Former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson has taken over the defensive coordinator position at Michigan. Notre Dame played Syracuse twice while Robinson was the head man, and the Syracuse defense was able to do a solid job of containing the Irish offense, including last year's contest where the Orange held Notre Dame to 41 yards rushing. He has changed the way Michigan plays. This is a very active, very physical defense. The Wolverines run a ‘3-4-4' with a hybrid linebacker and a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end. This makes the unit more flexible and more capable of making adjustments on the fly.
The strength of the defense is the front three. The linebackers are athletic, but they are young and they're going to be counted on to make plays. The cornerbacks are very good, but the safeties are inexperienced. Overall this unit has a good mix of experience and younger players, but like Notre Dame in years past, they lack depth at nearly every position.
Last week against a solid Western Michigan squad, the Wolverines held the Broncos to just 38 yards rushing in 24 attempts, also limiting the offense to 301 total yards.
Defensive end: Brandon Graham (6-2, 263-pounds, Sr.)- Played in 36 games, starting 17 of those contests. He has 75 career tackles with a mind-boggling 40 of those being for a loss. He's a very strong, active player that can penetrate and make plays behind the line. He is quick and relentless off the edge (19 career sacks) and seems to have improved his pass rush moves. This is the man Notre Dame will have to control in order to move the ball consistently.
Nose tackle: Mike Martin (6-2, 292-pounds Soph.) Martin gained experience last season as a true-freshman, playing in 12 contests and registering 20 tackles, 4.5 for a loss. He's a good one. He's the strongest player on the Michigan roster. A former high school wrestling champion, he is undersized but makes up for it with his power and intensity. He is more of a disruptor than a run-stuffer, but he teams with Graham to form a formidable duo.
Defensive tackle: Ryan Van Bergen (6-6, 271-pounds, RS-Soph.) Played in 13 games, starting 2, including the Michigan opener last weekend.- This is his first year as a starter, but he has done well in spot duty to this point and had a good game against Western Michigan registering four tackles. An outside end a year ago, he now moves inside in certain packages and has both pass rush and run stopping ability.
Two-cents: This is the strength of the defense. Notre Dame doesn't have to dominate Graham , just slow him down. Martin and Van Bergen are very solid players, but there isn't much depth. In fact, Greg Banks is the most experience guy and he's been a spot player in the past. A hot day in Ann Arbor could be a problem for the big men.
Craig Roh - (6-4, 238-pounds, Fr.) A true freshman, Roh registering 4 tackles, one TFL and half a sack in his first game experience. He's still on the light side, but has great quickness and pass rush skills. He also drops into coverage quite a bit and is one of the guys the Wolverines will move around in an effort to confuse the quarterback. He is a great athlete, but may struggle if teams run directly at him.
Obi Ezeh (6-2, 243-pounds, Sr.) starter since his freshmen season, playing in 26 contest with 23 starts. Likely the best of the linebackers, he seems to always be able to find the ball and make the play. He is athletic, smart and has outstanding instincts. He registered 98 tackles last season with 7 going for a loss. Next to Graham, this is the player Notre Dame must neutralize. Expect to hear his named called often this weekend.
Jonas Mouton (6-2, 228-pounds, RS-Jr.) Mouton had 76 tackles last season in his first season as a starter. He's a solid player, but he isn't the player maker I thought he would be coming out of high school, as a highly ranked safety. He runs well and is one of the guys the team blitzes with frequency.
Stevie Brown (6-0, 211-pounds, Sr.) - Brown moved to a hybrid role this year and if the Western Michigan game is any indication, it may be the spot for him. He is fast and strong, but sometimes struggles to make tackles in space. He's played in every game of his Michigan career, starting 13 games at safety and one, last week at his new hybrid linebacker position.
Two-cents: Ezeh and Brown can make plays and they've shown it in the past… Mouton and Roh haven't. If Notre Dame can get out on Ezeh, the Irish offense will be successful. The depth has limited experience across the board, so this unit will need to play the entire game.
Cornerback: Boubacar Cissoko (5-9, 177-pounds, Soph.) Started one game last season, and played in all 12 games registering 15 tackles with two going for a loss. Grabbed his first career interception last week against Western Michigan. This year he's taken over the starters spot. He's young, but a very talented player. He has great feet and a lot of confidence. He is aggressive, bordering on over-aggressive at times. He is not real tall, but has good ball skills.
Cornerback: Donovan Warren (6-0, 185-pounds, Jr.) Started 23 of 25 career games since landing in Ann Arbor. He has two career interceptions while averaging 52 tackles in his first two seasons. I've always liked Warren as a player. He's got good size, and he's silky smooth in coverage. He's confident and he's physical. The one thing he needs to improve on, is playing the ball in the air. That being said, he's a corner that could neutralize Notre Dame's talented group of receivers.
Safety: Troy Woolfork (6-0, 193-pound, Jr.) He doesn't have much game playing experience, and he got his first game action at safety last week after spending his first two seasons at cornerback. He runs track at Michigan, so he has a lot of speed, but we'll have to see how he handles making consistent reads and being in the right place at the right time.
Safety: Mike Williams (5-11, 188-pounds, RS-Soph.)- Registered 21 tackles in 11 contests. Williams was a player Notre Dame thought it would land when he was coming out of St. Bonaventure High School (Calif.), but he spurned the Irish for the Wolverines. He's a solid all around player, but he hasn't shown big-time playmaking ability...yet. Williams is not big and not blazing fast, but he is a very good athlete. He's smart and, very good in run support, where he is a sure tackler.
Two-cents This group has potential with Warren and Cissoko, but their safeties are the question mark… can they make plays? Notre Dame can go deep with a number of players, so the safeties will need to play conservative. Also a major concern is depth. Two freshmen and a red-shirt freshman are the back-ups at corner and they have zero experience. At safety they have the same problem with an untested former wide receiver and a true freshman.