September 19, 2006 // Final Review

Final Review: Michigan

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Michigan Wanted it More
The Michigan players played this game with a fire that the Irish player’s were lacking. Whether it was the business like approach or whether it was the fact that the Irish were playing their 3rd tough game in row, the bottom line was Michigan simply played with more passion. It’s hard to mentally be prepared for three big games in a row, especially after such a big win a week ago.

Running Game Isn’t Getting it Done
This one is obvious, but still is worth mentioning it. A lot of the offensive problems for the Irish this year stem from the inability to run the ball effectively to take pressure off of the passing game. Opposing defenses are pinning their ears back and relentlessly blitzing Quinn and its affecting his accuracy.

Quinn’s Accuracy
The accuracy problems plaguing Quinn this year are partly due to the pressure he has felt. He didn’t have a chance to get comfortable in the pocket and it clearly rattled him. Even when he did have time he was off target on a number of throws. Even his touchdown pass to Jeff Samardzija was behind him, but Samardzija made a great catch to haul it in. Did the Heisman hype get to Brady? Maybe. The offensive problems do not solely rest on Quinn’s shoulder, as there is plenty of blame to go around, but as the quarterback a lot of the blame is being thrown Quinn’s way whether its fair or not.

Quinn still has time to turn it around but in order to do so he is going to need his offensive line to step up and improve protection.

More running backs need to be worked in

Darius Walker was largely ineffective and the lack of depth behind him is partly to blame. Michigan worked in Kevin Grady along with starter Mike Hart a lot and both backs were fresh. Walker, meanwhile, saw all the snaps at running back until Weis put in the backups. Running back is a demanding position so it’s a bit unreasonable to expect one back to take all the snaps and still be completely effective. Walker’s running style is also partly to blame. With the line no creating big lanes for him to run, he needs to hit the hole quicker – before it closes. Walker still looks great on draws but average off tackle.

Offensive Line Struggled
Of everything that went wrong for the Irish Saturday, the struggles of the offensive line surprise me the most. With the experience and talent returning, I really felt the Notre Dame offensive line would be a strength for this team. Instead it’s a liability right now. They aren’t opening up running lanes for Darius Walker and they aren’t giving Quinn enough time in the pocket, especially early in games. The number of mental mistakes from this group has also been extremely disappointing.
The Michigan defensive line dominated the trenches Saturday and as a result the Notre Dame offense struggled to sustain offense and couldn’t get anything going in the second half once the Irish defense settled in.

Defensive Line was Strong
The defensive line really didn’t play all that bad. A lot of posters have stated that the Michigan offensive line dominated the game, but I don’t see it that way. Victor Abiamiri was a force at times Saturday and played one of his better games. Trevor Laws was also strong up the middle. The line disrupted running plays and put the linebackers in position to make plays, but they had trouble getting off blocks and couldn’t stop some plays for little or no gain when it appeared they would have the chance to do so.

Geoff Price impressive again

Price definitely has a leg. He is booming the ball better than any punter the Irish have had since Hunter Smith. Price averaged over 50 yards a punt Saturday. He still needs to improve on his pin-point punting, but his has a major league leg and has bailed the Irish out in the field position department this year.

McKnight/Samardzija’s Struggles

Both receivers had uncharacteristic games. Rhema dropped more passes in a game than I remember him dropping in his career. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but the bottom line is I was really shocked at the number of drops. McKnight looked for a flag on almost every play which is also something I’m not used to seeing.

The lack of rushing attack is allowing defenses to focus in on the talented receivers for the Irish and since neither is “burner”, defenses have been able to keep the two from burning them deep.

Grimes Starting to Emerge
The Irish offense needs some play makers at receiver to take the pressure off of McKnight and Samardzija and Grimes took a step in that direction. He had an incredible catch on the touchdown drive at the end of the second quarter and looks like he has good hands.

Quinn can still win the Heisman and Notre Dame still win the National Championship

Both causes were seriously knocked off course Saturday, but not completely derailed. Strange things can happen in college football. A few years back Florida State fell into the title game with a loss so its definitely possible. Saturday exposed a lot of holes for the Irish, but the team and coaching staff won’t give up on their goal of a title and neither should the fans.

As for Quinn, he is going to need some help in the Heisman race, but a strong finish can erase some the memories of voters, especially if he goes into Los Angeles and has a big game. Carson Palmer won the Heisman with a huge game over the Irish in the Coliseum after a slow start to his season.

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