In response to stumbling through the 2005 season, Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr made "changes" within his coaching staff. Technically the coaches found other "opportunities", but reality is that the ax fell in Ann Arbor. Carr promoted Mike DeBord to offensive coordinator with hopes that he could rejuvenate the Wolverine offense. DeBord is a "Michigan Man. He had previously been the offensive coordinator at Michigan before he left for the Central Michigan head coaching job in 2000.
The murmur coming from Ann Arbor is that DeBord made several changes with the offense. My guess is that most people won't notice a difference. I doubt the play calling is much different. They will run a multiple formation offense. Michigan will still use the "I- formation", with two wide receivers and a tight end, although they aren't using it as much. Instead DeBord is going more with the single-back set with two tight ends, or three wide receivers.
Up front Michigan has moved to a zone blocking scheme and DeBord has insisted that he will turn back the clock and re-emphasize the running game. Does this mean that Michigan will only throw the ball on third and long? Michigan has a lot of talent in the backfield, but they will still allow Chad Henne to put the ball in the air. The zone blocking scheme probably helps starting tailback Mike Hart. Hart is a patient runner that uses his vision and quick burst to gain his yards.
I do think it will be difficult for Henne to have a big year, because I don't think Michigan has the playmakers at wide receiver that they have had in the past. Normally Michigan has five guys that they can plug into the line-up without having the offensive production drop. Not this year. They have one player (Mario Manningham) that will demand the attention of the defense. Another, Steve Breaston is a dangerous player at times, but he is far too inconsistent to rely on. Michigan has other wide receivers, but none have really jumped up to take the opening spots.
Another issue for this Michigan team is their offensive line. They have upperclassmen but they aren't physical group. You're asking your team to run the ball will more authority, but the guys up front don't have that mentality. Senior left tackle Jake Long is the best of the bunch. If Michigan needs a yard they probably go to the left side over Long and left guard Adam Kraus. Center Mark Bihl hasn't been able to hold onto a starting position over the years. Rueben Riley should be playing guard. He isn't a great guard, but he's a worse tackle. Right guard Alex Mitchell wouldn't be playing except Riley was to be moved out to right tackle.
Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +.
It isn't easy for a freshman quarterback to step into a program like Michigan and be successful, but Chad Henne (6-2, 224 pounds) did just that as he led the Wolverines to a 9-3 season in 2004. His sophomore numbers weren't much different than his freshman passing numbers, but the team dropped to 7-5. When that happens people look at the quarterback, and some Michigan fans have already started counting down the days until the Ryan Mallet era begins. Henne does have some mechanical issues, and he tends to dump the ball off a little too much instead of allowing patterns to develop. Nonetheless, I like his overall game, and I think the kid is a winner (See the winning 53-yard drive against Penn State last season). I don't think Henne has as much talent at wide receiver as he has had in the past (Braylond Edwards, Jason Avant), so he will need the Michigan ground game to be churning to be successful.
Jason Forcier (6-2, 218 pounds) doesn't have any experience and there is a considerable drop-off from Henne. Forcier is very mobile, but the Michigan offense doesn't require a quarterback that can run. A Michigan quarterback needs a big arm and Forcier does not have a strong arm.
I understand that people think Mike Hart is a great college running back, but he just doesn't do it for me. Hart seems to follow the Ron Dayne path to success; his piles up big yardage against marginal defenses. Maybe it's his 8 carries for 21 yards and zero touchdowns against Notre Dame in two games. In his defense, Hart did enter last year's game banged up and then was quickly sent to the sideline by a crushing hit from Corey Mays. He's obviously out to a big start this season, and he is keeping Kevin Grady off the field... so what do I know. Hart is a patient runner that hides behind his blockers and then picks his spot. He's not as shifty as he is elusive. He doesn't have great speed, but I think that's overrated at running back anyway. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, but because of his size he struggles picking up the blitz.
Kevin Grady is actually the guy that scares me more that Hart. He's the big back that hits the hole hard. When Hart went down last season, Grady rushed for 79 yards on 18 carries against Notre Dame. He finished 2005 with 494 yards on 121 carries. With his size you'd expect him to be a solid blocker, but it he needs to improve. Michigan will throw to him.
Brandon Minor, Senior Jerome Jackson (5-11, 206 pounds)
or freshman Carlos Brown (6-0, 200 pounds) could see some time, but Hart and
Grady will be the guys that do the work. DeBord might try to get cute and use
Carlos Brown at quarterback. In fact I expect to see a couple plays with Brown
taking snaps similar to what Penn State did with Derrick Williams. My guess is
that they will end with the same result as they did last weekend.
Obi Oluigbo has been a special teams player throughout his
career. He's a converted linebacker, with very limited experience.
Mario Manningham will be an outstanding receiver before he leaves Michigan, but I don't think he's there yet. He is Michigan's best receiver, but he can't dominate a game. Eventually...yes, but not Saturday. He has very good speed and he catches most balls in the area. His biggest issue has been his route running. It's something he worked on over the summer, but it's still an issue. He also struggles against physical corners. His first career reception and touchdown were in Notre Dame's win in Ann Arbor last season. He ended up as Michigan's second leading receiver. Manningham has 32 career receptions for 504 yards and seven touchdowns.
Steve Breaston is one of the best return guys in college football, and he has solid career receiving numbers (106 receptions for 1,119 yards and eight touchdowns), but he just isn't a guy that you fear when he hits the secondary. Yes he has speed and quickness, but his biggest problem is that he doesn't catch the ball consistently. Because of this, Michigan tends to use him around the line of scrimmage instead and only throw him a deep ball from time to time. Michigan fans aren't too impressed with Jeff Samardzija, but compare his career 15.5 yard per reception average to Breaston's 10.5. Breaston's also pretty fragile and he has difficulty getting off the line..
Carl Tabb might be Michigan's third option and this has to concern Michigan fans. He came to Michigan with tremendous expectations, but 22 catches, 199 yards and four years later Michigan fans are still waiting for the production. Tabb has speed and athletic ability to shine, but for whatever reason, he's never impressed the coaches enough to earn his opportunities on Saturday's.
As a freshman, Adrian Arrington gave Michigan fans reason to believe that he'd be the next great Michigan receiver, but one game into his sophomore year he was injured and he missed all of 2005. Whether it's confidence or lingering affects of the injury, I've heard Arrington doesn't look like the same player.
Tyler Ecker shared time with Tim Massaquoi the past two seasons and now is the starter as a fifth-year senior. He's a solid, but unspectacular player. He's a decent blocker, but he isn't a dominant blocker. Ecker has 47 career receptions for 562 yards and five touchdowns. When Notre Dame beat the Wolverines last year, Ecker had seven receptions for 74 yards.
Mike Massey is a name many Irish fans remember. His dad played at Notre Dame (1968-71) and his brother was a defensive tackle for Michigan last season. Nine career receptions for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
Carson Butler has a couple catches this season, but I doubt he will factor in this game. He played at Renaissance High School (Detroit, Mich.) with Notre Dame defensive end Ronald Talley.
Michigan has four players that could be considered a returning starter on the offensive line, but only Kraus was in the starting line-up last season against the Irish. Last season I thought Michigan's line was much too heavy, as four of the five linemen were well over 300 pounds. This season they are lighter, although Long and Mitchell both above 300 pounds. This is another philosophy shift for the Michigan staff; they are looking for thinner more mobile offensive linemen.
Jake Long is probably the best player on the Michigan offensive line. He's a pretty good lineman, but he isn't dominant. He'll keep most people off Henne and he does a solid job run blocking. He started 10 games as a sophomore, then he was injured heading into the 2005. Long eventually made it back into the line-up and started the last four games of the season.
Adam Kraus started nine games at both center and guard last season. He isn't a bruiser, so he isn't going to be throwing defensive tackles around, but he is technically sound. He does a solid job pulling and getting out to the linebackers.
Mark Bihl started three games in '04 and then four games in '05. There's a reason Bihl hasn't earned a spot in the starting line-up until everyone else graduated. He tends to get pushed around quite a bit. Maybe he's improved, but he isn't your typical Michigan offensive lineman.
Until this season all of Alex Mitchell's experience had been in mop-up duty. Now he has experience against Vanderbilt and Central Michigan.
Rueben Riley has played extensively over the past two years at both guard and tackle. He's supposed to be a better guard, but it appears that the Michigan staff is determined to play him at tackle. I thought he struggled at guard, I can't imagine what he'll do at tackle. Is he playing tackle because he excels at the position or because the Michigan coaches don't have a better option? Riley has trouble moving in space and he struggles with his balance. For someone with his experience, he misses a lot of blocks.
Michigan does have some talent under this group, but they are very green. Even if the line struggles I can't see the Michigan coaches turning to the younger players.
Michigan On Defense:
Like the offense, the defense starts the year with a new coordinator. Gone is long-time Michigan assistant Jim Hermann. Promoted is defensive backs coach Ron English. Like DeBord, and any new coach ever hired, English has promised changes to the Michigan defense. He says the defense will be more aggressive than it has been in the past. They will look to penetrate with the defensive line and they will blitz a little more often. Maybe more important to this defense will be a change in attitude. According to those close to the program, that has happen. It will be interesting to see how long the honeymoon lasts.
The strength of the defense this season, and for seasons to come is the defensive front. They have experience, and they have a lot of young, talented bodies that can make life difficult for an offensive line. Senior defensive end LaMarr Woodley is the best across the front in my opinion. He's been accused of being inconsistent, but when he sees the gold helmets, he seems to play at his best. Fifth-year senior Rondell Biggs is the surprise starter at strong-side defensive end. The new guys in the middle are sophomore Terrance Taylor and junior Alan Branch. Both are learning but they have the ability to play very well.
I'd consider this group of linebackers a strength as well. They don't have tremendous depth, but they guys that play are very solid. All three are very active. The weak link for the defense is probably the defensive backs. Senior cornerback Leon Hall has a lot of experience, but opposite of him is Charles Stewart who is seeing his first action this season. Michigan has experienced depth at safety, but I don't think this group makes many play, and I don't think they are a physical group.
Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +
A lot of talent and a lot of depth across this line. This group will be a challenge for the Irish offensive line.
LaMarr Woodley is captain. He has played very well against Ryan Harris in the past, and he'll likely give him fits again this year. Woodley just plays quick and he is relentless chasing the ball. He's got a strong pass rush to the corner, but I'm not sure he does as well underneath. If Notre Dame runs to his side, they will want to ran right at him. If you run wide or just inside, he's really good at running around blocks. Woodley had two sacks in the first two games against Vanderbilt and Central Michigan.
Terrance Taylor limited playing time as a freshman, but did enough through the spring and summer to earn the starting spot at nose tackle. Taylor is all potential at this point. Although I do like him as a player, it appears that he needs another year in the program in order to play to his potential. Like most young players they are still learning what it takes to play at this level. Unfortunately for Irish fans, he'll be around long enough to figure it out.
Alan Branch has played both defense end and defensive tackle during his first two seasons in Ann Arbor. He thinks he's a defensive end, while the Michigan coaches think he's a tackle. Looks like the coaches won this season. The question will be if he can stay motivated inside. He's huge at 331 pounds. If he wants to stand his ground, Notre Dame will have to consider doubling him. Branch can be a very disruptive player and despite his size he gets off the ball well, and he has the ability to get into the backfield.
Rondell Biggs has received spot starts during his career. He is strong against the run, but isn't going to put much pressure on Quinn, despite registering two sacks against Vanderbilt in the opener.
Defensive end Jeremy Van Alstyne (6-4, 266, 5th Sr.) is the tough luck kid; every year suffers some type of injury. He's a solid technician...more of an effort guy. Tim Jamison (6-3, 254, Jr.) is their speed- rushing specialist and he's almost too good to keep off the field. Defensive tackle Will Johnson (6-5, 291, Jr.) will be the first interior player off the bench. He lone career start came against Notre Dame last season. He isn't spectacular, but he is solid.
The first set of linebackers is real solid, but Michigan doesn't have much depth. That shouldn't be a concern this early in the season, unless someone gets hurt. The reserve linebackers are solid enough to spell the starters for several plays without it changing what the Michigan defense is capable of doing.
Shawn Crable hasn't played many meaningful minutes during his first three years at Michigan because he's struggled to stay healthy. You look at the kid and you see athlete. His strength is his ability to come off the edge and pressure the quarterback. He does tend to get caught in traffic, so he can be a liability against the run. Solid in pass coverage. In his first two starts in 2006 he has accumulated six tackles, one that was behind the line of scrimmage. Senior Prescott Burgess (6-3, 235 pounds) did push Crable for this spot. Burgess will likely be one of the nickel backers with Crable.
David Harris isn't great, but I really like his game. He's very active, he appears to have outstanding instincts, and most importantly... he makes plays. He is a liability in coverage. Harris led the team in tackles in 2005. He made one start as a junior ('04) and started all 12 games for the Wolverines as a senior('05). He led the team in tackles last season and again leads the Wolverine defense in stops (10 tackles, two for loss) through two games.
Chris Graham only made four starts prior to 2006, but he played extensive minutes last season. He's similar to former Irish Will backer Brandon Hoyte, but he's better. He's short, wide and he hits like a ton of bricks. He's pretty solid in pass coverage, but he'll have difficult with matching up with Darius Walker out of the backfield.Junior Mike backer John Thompson (6-1, 234 pounds) will could mix into the line-up throughout the game. Sophomore Brandon Logan (6-0, 218 pounds) is listed as the No.2 Will backer, but if Graham went down, Michigan would likely turn to Burgess.
Michigan has some experience in the defensive backfield, but this was not an impressive group last season. Michigan has four corners that have played considerable minutes, but they're not strong in run support and they can be beaten over the top. Hall is probably the best of the group, but opposite him, you have inexperience.
Leon Hall will start for his third consecutive season. He has nine career interceptions. Carr and Ron English have touted him as the best cornerback in the country. I think that's a bit strong. He's a solid player, but he I'd not worried about him shutting down Jeff Samardzija or Rhema McKnight.
Charles Stewart has good size, but he doesn't have much experience. There was was talk last season about him getting playing time, but he ended uup playing primarily on special teams.
Brandent Englemon started for most of last season, but was a little suspect most of the season.
Jamar Adams started eight games last season. He registered 33 tackles in 2005.Michigan will use more players in the defensive backfield to find the guys who are willing to step up. Notre Dame will see cornerbacks Morgan Trent (6-1, 184, Jr.) and Johnny Sears (6-0, 184, So.). At safety Michigan will use Ryan Mundy (6-1, 208, Sr.) and Willis Barringer (6-0, 210, 5th Sr.)
Final Thought - This week the Irish will concentrate on stuffing the Michigan running game. Shut down Hart and Grady and then make Henne beat you. The Notre Dame secondary is capable of containing the Michigan wide receivers. The biggest problem for Michigan is their offensive line.
Michigan will blitz Quinn and the Notre Dame offensive line will need to keep the Michigan backers from hitting him. If they do that, this could get ugly.
Michigan fans have been calling this a make or break game for their program since this summer. I tend to agree with them. So many Michigan fans predicted that the Irish would already have one loss, if they didn't have two. I'd hate to be a Michigan fan this week. They're sitting and waiting for the days to pass as the future of their program hangs in the balance. It has to be tough. The salt on the wound is all the hate and anger they feel toward Charlie Weis and he's the one who will deal the final blow.
Carr has never won in South Bend and he had a losing record against Tyrone Willingham.
Bo will need to do two things after this weekend.
First, get Notre Dame off the schedule. Second, start writing Carr's resignation letter.
Notre Dame 42 Michigan 17
Notre Dame vs Michigan Preview
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