In his first two games as the head coach at Michigan, Rich Rodriguez's spread offense looks nothing like the explosive units he coached up at West Virginia. But how could anyone expect it to? The Wolverines lost a lot of talent from last year's offense including Chad Henne, Michael Hart and Mario Manningham, and came into the season very inexperienced on this side of the ball.
What Michigan does have, and what the Notre Dame defense needs to be on guard of, is a couple big-play threats that could quickly change the dynamic of what should be a very close game between two teams still trying to establish an identity.
McGuffie rushed for nearly 6,000 yards in his prep career at Cy-Fair High in Cypress, Texas, becoming a YouTube phenomenon with his ridiculous touchdown runs. In his first-career start, a 25-23 loss to Utah, McGuffie had just eight yards rushing on eight carries. He bounced back last week in the 16-6 victory over Miami (Ohio), rushing for 74 yards, and getting 32 more yards by air. He had a long run of 26 yards, and a long pass reception of 27. At any point, McGuffie can go the distance.
Odoms is a name familiar to Notre Dame, as the Irish were one of the many programs to offer him a scholarship. In two games, the Pahokee, Fla., receiver leads the team in receptions (8) and yards (64). Most of his yards came on one play, a 50-yard screen against Miami. That's how Rodriguez likes to use Odoms, screen passes in space, and the Irish defense has to be on alert of that all afternoon.
Those aren't the only two guys that can run on Michigan's offense. Freshman running back Michael Shaw took home three medals at the Nike Outdoor National track meet last spring, including a win in the 200-meter dash with a time of 21.19. He had 45 rushing yards on two carries, including a 30-yard gain against Miami, before leaving with a groin injury. He might be another guy the Irish have to watch out for, if he can play.
Grady made his return to the Michigan lineup last weekend, rushing three times for six yards. He was suspended for the first game because of a DUI, and was reinstated to the team last Wednesday. Grady missed all of last season with an injury, but the senior flashed enough potential in his first two seasons, to show he certainly has the talent to be a star on the college level. Notre Dame doesn't want to make Grady a household name.
Junior receiver Greg Mathews is the team's top returning receiver and punt returner. He missed last week's game with an ankle injury, but says he'll be ready to go against the Irish.
Achilles Heal(s): The passing game and a makeshift offensive line.
With Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan both doing nothing to set themselves apart from one another, Rodriguez hasn't been able to settle in on who his starting quarterback is. The two have each started a game, and made some plays showing signs they're capable of doing the job, but the negatives have certainly outweighed the positives. Rodriguez heads into this week not really knowing who will start against the Irish.
The longest pass of the season has been the 50-yard screen to Odoms, so the vertical game has been non-existent. In two games, Threet is 14-of-32 passing for 132 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. Sheridan is 15-of-24 for 138 yards, a score and a pick. Both seem to just be filling the role until Tate Forcier signs his letter-of-intent and enrolls into school.
Making matters worse, Michigan is using an offensive line that is playing without seven of it's top eight linemen from last season. Offensive guard Corey Zirbel was lost for the season, and left tackle Mark Ortmann went down with an elbow injury against Miami.
Miscellaneous: Michigan is just 5-for-25 on third down this season. They're getting killed in the time-of-possession battle, 35:34 to 24:27. The Wolverines have been in the red zone just five times, but have scored on four of those opportunities.
Threat(s):The Wolverines bring pressure and make plays behind the line of scrimmage, and have a very experienced secondary.
Michigan returns eight starters from last season, and a whole lot of veteran players.
The down four is as good a unit as the Irish will see all season. Defensive end Brandon Graham ranks third in the nation in tackles for loss per game, and is a big reason why Michigan's nine sacks ranks second nationally. Tim Jamison, Terrence Taylor and Will Johnson round out a very talented defensive line.
Notre Dame didn't allow a sack in its season-opening win against San Diego St., but the offensive line that allowed a program record 58 sacks a year ago will definitely be challenged on Saturday.
In the secondary, Morgan Trent is a three-year starter, and Donovan Warren was one of the best freshman players in the country last fall. Brandon Harrison ranks second on the team in tackles with 14 from his strong safety spot, and first in pass breakups with three. Stevie Brown has played in 28 games as a Wolverine.
Take away the first half of the loss to Utah, and the Michigan defense has only allowed nine points over six quarters. Utah passed for 253 yards in the first half. Since then, the Wolverines have only allowed 257 yards passing.
Achilles Heal(s):Nothing stands out.
One could argue the pass defense, but take away that first half against the Utes, and the Wolverines have been pretty good in this department. And with the experience in the secondary, and the pass-rush ability of the defensive line, this team will get better against the pass as the season goes on.
Michigan has been stellar against the run, allowing just 41.5 yards per game, good for fourth in the nation. Miami could only muster up 1.5 yards per carry. The way Notre Dame has consistently run the football over the last year, it doesn't look good for Saturday.
Miscellaneous: Michigan ranks 12th in the nation in tackles for loss per game. Linebacker Obi Ezeh leads the team with 20 tackles and an interception. Teams are 13-of-38 on third down against the Wolverines, and have just two touchdowns in seven red zone attempts.
Game Notes: This is the 26th-ever meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan. The Wolverines lead the series with a 20-14-1 record. The Vegas line has Notre Dame opening as four-point favorites. Charlie Weis' record against Michigan is 1-2. Rich Rodriguez's record against Notre Dame is 0-1.
Prediction: Notre Dame 17, Michigan 14.
The Irish defense will setup one short score for Notre Dame, and special teams will set up another. Yards will be hard to come by, but the offense will be able to do just enough to help the home team start the season 2-0.
Both punters will see the field quite a bit.
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