For the third week in a row, we have an in-depth look at Notre Dame’s opponent from a blogger covering the opposition. This week’s comes to us from the staff over at GoBMWolverine.
The article below is meant to dovetail with the recently presented opening look at Notre Dame’s offense. In addition, several game nuances and position reports will be presented.
First off is a look at Michigan’s status entering this game. Michigan is a program in transition, even though the Wolverines enjoyed a very successful 2011 season under first year coach Brady Hoke. In the fans’ eyes the season was great. But in the coaches’ eyes the team still did not get the job done, that is, achieve stated objectives, as the Wolverines did not win the Big Ten Championship or divisional title.
Ever since Hoke and Borges arrived on campus, the staff has been endeavoring to install an Alabama style offense with power running, play action, and pro style offense. One clear problem is that in 2011 and 2012 Michigan’s best shot at winning titles is playing a spread style offense. At this time Michigan does not have a quarterback capable of thriving in an Alabama style offense. Adding to this problematic quandary is the current reality that Michigan does not have a great offensive line or an impact tight end. The knowledgeable observer can see that offensive coordinator Coach Al Borges has a dilemma that will hinder the timetable of establishing the power game.
Point two in the nuance department is that Michigan has had Notre Dame’s number the past three years in the last minutes of the game. Things can stay the same or things can change. Regardless, this game should be an interesting match-up especially after Notre Dame defeated Michigan State with some ease on the Spartans’ home turf. How will that game affect this game? How will the injuries to both teams play out? Michigan is missing several starters or players that were in the two deep. As Coach Hoke stated it is time for the next player in line to take the spot and step up.
Finally, from an historical viewpoint, this is one of the best college football rivalries ever, with the similarities of the universities, national exposure that follows both programs, the closeness of the universities, and the obvious fact that history and tradition just oozes out every time Michigan and Notre Dame take the field together. Next up is the scouting report.
This is Denard Robinson’s team. The 2012 Michigan team will go as far as Denard’s legs and arm allow. He was basically the entire offense in Michigan’s two victories. He was ineffective versus Alabama, as was in fairness the entire team. Regardless of shortcomings, in this site’s opinion (GBMWolverine) Denard Robinson is one of the more dynamic offensive players in the game.
The return of Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off a suspension for off the field problems has helped. He is the team’s top running back, regardless of a less that stellar start. Thomas Rawls is an effective between the tackles type runner. Vincent Smith is the team’s third-down back, but all the coaches will tell you he is one of the strongest players on the team pound per pound. Oh, and he also blocks.
Again, the lack of a true vertical threat is noticeable. Alabama and Air Force were able to crowd the line of scrimmage and make life difficult for Michigan. The freshmen have been solid and we expect them to see more and more playing time. Devin Gardner, who is Michigan’s back-up quarterback, is the best receiver on the team; he seems to get open and is a threat after he catches the ball.
Devin Funchess, a true freshman, is a competent receiver. At this time he is not a great blocker because of his size and youth. Brandon Moore’s injury has further weakened an already under-manned position and the only real big tight end is A.J. Williams who also is a true freshman.
As predictable Michigan has had problems replacing All-Big Ten offensive center David Molk, who was a four-year starter and the best center in the country last season. His leadership and toughness have not been replaced. This group lacks cohesion and was in position limbo, right up until the first game, where during game week practices Elliott Mealer replaced Ricky Barnum at the center position.
The best defenders on the 2011 team played defensive line and Michigan lost three very good players. Their graduation left a huge hole that has not been filled as the team keeps searching for players that can stop run gaps and also put pressure on the quarterback. The lack of a pure edge rusher, and not adequately replacing Mike Martin (Tennessee Titans), have made this group average at best. Frank Clark has come on strong lately, but how will he do against a bigger, more powerful offensive line? We are still wondering about the outcome of this scenario going into the Notre Dame game.
Possibly the worse performing group on the defense, in our opinion, is the upperclassmen linebackers. The lack of quickness and athletic ability again has been noticeable early on in the season. Jake Ryan does provide some quarterback pressure, but nobody covers well, and playing in space for this group is an adventure. The bright spots right now are two true freshman, James Ross and Joe Bolden, both have played fairly well, as did Ringer in spring practice, But again, playing true freshman and going up against excellent teams with seasoned veterans is not a recipe for instant success
Losing Blake Countess, the team’s best defensive back (during the Alabama game — out for the season), was and is a major blow. Lack of speed and athletic ability has been a problem for this group (and the team in general) for several years and was very noticeable against a team like Alabama. Courtney Avery has had to step up and take a bigger role besides being the nickel back. Raymon Taylor has stepped up some and has the athletic ability to progress over time. Jordan Kovacs is a player that Michigan fans love to death because of what he embodies: he was a walk-on, who got cut once, came back the following year, made the team, and now has been a starter at safety for three years and has recently been named captain this year. He isn’t the best athlete on the field, nor the fastest, but he will give you everything he has every single time he steps on the field.