Before the 2007 season, Charlie Weis met with Rich Rodriguez while Rodriguez was still the head coach at West Virginia as he planned to implement the spread offense at least for the early portion of last season.
"It was more to learn how to put in a portion of the spread which we were figuring we were going to have to use early in the year," said Weis, who was impressed with the way the West Virginia offense was run at the line. "I was intrigued by how he did that and what forced him to check from one side to the other side. Obviously I came back with those notes. I don't know how much they'll help us, but I've got them."
Meanwhile, Weis admitted that the Irish may have not showed their full hand against San Diego State in the opener.
"Yes and no. You know, for me to sit there and say that we were schematically planning to run everything to the left because this week we're going to run everything to the right, that would be a lie. That was not the case, because you're still trying to win the game," he said. "Now, would you hold things back? Yeah, you would hold things back. But not at the expense of losing the game."
Weis sees evidence Rodriguez and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee are installing the offense in Ann Arbor at a good pace.
"They obviously are used to being able to develop and get rolling with a highly efficient, high-powered, high-scoring offense. There are elements of that already in place. For example, they've been in the red zone five times this season and scored four touchdowns," said Weis. "From the first week to the second week, second week they rushed for 178 yards and over 5 yards a carry, so you can see they're well on their way to implementing their offense at Michigan."
The Irish saw the spread in their first game against San Diego State, although the Aztecs are a more pass-orientated team. The Notre Dame head coach believes that playing the teams back-to-back will help the Irish.
"Formationally, yeah, because you have to learn to play in space. We've been talking throughout training camp about being able to play in space," he said. "I think the more practice you have playing in space, the more you get used to doing it."
The inclusion of the quarterback as both a passer and a runner is what makes Rodriguez's version of the spread difficult.
"Well, I think that the fact that the quarterback as a weapon, when everything is running the way Rich wants it to be running, the quarterback is as big a weapon as anyone else they have on the team. And normally when you're going in to stop a team, you know the quarterback is somebody you have to worry about his throwing or containing him in the pocket. But you don't have to worry about him so much as a weapon in the run game," Weis said. "So they have a whole other element because their quarterback and his system sometimes is as good, if not better, than all the rest of the other guys."
The Wolverines have played both Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan at quarterback in their first two games and while Threet scored a rushing touchdown in last week's win over Miami-Ohio, neither are truly threats on the ground. But Weis does not expect snaps to be limited to Threet and Sheridan this weekend.
"I think we could see three different quarterbacks in the game. Everyone will talk about Threet and Sheridan and the battle going on between the two of them, but I expect to see Carlos Brown in the game as well. I think they'll have a Carlos Brown-package that we're going to have to practice," said Weis. "He should be back and I know in training camp that was one of the other elements they added that they haven't had the last couple of weeks. So we're going to have to get ready for three different quarterbacks."
Aside from the quarterback, Michigan will try to get skill players in space where they can use their speed.
"I think speed is very important," Weis said. "(Martavious) Odoms, plays in the slot. He might be a small guy but one of the fastest guy you could see. (Running back Sam) McGuffie, he might be a freshman, but you saw him get better from the first game to the second game. But another thing, even though he's not the biggest guy in the world, but he's really fast."
Michigan could feature as many as five running backs this weekend with the inclusion of Brown.
"They started two pure freshmen, true freshmen here in the first couple of games in McGuffie and (Michael) Shaw. Shaw got banged up, I think he hurt his groin in the second quarter of last week's game, opening the door for Minor and Grady to get into the mix," said Weis. "Minor only had one carry but it went for 15 yards and a touchdown. Grady was not allowed to play in the first game but he got back in the mix last week."
Meanwhile, wide receiver might be Michigan's deepest position on offense.
"Their three wide receiver positions, they really are two-deep in all three spots," Weis said. "Their X, (Greg) Mathews, who actually hurt his ankle against Utah and didn't play last week, I think we'll see him back this week. Him or (Darryl) Stonum will be at the X. You have (LaTerryal) Savoy or (Junior) Hemingway, he also missed some time with a shoulder, but we think we'll see him back too at the Z. At the slot, Odoms, true freshman who can flat out fly. He's a small guy, but he can fly or (Toney) Clemons will be in the slot for them."
Michigan is a little banged up on the offensive line, which could cause some reshuffling up front.
"(Mark) Ortmann at left tackle got injured last week. I don't know if he'll play or not. When he went out (Bryant) Nowicki went in for him, but I think they might end up putting (Perry) Dorrestein over from the right tackle over to the left tackle if Ortmann can't go," Weis said.
With the offense still in the initial stages of installing the new system, Rodriguez will rely on the defense to keep the Wolverines in games.
"The strength of their team at this point is their front seven on defense, their whole defense. They return seven starters on defense and a few more with a lot of game experience," Weis said. "Coach (Scott) Shafer is over from Stanford who we went against last year and doing a lot of the same stuff, really good scheme on defense. And only giving up a little over 15 points a game and 41 yards rushing. And the 41 yards rushing is bad enough, it's 1.1 average per carry. Giving less than 35 percent on third down. Not giving up any fourth downs, and they have nine sacks in two games."
Weis said that while still aggressive, this year's Michigan defense more resembles the 2007 Stanford unit than the Michigan defense under former defensive coordinator Ron English.
"They really have two defensive packages. They had three packages really going into the first week where they had a regular package, a nickel package, then an odd package," he said. "But when they shuffled their linebackers around and made a more athletic Will in there, put him in that position right there where they could just go in and out from their over to even defense that they play and their 4-2/3 personnel to their odd package they go in and out of those two things and you have to be ready for both those packages."
The defensive line specifically is the strong point of the Michigan defense.
"You've got (Tim) Jamison and (Brandon) Graham at the ends. They're both good. I mean you can take all four of them. (Terrance) Taylor and (Renaldo) Sagesse and (Will) Johnson at defensive tackle. This front 4 is as good as you'll go against. They're experienced, big and good," said Weis. "One of the problems is if you just worry about (Graham) you've got Jamison on the other side. And Jamison's not any slouch. As a matter of fact, I think he might be the clear leader in sacks…So if you sit there and try and just take one guy out of the mix, you can always take one guy out. And the other side happens to be formidable, which this one is, it presents a big problem."
Middle linebacker Obi Ezeh is the only returning starter at linebacker for Michigan and after some shuffling, it seems that the Wolverines have settled on a first group.
"It looks like (John) Thompson and (Jonas) Mouton will end up being the (other) two linebackers," said Weis. "Thompson is a bigger guy. He started at Sam last week. Ezeh, as I said, he was the returning tackler from last year. He was the returning starter. But he's also defensive player of the week in the Big Ten week one. And Mouton is a converted safety that added about 20 pounds in the offseason and they moved him into Will. He is very athletic, looked very impressive at his first start at linebacker."
Michigan also has both experience and talent in the defensive backfield.
"The secondary, (Morgan) Trent has the most experience at corners. He's started 31 times; he and (Donovan) Warren will handle the corners. (Brandon) Harrison and (Stevie) Brown handle the safeties. Harrison will go down when they go to nickel, go in, cover the slot and bring in (Charles) Stewart at safety," Weis said.
The Irish staff will see a formidable group of special teams performers this week as well.
"Then they're solid on special teams. And their specialists in particular. (Zoltan) Mesko is a Ray Guy Award candidate as a punter. (K.C.) Lopata, handles the kicking and (Bryan) Wright handles the kickoffs and usually the ball gets inside the 5-yard line. He's hitting the ball pretty well on the kickoffs," said Weis. "They have four guys, two in the punt return and two in the kickoff return, with (Boubacar) Cissoko and Harrison as kick returners and Warren and Odoms at the punt returners. As you notice, all those guys are involved in the mix either on offense or defense as well."