Frankie V’s Preview: Notre Dame v. Michigan ’06

( – With my true feelings for Michigan out in the air, it’s time for an objective look at this weekend’s huge matchup in South Bend. With both team’s at 2-0 and both having national championship aspirations, the hype is in full swing and if history is any indication, we are in for a good game.There is a lot of talk about an Irish blowout across the Notre Dame message boards after last week’s 41-17 blowout of Penn State, but history tells us such an outcome is not likely. Of the 14 wins the Irish have over Michigan in the 33 game history of the series, only three of them have been by 10 or more points. In fact, in those 14 wins, the average margin of victory for the Irish has been by an average of 7.7 points.

The average score of this game has been Michigan 23, Notre Dame 20 since the series was reestablished in 1978, further evidence that these games tend to be close. No matter the rankings these two teams tend to play it down to the wire even though there was that 38-0 abiration in 2003.

This year, both teams come into the game ranked in the top 11 – Michigan at 11th and Notre Dame 2nd, the highest ranking they have brought in to a Michigan game since the #1 ranked Fighting Irish beat the 4th ranked Wolverines in 1990.

Michigan has had two tune-ups the last two weeks with home games against Vanderbilt (27-7) and Central Michigan (41-17), and have looked impressive at times and average at others.

This is game Michigan has had circiled on their calendars for a while.  After going 0-2 against Notre Dame and Ohio State last year they have made those two games their emphasis this entire off-season.  While Notre Dame was preparing for Georgia Tech and Penn State, Michigan had Vandy and Central Michigan, but had Notre Dame and Ohio State on its mind all off-season.

Mike Hart has accumulated 262 yards on the ground (5.2 yards/carry) and three touchdowns while the Michigan passing game has sputtered at times. Chad Henne has completed just 51% of his passes (21 of 41) for 248 yards and two touchdowns. Contrast that to Brady Quinn who completed 25 of 36 for 287 and three touchdowns this past weekend alone and it’s clear the Irish will have the edge at the quarterback position.

Hart and his backup Kevin Grady, however, have played well and have been more impressive than the Irish ground game which has featured primarily Darius Walker who has gained just 155 yards in two games.

Hart is a powerful runner back who is a more complete version of Penn State’s Tony Hunt who had success against the Irish a week ago. Hart was injured in the first quarter of last year’s game after a big hit by Corey Mays leaving Grady as the main runner for the Wolverines. Grady, a true freshman in 2005, did an admirable job replacing Hart with 79 yards on 18 carries, but fumbled twice (both recovered by Michigan) forcing Michigan to rely more on their passing attack.

Henne, who is 0-2 against Notre Dame as a starter, completed just 19 of 44 passes and threw a critical interception near the goal line to Tommy Zbikowski in the 3rd quarter. If Michigan is to upset the Irish this weekend, he will have to improve on those numbers. He won’t necessarily need to throw for 300 yards, but he will need to complete a much higher percentage of his passes, limit his turnovers, and let his running backs and offensive line control the game.

Look for Michigan to use a steady does of running plays early and often against the Irish to try to attack the undersized Notre Dame linebackers. Penn State was able to run the ball effectively last week, but turnovers and the Irish offense forced Penn State into a passing offense. Still, Tony Hunt averaged over 5 yards a carry last week, and both Michigan running backs pose a greater challenge than Hunt presented last week.

Maurice Crum led the Irish with 14 tackles last week, but if you watch the game again, you will notice Crum and Travis Thomas both get swallowed up and have trouble shedding blocks at times. Both linebackers are undersized and rely on their speed more than their size so when they get locked up early, it will create running lanes.

To combat this, the Irish can play safety Tommy Zbikowski close to the line and put an extra defender in the box and force Michigan to pass the ball. Zbikowski is a lights out hitter who excels as a run stuffing safety.

Bringing Zbikowski into the box would put added pressure on the Notre Dame defensive backs to shut down the talented Michigan wide receivers. Sophomore Mario Manningham scored the lone Michigan touchdown against Notre Dame last year and is the best wide receiver for the Wolverines this year. Steve Breaston is still the best athlete of the group, but in terms of being an overall receiver, Manningham is the more complete player. Breaston can run like the wind, but his route running and hands are still an issue.
Derrick Williams got open deep a couple of times last week and could have burned the Irish defense had he held on the ball or had Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli been a bit more accurate. The Michigan receivers might not be as fast as Penn State’s, but they are just as talented and can burn the Irish deep if given the opportunity.

For the Irish to win this one, they will need to limit the Michigan running attack and force Michigan into a passing offense as they did a year ago. If Michigan comes out and controls the line of scrimmage, they will keep the high powered Notre Dame off the field and could easily walk out of South Bend with a win. If Notre Dame can come out and force Michigan to pass, they will force Henne to beat them and this far this year, he has not been very impressive.

Offensively it is quite simple for the Irish. They must protect Brady Quinn. If Quinn is given time to pass, there are few defenses out there that can slow him down. Georgia Tech pressured Quinn early and often and the Notre Dame passing game struggled mightily in the first half of that game. By the second half of that game, however, he was given time to pass and was able to lead the Irish to victory.
Notre Dame will also have to get much more production out of its running game. Darius Walker found it tough going last week against Penn State, gaining just 56 yards on 20 carries. Last year Walker ripped off 106 yards on the Wolverines and Notre Dame left Michigan Stadium with the win. The Irish will need a similar performance this week. Again, not necessarily a 100 yard effort, but Walker will need to be effective in order for the Irish offense to keep the Michigan defense honest.

The Irish must also limit the mental mistakes and not leave points on the field. Last week penalties killed two different drives in which the Irish settled for field goals and looked a little flat until Quinn hit Jeff Samardzija for the first touchdown of the game more than half way through the second quarter. This will not be the kind of game where you can settle for field goals too often. Last week the Irish dominated Penn State from the start, but midway through the second quarter the score was just 6-0.
Two weeks in a row now Quinn has looked shaky in the first half. Against Georgia Tech he faced a relentless pass rush and didn’t feel comfortable in the pocket. Last week, he just missed open receivers by rushing some throws. A quick start for Quinn could mean trouble for Michigan.

The special teams for Notre Dame were outstanding last week. Place kicker Carl Goia exorcised the demons of his 0-2 start in Atlanta, the coverage teams bottled up the explosive Derrick Williams, and punter Geoff Price was booming the ball for the second week in a row. The Irish face another explosive returner in Steve Breaston who can take a kick the distance at any times. The coverage teams will have to be disciplined in their assignments to limit Breaston’s effectiveness.

This should be an old-fashion heavy weight bout between two of the most storied programs in all of college football. It sounds cliché, but whoever controls the line of scrimmage will win this one. I think the veteran Notre Dame offensive line will shine in this contest and protect Brady Quinn, giving him enough time to find his talented wide outs Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija.

Quinn has not performed exceptionally well against Michigan in his career so a quick start will be big for the senior quarterback. He threw two touchdowns a year ago in Ann Arbor, but he passed for just 140 yards despite completing 19 of 30 passes. Quinn will need to hit some deeper passes as well this year to open things up for Darius Walker and the Notre Dame ground game.

I think Michigan is going to be able to run on Notre Dame at times. Mike Hart and Kevin Grady are just too productive to be able to contain all game so the key for the Irish defense will be to take advantage of any mistakes Michigan makes and play great first down defense. Michigan will likely run on most first downs, and limiting those plays and forcing the Wolverines into passing downs will be key.

Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Michigan 24

You may also like

Back to top button