Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 2: Michigan

Michigan Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

Michigan is running the spread option, but they've yet to set the world on fire with it. With the spread, you expect to see many people running the ball, and here's how Michigan's 60 rushing attempts have broken down so far:
  • 34 running back (57 percent)
  • 14 quarterback non-sacks (23 percent)
  • 5 wide receiver (8 percent)
  • 3 sacks (5 percent)
  • 3 team (5 percent)
  • 1 fullback (2 percent)
Of the running back attempts, freshman 2 Sam McGuffie has been far and away the go-to guy with 25, or 12.5 per game. He's averaging 41 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry. Returning upperclassmen 4 Brandon Minor and 24 Kevin Grady also have multiple carries. Minor is averaging 2.5 carries and 18 yards per game, and 7.2 yards per carry. In Grady's lone game he carried three times for six yards.

10 Steven Threet has seen slightly more playing time than 8 Nick Sheridan at quarterback, and Threet has a 13 to 6 advantage in yards per game, as well as a 2.6 to 1.7 edge in yards per carry. 20 Michael Shaw has made four of the five wide receiver rushing attempts. He's averaging two carries and 23 yards per game, or 11.5 yards per carry. I would assume that Shaws' carries come on end-arounds (including option plays) or plays where he is first motioned into the backfield. His 46 rushing yards make him second on the team to McGuffie in that category. McGuffie, Minor, and Threet each have one of the team's three rushing touchdowns on the year.

It will be interesting to see how the Notre Dame defense stacks up against the Michigan ground game. The four Irish safeties - Kyle McCarthy, David Bruton, Sergio Brown, and Harrison Smith all had good games against San Diego State. With Michigan's shaky passing game, any of the four can come up in run support. However, while they may have a size advantage on the smaller McGuffie and Shaw, they will need help against the larger Minor, Grady, Threet, and Sheridan.

That's where the defensive line comes in. The line was virtually nonexistent on the stat sheet last week, but that was largely due to San Diego State's playcalling - shotgun snaps, quick throws, and runs outside the tackles. This week will be the first true test of Notre Dame's defensive line.

The safeties and line will also need help from the outside linebackers and defensive ends. No doubt Michigan will be using outside runs and misdirection, and the outside men on the Irish front seven will need to stay disciplined and keep containment to counter.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Michigan Rush Defense

Many Notre Dame fans were upset that the first attempt at a new "pound the ball" offense meant a 50/50 run/pass mix and barely over 100 yards rushing against a poor run defense. The Irish had a pretty vanilla game plan on the ground, with no runs by any position other than tailback. Armando Allen had 17 carries for 59 yards, or 3.5 yards per carry. Robert Hughes had 16 for 58, or 3.4 per. Some things to watch this weekend: Will James Aldridge work his way back into the rotation? Who gets the ball on short yardage, Hughes, Aldridge, or even Asaph Schwapp or Jimmy Clausen? Will Notre Dame pull a page from Michigan's playbook and run Golden Tate or another receiver on an end-around?

Michigan returns a majority of their defense from last year, and once again they are stout against the run. It's a small sample size, but the Wolverines are giving up only 41 yards per game on the ground this year. Defensive end 55 Brandon Graham leads the team with 5.5 tackles for a loss, and fellow linemen 90 Tim Jamison (end), 97 Will Johnson, and 67 Terrance Taylor have combined for five more.

Michigan Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Despite running what most consider a run-oriented offense, Michigan has passed (56 times) almost as much as it has run (60 times) this year. Plus, those rushing numbers include three sacks and three "team" rushes, which I assume were fumbled snaps. However, despite the balanced attack, Michigan hasn't had much success with the pass. Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan have shared time at quarterback so far. Sheridan has been the more accurate passer, completing 62.5 percent of his attempts. Threet has completed only 43.8 percent of his passes, but all indications say that he will begin to get the edge in playing time.

To this point, Threet's average day consisted of completing 7 of 16 passes for 66 yards. Sheridan's average is 7-8 completions on 12 attempts for 69 yards. Both have a touchdown pass on the season, and Sheridan has one interception while Threet has none.

Notre Dame's vaunted new blitz attack only netted one sack last week, but there are a variety of possible reasons for that. Maybe it was San Diego State's gameplan to get the pass of quickly. Maybe it was the Irish not wanting to show their hand to Michigan. Or maybe they just haven't gotten the hang of things yet. Despite playing a soft zone to begin the game, however, Notre Dame did end up with eight pass breakups, two along the line (both by John Ryan) six in the secondary.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen played like a sophomore last week - he still made plenty of freshman mistakes, but he also showed the confidence of someone with a few starts already under his belt. One thing's for sure, though - scrambling 20 yards back, video game-style sure won't work against Michigan's defense.

When all was said and done, Clausen completed 21 of 34 passes (62 percent) to eight different receivers. Golden Tate and David Grimes were the top targets. Tate had six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, while Grimes had five for 35 and a score. Robert Hughes and Armando Allen were each used three times out of the backfield, and tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Will Yeatman each had a catch. Michael Floyd made a splashing debut with a 22-yard touchdown catch.

Duval Kamara had a day to forget. Balls thrown to him resulted in one catch for the Irish and two for the opposition. To add injury to insult, Kamara also left for part of the game with what appeared to be leg cramps. That allowed Tate to step up and make his mark on the game.

Michigan likes to get pressure from their front four. The four linemen mentioned above - Graham, Jamison, Johnson, and Taylor - lead the team with two sacks each. Linebacker 45 Obi Ezeh has the team's loan interception, while safety 27 Brandon Harrison leads the club with three pass breakups.

Special Teams

84 KC Lopata returns as Michigan's place kicker this year. So far he's made 2 of 3 field goal attempts. All his attempts have been from 40+ yards, and his longest make is from 50. Brandon Walker was only able to get one field goal attempt off last week. It was wide right from 47 yards, but at least it had enough leg on it.

Strong-legged punter 41 Zoltan Mesko is back for the Wolverines. So far he is averaging 41.6 yards per kick with a long if 56. Three of his 14 punts have been fair caught. Eric Maust averaged 39.5 yards per punt last week, with a long of 50.

Michigan's kick return duties have been shared by Brandon Harrison, Michael Shaw, cornerback 33 Boubacar Cissoko, and wide receiver 22 Darryl Stonum. Cissoko and Harrison are the only two with multiple returns, and each are averaging 27 yards per runback. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 60.5 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with a spectacular 12.5 return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 22. That's basically the same as a touchback, plus we get the joy of watching Mike Anello sprint down the field and drag a guy to the ground like his life depended on it.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate again will be back deep for the Irish on kickoffs. Allen is averaging 29 yards per return. Tate had one return last week for 28 yards. 43 Bryan Wright is Michigan's kickoff specialist. He is averaging 66.5 yards per kick, but surprisingly has yet to get a touchback. Michigan's kick coverage team is surrendering 20.1 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 23 or 24 yard line.

Starting cornerback 6 Donovan Warren is Michigan's punt returner. He's averaging a pedestrian 3.7 yards per return with a long of 17. Armando Allen returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging 17.5 yards per return with a long of 22. Allen does seem to let balls drop that he possibly should fair catch, but I'm sure most Irish fans would prefer that to an attempted fair catch that turned into a fumble.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Duval Kamara, Kyle McCarthy, and Mike Anello


Notre Dame 18, Michigan 16