By Nick Shepkowski
Domer Sports Report
Who: Michigan (1-1) at Notre Dame (1-0)
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana
When: 3:30 p.m. est
In a series that has offered many great moments such as Rocket Ismail's two return day in the Big House to Desmond Howard's "catch" two years later, Notre Dame and Michigan have turned in multiple classic games. Remember just two years ago, the two teams met in South Bend and, after Michigan dominated ND all afternoon, both teams still went on to qualify for BCS games. Or remember last year, the first time in history both teams were 0-2 in the same season? It seems that these two programs are not headed for any BCS games anytime soon, but both will prosper once again in given time. Saturday will likely not be this day.
So what will 2008 bring in the storied matchup? Notre Dame is coming off of a come from behind win at the expense of San Diego State in the Irish's season opener a week ago, while Michigan enters 1-1, fresh off of a 16-6 win over Miami of Ohio. Based on those scores alone you can tell these aren't your father's traditional Irish and Wolverine teams.
Michigan will enter Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday with a spread offense attack, just lacking real spread offense type players. Despite the lack of overall speed on the Wolverines, Rich Rodriguez decided to go with the same offense he found great success with at West Virginia with the likes of Pat White and Steve Slaton. Fortunately for the Irish, there is nowhere near the talent of those West Virginia teams on this Michigan squad.
The Irish should match up very well with Michigan when the Wolverines have the football. Led by quarterbacks Nick Sheridan (15 of 24 for 138 Yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) and Steven Treet (14 of 32 for 132 Yds, 1 TD, 0 INT), the Wolverines have struggled to move the ball offensively this season. Successfully blitzing either of these two quarterbacks will be a big key in deciding what exactly happens on the field Saturday. With the lack of experience upfront (one starter back from a year ago on the offensive line) do not expect Michigan to take to much blitzing very kindly.
Kevin Grady was supposed to head this backfield for the Wolverines, but an off season DUI has slowed his time this year. He was suspended for the week one contest vs. Utah and rushed for only six yards on three carries against Miami (OH). In his place the Wolverines have inserted freshman Sam McGuffie, who has carried the ball 25 times and averaged only 3.3 yards per in that time. Once again, the weak offensive line of Michigan will not do any favors for the running game and Notre Dame should be able to control this aspect of the game.
Gone from a year ago are the likes of Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington and in their places are Martavious Odoms, Junior Hemingway, and Michael Shaw. Odoms leads the bunch with eight receptions for 64 yards in two games, but Hemingway and Shaw are the only Wolverines to bring down a touchdown reception so far in 2008, having one apiece. None of the three supply the same kind of deep threat that Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington both did and there won't be any Michigan wide outs donning a #1 jersey anytime soon in Ann Arbor.
The bottom line is that this offense is not your typical Michigan offense. The Irish were able to rush the quarterback a week ago and for the most part slowed down the San Diego State running game as well. Especially after already seeing a spread offense that is likely just as good, if not better than Michigan's, I really expect to see Notre Dame control this aspect of the game.
When Notre Dame has the ball I ask for the Irish to be able to do one thing this Saturday: Avoid third and longs. That is a key to almost every game, but against Michigan it comes out to be that much more important. If the Irish can get any sort of ground game going and force the defense of Michigan to keep guessing, Notre Dame could very easily put a lot of points on the board.
Unfortunately, with what I saw against San Diego State, I do not feel that Notre Dame will be able to run the ball as well as Irish fans would like. Although Robert Hughes and Armando Allen both showed good things at times this past Saturday, the offensive line will have their work cut out for themselves against the front seven of Michigan, anchored by Brandon Graham and Terrance Taylor.
Where Notre Dame will likely find success on offense on Saturday will be in the short yardage passing game, much like they did late in the game as Jimmy Clausen found Golden Tate on a pretty regular basis. According to my prediction that the running game will struggle, if that holds up I would expect to see the Irish start to work in short pass routes to try and pick up some yardage. After a few short passes is when the inexperienced safeties of Michigan in Stevie Brown and Artis Chambers will cheat up a bit or try to help out a bit too much. Expect to see the Wolverines burned deep over the middle at least once for a big play in Notre Dame's favor through the air this weekend. The safeties aren't a strong point for Michigan, but the corners (Donovan Warren and Morgan Trent) are. That's why attacking the safeties deep off the bat will be almost too predictable of thing to do.
Overall this match up of Notre Dame offense vs. Michigan Defense turns up being quite the draw. If Notre Dame can establish a running game it will be a rout in Notre Dame's favor. However, don't count on that and expect the Irish to have to pass in order to be able to pick up consistent first downs.
The special teams on Saturday may go a long way in deciding the winner of the ballgame. Notre Dame showed great discipline as they allowed very minimal returns each time against San Diego State in both the punting and kickoff teams. Michigan offers a better kicker and punter in Zoltan Inekso and KC Lopata than the Irish. Slight advantage to the Wolverines in Special Teams.
Finally its prediction time...
Notre Dame will be able to blitz Michigan fairly well most of the afternoon. Early success means an extra back or tight end staying into block. Expect the Irish to maybe not have a pick-6 but at least one touchdown set up by way of turnover which will be the difference in the end.
Notre Dame over Michigan, 17-7 - Nick (1-0)
Notre Dame over Michigan, 24-14 - Mark (1-0)
Michigan over Notre Dame, 21-20 - Joe (1-0)