What To Watch For – Notre Dame at Michigan


Notre Dame travels to Ann Arbor to take on the hated Michigan Wolverines this weekend.  Here’s a guide of what to watch for and a couple matchups to keep an eye on this weekend.

We will be posting a “What to Watch For” article every Thursday during the season on weeks that Notre Dame is playing.

Robert Hughes at Fullback – With James Aldridge out this week, Robert Hughes will get his first taste of game action at fullback. While I’m not sure what to expect from Hughes as a lead blocker, I would expect Charlie Weis to have a few plays designed for Hughes to keep the Michigan defense honest. Hughes can be a big weapon for Notre Dame as a receiver out of the backfield. In 2005 Weis called a few screens for Raeshon Powers-Neal before his suspension. We haven’t seen a lot of that since, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fullback screen or two called for Hughes this weekend.

The Notre Dame Offensive Line – The line did a very good job last week, but they will be facing a tougher challenge this weekend. Greg Robinson’s Syracuse defense was able to get good pressure on Clausen last year and he will be looking to do the same this year. Notre Dame will be facing a smaller, faster defensive line and will need to be aggressive in engaging the Michigan pass rushers this weekend. Brandon Graham vs. Sam Young is going to be one of the key individual battles in the game. If Young can hold his own against Michigan’s top pass rusher, Michigan will have trouble getting pressure on Clausen.

Manti Te’o – We got a glimpse of what Te’o is capable of last week and I suspect we’ll get an even bigger glimpse this weekend. He already looks like the fastest and hardest hitting linebacker on the Irish defense. Against a faster offense this weekend, Te’o will hopefully see the field early and often. Toryan Smith played well last week, but speed is not his forte and speed is what will be needed this weekend. Te’o is a special player – hopefully he has his first big Notre Dame moments this weekend.

Notre Dame’s Tackling – Notre Dame’s tackling was one of the few disappointing aspects of last weekend’s season opening shutout of Nevada. Notre Dame didn’t wrap up and let Nevada ball carriers – specifically quarterback Colin Kaepernick – get away multiple times. Both Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are capable of hurting the Notre Dame defense with their legs if the Irish fail to wrap up this weekend. Notre Dame missed four sacks by Charlie Weis’s count because they didn’t wrap and let Kaepernick escape. While neither Tate or Robinson has Kaepernick’s size, but both are capable of moving around in the pocket. Robinson specifically has great speed and showed last week that he can break long runs on busted plays.

Notre Dame’s Gap Assignments – Charlie Weis mentioned multiple times following the win over Nevada that the defense stunted themselves out of plays on Saturday. Nevada was able to break off a bunch of long runs when huge holes opened up as a result of the defense not sticking to their gap assignments. Michigan’s backs present a combination of speed – Carlos Brown – and power – Brandon Minor – so Notre Dame will need to be disciplined in their gap assignments to prevent them from breaking off long runs all game. With two freshmen under center, Notre Dame’s best chance to win this weekend will be to force Forcier and Robinson to pass the ball which makes stopping the run key to Notre Dame’s success.

Michigan linebackers against Notre Dame tight ends – After reviewing the game tape from last year’s Notre Dame-Michigan game in South Bend and seeing Golden Tate run wild on the Michigan defense and watching the Nevada game tape and seeing Michael Floyd run all over the field, Greg Robinson is probably going to try to prevent both big play receivers from doing too much damage. If Robinson gives his corners extra help in covering Floyd and Tate, the middle of the field should be open for Notre Dame’s tight end duo of Kyle Rudolph and Mike Ragone. Rudolph is going to be a nightmare for any defense to account for – Michigan included.

The Notre Dame Blitz – With the two freshmen at quarterback for Michigan look for Notre Dame to send a lot of pressure their way to try and confuse them. The pass rush last weekend was as good as its been since Jon Tenuta joined the staff and will need to be good again this weekend for Notre Dame to leave Ann Arbor victorious. Where the Notre Dame blitz might really be able to confuse the Michigan quarterbacks though is by backing out of it. Michigan is going to prepare Forcier and Robinson for a lot of pressure this week. Showing blitz and backing out of it could cause just as much confusion for a true freshman quarterback.

Michael Floyd and Golden Tate vs the Michigan Defensive Backs – Michigan’s defensive backs are a large upgrade over Nevada’s, but Michigan doesn’t have the corners who can cover Golden Tate and Michael Floyd one on one – no one really does. As I said earlier, Robinson will likely try to give his corners some safety help to prevent the kind of big plays that Notre Dame hit on Michigan last year and again last week. Floyd and Tate will have to take advantage of whatever one on one situations that they get. If Floyd ends up lined up one on one with Boubacar Cissoko, he’ll have a substantial height advantage and should be able to win any jump situation. If Michigan backs off of the Irish wide receivers and tries to keep them in front of them, watch for Tate on slant patterns. Tate nearly took a quick slant from Clausen to the house against Michigan last year.

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  1. The problem is UM’s mobile quarterback. I can’t remember a game in a long time where a mobile quarterback couldn’t do almost anything he wanted against the Irish Defense. Perhaps Te will help with that? That said, it seems likely that come crunch time, the UM offense is going to be able to go down the field and score whenever they like. Of course, Notre Dame is likely to put up a lot of points as well. In game like that, it could be a coin-flip at the end with whoever has the ball. Not what we were hoping 4 in year 5.

  2. I WANT ND to win this game.
    I just hope we don’t get too cocky and think “it’s in the bag” for ND!
    Michigan has a big chip on their shoulders (or at least they should)
    and the Stadium is done and the M CLUB is looking for results or Rodriguez is going to be sent packing his bags soon.
    I would LOVE to see ND go 2-0 into Michigan State–we will need a lot of weapons there. THat said, FOCUS on Michigan and let the adrenaline work to ND advantage. Receivers are great, game SHOULD be ours–but there are so many intangibles. ANYTHING can Happen—FOCUS , BEAT MICHIGAN -whether we “should” or not just DO IT!
    THe BIg 11( 10) needs a dose of humble pie courtesy of Notre Dame and other non-conference games in the numerically incorrect conference!

  3. I think we are all a little too hopeful that this is the turn around year. Don’t get me wrong, I want to believe we will kill MU but a win against Nevada didn’t prove anything. I’m not so sure a win against MU will either. With that said, it’s been a few years since I’ve seen this much talent at the skill positions at ND. Even when Weiss first got there they didn’t have this talent…it was all Brady Quinn.

    I hope we crush them tomorrow.

    1. Agreed. Everyone is hoping this is the turn-around year. I think it’s a year in which we turn the corner, but I still think we miss too many tackles on defense and we don’t block well enough on offense.

      But Tate and Floyd are exciting. Allen is a decent back and Clausen, if he’s healthy and focused, is a better quarterback than Brady Quinn. So, we’ll win some football games. We should win tomorrow.

  4. Frank, I’d like to propose a new gauge on this site. TpP: Typos per Paragraph. I think it’s a great way to judge the excitement of the writers AND the posters (the community as a whole). A TpP > 1.0 is massively excited. 1.0 > TpP > 0.6 Excited. 0.6 > TpP is Not Excited.

    Mind you, this would only measure excitement. IE: Uncontrolable Rage would be considered an excited state.

  5. Frank, perfect analysis. I also think hughes will be interesting as he might be quicker than Aldridge on the initial step. Giving him the ball as fullback might get him through the whole quicker and then look out.

    Great comments. – I truly hope the team is confident but sober and mondful that Nevada is over and they have to prove themselves all over again. It won’t be sweet until they know that left everything on the field each week. Keep the chip, Irish!

  6. Shazamrock – Shields have been around for awhile – just saw Autry Denson wearing one in the ND – Michigan replay of 1997 last nite on TV…with “All Ball Bob Davie” – the dark years…
    Irish better keep a big friggin chip on their shoulders and dont even get happy – they got a lot of work to do and pay backs to administer with a vengence. The future is NOW – GO IRISH!

  7. Seen and Unseen:
    Did anyone notice the clear shields on some of the players helmets?
    I don’t know about anyone else but I thought they looked really cool on those Gold Helmets. Is this the first year the players have been allowed to wear them? I don’t remember seeing them before.
    We go into this game in pretty good health, but think about this. We have 2 players that we haven’t even gone to yet. Cierre Wood and Shaq Evans. Both these guys have big play potential written all over them. I was thinking about Tate, Floyd, Evans, and Rudolph, all on the field at the same time. Talk about pure speed at WR and Tight End. A pass completion to any one of these guys and it has the chance to go all the way. I know it’s only the second game of the year, but I would love to get a look at these players in a game.

    1. Cierre Wood is going to redshirt, bud…I’d be shocked if he didn’t. Theo Riddick was every bit as good as Cierre all during camp (possibly even better, depending on who you listen to)…and because Theo’s redshirt is gone because he’s returning kickoffs anyway, he’ll get the carries over Cierre in the backfield as well

  8. This pumps me up so much. We should absolutly destroy scUM in the LiL House. Our O is far superious than their D. Golden, Floyd, Duval at WR who can stop that combo? NO way they cover our TE’s in Romine and Rudolph. Our O line seems improved enough to give Jimmy time to throw to these guys. Ohh and I am forgetting all our great RB’s led by Armando Allen. We will put up a lot of points on these guys.

    I said it before remember before the rain happened last year in South Bend JC and Golden were putting on a aerial show.

    Our D is Big and Fast. We should be able to get pressure on their Fresh QB’s. I cant wait.

    Go Irish

  9. This year it is truly redemption for the ND offensive line. By all accounts they let Jimmy get pretty beat up in 07′ – they better bring some attitude on Saturday! I am also looking for the defense to pursue the QB without over running the play! I am looking forward to seeing Manti Te’o knock the shoes off Robinson – just like on the Charlie Brown cartoon….
    got a lotta paying back to do Irish, lots of debts to settle! Defend our honor – go into every game with a lot to prove cuz thats just the way it is! GO IRISH!

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