neither Mark Bihl nor Kraus were able to earn the coaches confidence at center so they opted to move Baas from his familiar guard spot to solidify the center position. This year Kraus won the job and looked good in his first start.

Kolodzeij is a big guy, and similar to Notre Dame's Mark LeVoir in size, but I think LeVoir is a much better player. Kolodzeij does not dominate in run blocking, and he can be beaten to the corner on the pass rush. If Kolodzeij was that good, he wouldn't have lost the starting job last season and he would have been one of the starters this season. As it is, he's in the lineup due to Long's injury.

Heinge doesn't impress me either. He's huge, but maybe a little too big. He seems a little limited in his mobility. He did beat out last year's starter Ruben Riley, which was a surprise. Notre Dame's quick defensive tackles may be a problem for the interior offensive lineman.

Michigan does have some experienced backups which include Riley and Bihl. Alex Mitchell is a young guy that has loads of potential and I expect to see him next season. Notre Dame recruited Jeremy Ciulla heavily, but he is down the depth chart some.

It's hard to find fault with a line that racked up more than 200 yards on the ground against a quality opponent, but the Northern Illinois offense really put the defense in a bad spot by turning the ball over five times. The Michigan offense had the ball for 10 minutes longer than Northern Illinois which allowed their big offensive line to pound on an undersized Husky defensive line. The Wolverine offensive line is always a strength, but I think this group will struggle against quality defensive fronts. That being the case, I think Lloyd Carr will eventually rely more on Kevin Grady to pound the ball.

Michigan On Defense:

Category '04 Rank Per Game
Rushing Defense #39 133.33 yards
Pass Eff. Defense #33 114.76 yards
Total Defense #33 336.25 yards
Scoring Defense #42 23.25 points
Pass Defense #43 202.92 yards

After a one year experiment with the 3-4 defense, Michigan has returned the base 4-3 defense. You will see LaMarr Woodley listed as a rush linebacker, but he is a defensive end. Michigan lost a large number of their top contributors on defense from the 2004 unit, and to complicate matters an injury to the returning starter at free safety Ryan Mundy, Michigan has had to replace all but one in their secondary. The defense was ranked fairly high overall in 2004, but they really struggled toward the end of the season as Ohio State and Texas average 445 yards and 37.5 points in Michigan's final two contests.

Northern Illinois picked up where Texas and Ohio St. left off by racking up 411 yards of total offense. This yardage wasn't picked up late in a blow out either. Northern moved the ball fairly easily against the Michigan defense blending in the run with the pass. The had a several long sustained drives. The Huskies racked up 211 yards rushing, while averaging 6.6 yards per carry against the Wolverine defense. Northern did have a big play that went for 76 yards, but even if you take that play out of their rushing total, the Huskies still managed 4.4 yards per carry.

Even though Michigan has a bunch of new starters, most of the guys have considerable experience. They have the athletes to shut Notre Dame down, and I expect them to be in a very fowl mood come Saturday.

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +

  Defensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +NT Gabe Watson Sr* 6-4/331 11 start/33 Gms Experienced
  DT Pat Massey 5th 6-8/283 21 starts at DE
  DE Jeremy Van Alstyne 6-4/270 No Experience
  +Rush LB LaMarr Woodley Jr.* 6-2/274 12 games/9 starts

Michigan is thinner than Notre Dame along the defensive front, and I wouldn't trade our guys for their guys. The loss of defensive tackle, Larry Harrison is a big blow to this unit. This group really puzzles me – starting with Gabe Watson. This guy has everything needed to be dominant and demand double teams, but he doesn't. Each year I hear how much he has improved during the offseason and each year he seems like the same guy from the year before. Against Northern Illinois he was pushed around all day long by one offensive lineman. There were a couple plays that he beat his guy and got penetration, but it seemed like the play would go the other way. No other way to put it, he was a non factor. Expect to see a couple of the younger guys, either Alan Branch or Will Johnson. I doubt the Michigan staff will trust Watson to clog the middle against Notre Dame.

I really like how Pat Massey gets after it, but I really think he's playing out of position. He was a two-year starter at defensive end, but now finds himself at defensive tackle. He's 6-8 so he can give the opposing quarterback some trouble if he stays in the passing lanes, but he seems to be better suited for defensive end.

LaMarr Woodley, I love this kid. He's solid as a rock and really seems to get after it. He has great speed and poewr coming from the weak-side and if Ryan Harris plays the way he did against Pitt, expect Woodley to present all kinds of problems for the Irish.

Jeremy Van Alstyne is a solid player at strong-side defensive end and appeared to play well against Northern, but I'd prefer to have Massey here. I think Mark LeVoir will be a tough match-up for Van Alstyne and I think this will be a spot that Notre Dame will attack.

Pierre Woods is a great looking athlete that Notre Dame will see at defensive end, but when he goes in, Michigan brings out their best player along the defensive line, LaMarr Woodely. Ron Biggs is a senior defensive end, but he has limited experience.

I was really surprised that Northern was able to man up with this group. Michigan didn't get into the backfield often and pressure on the quarterback wasn't what you'd expect from a Michigan team.

  Linebackers Hgt/Wgt Experience
  SLB Prescott Burgess Jr. 6-3/243 23 Gms - Experienced
  +MLB Scott McClintock 5th 6-2/244 13 starts/ 37 Gms
  WLB Chris Graham So* 5-11/224 2 games - Limited Experince

Like Pittsburgh, Michigan's strength is its linebacking corps. The starters are outstanding and the guys waiting in the wings can get after it as well. They flow to the ball and they are solid tacklers.

Leading the way for the linebackers is fifth-year senior Scott McClintock. He isn't flashy but he's always around the ball. He's a football player. He has superior instincts and he's hard-nosed. His liability may be his pass defense, but that's being picky. McClintock was forth on the team in tackles last season with 58.

Chris Graham is young, but I think he's going to be a good one. He's very similar to Brandon Hoyte. He tries to knock out the ball carrier on every hit. If a ball carrier challenges him, the ball carrier generally loses. He has great instincts and flows to the ball very well. He's an outstanding player.

Burgress, a former safety, is another solid athlete for the Wolverines. He looks like he added a bunch of weight this season but he must be getting the job done because he beat out another guy that I think is a very good player, Shawn Crable.

Pierre Woods can slide back to strong-side linebacker if need be. Along with Crable, fifth-year senior David Harris, sophomore John Thompson and freshman Brandon Logan are in the mix.

  Defensive Backs Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +CB Leon Hall Jr. 5-11/194 9 starts/ 22 Gms Experinced
  CB Grant Mason 5th 6-0/192 1 start/12 Gms
  Brandon Englemon Jr* 5-11/202 Inexperienced
  FS Willis Barringer Sr* 6-0/207 5 starts in '03

This has to be another area of concern for the Michigan faithful. I didn't see Mundy play against Northern Illinois, but he was listed in the box score as having played. If he goes, I doubt he's 100 percent. Mundy was going to be the glue that was going to hold this group together with the loss of Marlin Jackson, Ernest Shazor and Marcus Curry. The Wolverines do return Leon Hall from last year's group and he is solid.

Grant Mason is decent but he doesn't appear to be real aggressive. Oddly he reminds me of far too many former Notre Dame cornerbacks in that he doesn't seem to make a lot of plays.

Both safeties are smaller and neither seems to be a playmaker. They do keep plays in front of them, something the Irish safeties struggle to do. Michigan moved one time Irish commitment Brandon Harrison to free safety. While Michigan fans have tried to convince each other that this is a stroke of genius, a 5-8 safety isn't something done out of luxury and it generally would indicate there is a problem with depth.

Michigan does have some younger corners in Morgan Trent and Charles Stewart that have impressed the coaches, but overall they are thin in the secondary.

Final thoughts: I expected Michigan to dominate Northern Illinois. Even though Northern helped the Wolverines all day long, Michigan didn't dominate them. Notre Dame went on the road, played a night game and dominated a team that is similar to Northern Illinois in terms of competitiveness.

Looking back at the performances of Notre Dame and Michigan this past Saturday, I think the Irish have a very good shot at beating Michigan. I haven't read any of Lloyd Carr's post game comments, but I'll assume he wasn't very happy.

Michigan has tremendous talent on the offensive side of the ball. Henne, Hart and Grady can carry this team. I fully expect this Michigan team to rebound against Notre Dame. I expect the Michigan offensive line and defensive line to prove me wrong. I expect them to be much sharper this weekend.

Expect a great game on September 10. As usual, the team that runs the ball the best will win.

Additional information

  2005 Mich Schedule
  1-0 W N Illinois 33-17
  9/10 H Notre Dame -
  9/17 H E Michigan -
  9/24 A Wisconsin -
  10/1 A MSU -
  10/8 H Minnesota -
  10/15 H Penn St. -
  10/22 A Iowa -
  10/29 A Northwestern -
  11/12 H Indiana -
  11/19 H Ohio St. -
  2004 Mich Schedule
  W - H Miami(OH) 43-10
  L - A Notre Dame 20-28
  W - H SDSU 24-21
  W - H Iowa 30-17
  W - A Indiana 35-4
  W - H Minnesota 27-24
  W - A Illinois 30-19
  W - A Purdue 16-14
  W - H MSU(3ot) 45-37
  W - H Northwestern 42-20
  L - H Ohio St 21-37
  L - Rose Texas 37-38 Top Stories