Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009
Issue 2: Michigan

Michigan Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

In the opener against Western Michigan, Wolverines quarterbacks kept the ball on 23 run attempts and handed off on 27. That's a pretty even mix, especially considering that 22 of those 23 keepers were made by freshmen quarterbacks #5 Tate Forcier and #16 Denard Robinson. Forcier, the starter, ran 11 times for 37 yards and Robinson 11 for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Only one carry came from a receiver, as #19 Kelvin Grady went for 11 yards. This is a contrast from the Florida and Missouri spreads, which liberally hand off to their slot receivers. However, it's possible that Michigan was simply saving those plays for bigger games - like this week's.

Running back #23 Carlos Brown had 10 carries for 54 yards, while fellow backs #20 Michael Shaw and #2 Vincent Smith had 7 for 34 and 6 for 23 respectively. So the Wolverines like to mix in all their capable backs.

Somewhat surprisingly, Michigan mainstay #24 Kevin Grady has essentially fallen to fourth string, seeing only two carries for seven yards. On one hand, it's not surprising to see the 230 lb Grady passed over in favor of smaller, quicker backs in the spread offense. But on the other hand, Rich Rodriguez did have success with bruising fullbacks like Owen Schmitt at West Virginia.

Notre Dame's went the bend-don't-break route against Nevada's run game in week 1, giving up 153 rushing yards and letting safeties Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith lead the team in tackles. Middle linebacker Toryan Smith was right behind them, and he'll have another chance to play the role of run-stuffer against the Wolverines.

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Michigan Run Defense

Armando Allen and Jonas Gray both had efficient games against Nevada, averaging 4.8 and 5.6 yards respectively. Allen ran 15 times for 72 yards, while Gray got his fair share of touches with 9 carries for 50 yards.

It will be interesting to see how Notre Dame handles the fullback situation with James Aldridge out. Aldridge ran rather effectively before leaving the Nevada game with a shoulder injury. Will Notre Dame turn the fullback role over to the untested Steve Paskorz? Will they give Robert Hughes a crash course at the position? Or will they scrap the fullback entirely in favor of one-back sets and formations using H-back Bobby Burger?

The Wolverines were in Western Michigan's backfield all day, holding the Broncos to just 38 rushing yards. Michigan returns four starters to its front seven, which runs a hybrid 3-4 defense with a linebacker that can also be used as a 4-3 defensive end.

The Michigan D is led by end #55 Brandon Graham and middle linebacker #45 Obi Ezeh. Graham was held in check by the Broncos, but Ezeh had a forced fumble and six tackles, one and a half for a loss. Outside linebacker #3 Stevie Brown and "Quick" linebacker #58 Brandon Herron combined for 9 tackles in the game.

Michigan Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

For the most part, the spread is a fairly balanced offense. So, despite the fact that Tate Forcier was making his college debut, he still had 20 pass attempts. Forcier completed 13 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns, a pretty efficient day. Denard Robinson completed two of the four passes he attempted, for 18 yards. For the most part, it looks at this point like Forcier is the better overall quarterback, and track champion Robinson is just out for his running ability. But Robinson will try the ocassional short pass to keep defenses in check.

Wideout #21 Junior Hemingway was Forcier's top target in week 1, hauling in five catches, two of them touchdowns, for 103 yards. Tight end #86 Kevin Koger, veteran receiver #13 Greg Mathews, and Kelvin Grady also had multiple catches. If one game is any indication, Hemingway will be the deep threat, with Koger, Matthews, and Grady playing safety valves for their young quarterback.

Notre Dame used a talented secondary and efficient blitzing to hold Nevada to an 18 percent success rate on third down and 153 passing yards overall. The Irish corners continue to play soft in man coverage, seemingly preferring a catch and a sure tackle to a big gain on an attempted (and failed) pass breakup. Like last week, Notre Dame's safeties and blitzers can't get too greedy and leave the corners out on islands too often.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen has been near perfect in his last two starts against the WAC, and now he'll get to try his luck against the Big 10. In the season opener, Clausen was an efficient 15 for 18 for 315 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Clausen will work to four primary targets this year, wideouts Michael Floyd and Golden Tate, tight end Kyle Rudolph, and back Armando Allen. Going against a tougher defense this week, Clausen's goal should be avoiding bad habits from last year, notably not forcing the ball to Kyle Rudolph in coverage.

Michigan's secondary is a cause for concern. Despite two interceptions, the Wolverines did allow Western Michigan to complete almost 60 percent of its passes for 263 yards. Corner #6 Donovan Warren had one of those interceptions, and also led Michigan with 6.5 tackles in the opener.

But don't assume that Michigan's thin secondary means that Notre Dame will come out in four- and five-wide sets. Against Nevada, the Irish mostly utilized traditional two- and three-wide sets to help protect Jimmy Clausen, and they still had success through the air.

Special Teams

After three years on the practice squad, #92 Jason Olesnavage has earned a spot as Michigan's starting placekicker. In the opener, Olesnavage hit from 44 yards in his only field goal attempt. Freshman Nick Tausch of Notre Dame did not attempt a field goal last week, but he did chip in all five extra point attempts.

To recap, Michigan's quarterback is 6'1", 188; its placekicker is 6'5", 213; and punter #41 Zoltan Mesko is 6'5", 231. Mesko punted five times in the Western Michigan game, a number that tarnishes Michigan's offensive numbers a bit. Of course, maybe the Wolverines just wanted to show off his powerful leg, one that averaged 47.2 yards per punt in the game with a long of 66. In the "it's only one game" category, Michigan gave up only 3 yards per punt return. Notre Dame's Eric Maust punted three times last week with a long of 43 yards and an average of 40.7. Nevada was not able to make a return.

Michigan's kick returners are backup receivers #22 Darryl Stonum and #9 Martavious Odoms. Each had one return for 20 yards last week. Nick Tausch averaged 58.5 yards per kick last week, even including a kick where he lost his footing. The Irish gave up 17.6 yards per return, giving opponents an average start around the 30.

Notre Dame's Theo Riddick had the team's lone kick return last week, for 23 yards. It remains to be seen who will replace James Aldridge next to Riddick this week.. Michigan returns kickoff specialist #43 Bryan Wright. Wright averaged 66.5 yards per kick with one touchback in week 1. Michigan gave up 22.2 yards per kick return. That's an average start on the 26 yard line.

Greg Mathews returns punts for the Wolverines. He's had two returns in 2009, one for zero yards and one for 16. Returning punts for the Irish will be either Golden Tate or Armando Allen. In Tate's lone chance last week, he had a -2 yard return.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Toryan Smith, Brian Smith, Nick Tausch, Theo Riddick


Notre Dame 21, Michigan 16