Frank’s Notre Dame Michigan 2009 Preview

Notre Dame and Michigan both got off to surprising starts to their 2009 seasons.  The two schools combined to beat their week one opponents by a score of 66-7.  Notre Dame shut out Nevada 35-0 and Michigan took care of business against Western Michigan in a 31-7 victory.  In the pre-season this game didn’t look like it would be that interesting of a matchup, but due to the success of both schools in week one, the game has taken on some added significance – as if a Notre Dame-Michigan game needed any additional significance.

Notre Dame on Offense

Michigan held Western Michigan to just 7 points, but the lone Western touchdown came on a 73 yard pass from Tim Hiller to Juan Nunez. Western Michigan also had some other opportunities to make plays in the passing game but Hiller’s accuracy and his receivers hands were inconsistent throughout the game. Michigan doesn’t have a particularly strong secondary that Notre Dame should be able to take advantage of with the dynamic wide receiver duo of Michael Floyd and Golden Tate.

Donovan Warren and Boubacar Cissoko are certainly an upgrade over the corners that Notre Dame faced last week against Nevada, but both will have trouble manning up on Floyd and Tate and will likely need some safety help in order to prevent the long ball. Last year Charlie Weis came out with the philosophy of “bombs away” against Michigan in South Bend and I expect to see Weis take a similar approach this year with sunny skies forecaste for Saturday.

The key, as it will be every week for Notre Dame, will be protecting Jimmy Clausen. If the Irish offensive line can keep Brandon Graham, Craig Roh, and Mike Martin out of the backfield, Clausen has the ability to hurt Michigan through the air. Michigan is well aware of the skill the Notre Dame receivers have though and will look to put pressure on Clausen since up to this point in his career, Clausen hasn’t handled pressure –especially on the road – too well.

Notre Dame’s secret weapon this week could be tight end Mike Ragone. Kyle Rudolph is a NFL talent, but the key to this offense is having a reliable second option at tight end to open things up for the other receivers. We didn’t see any of Ragone in the passing game last week which most likely was by design. Look for Weis to have a few plays designed for Ragone with Michigan keying on Tate, Floyd, and Rudolph.

Notre Dame also didn’t show too much of their third and fourth options at wide receiver last week. Robby Parris was the third receiver to start the game but Duval Kamara was also mixed in as well. What we didn’t see until garbage time was Shaquelle Evans. Was Weis saving the freshman camp sensation for this week or does the staff really not think he is as effective as Kamara or Parris right now? We’ll find out this week, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Evans saw some action.

Notre Dame should be able to generate some success on the ground as well. Craig Roh weighs in at just under 240 pounds off the edge and Notre Dame should be able to run at him with some success. Obi Ezeh is a very good middle linebacker though and with Robert Hughes making his first career start at fullback in place of the injured James Aldridge, Notre Dame might have some trouble running up the middle.

Michigan’s linebackers are pretty small outside of Ezeh which could make Robert Hughes a factor in the running game if they can run away from Ezeh. It’s not clear how many touches he will get in his first start at fullback but if he can make the transition smoothly, he could be a factor. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a fullback screen or two called for Hughes. Notre Dame hasn’t run many fullback screens since before Raeshon Powers-Neal’s suspension in 2005, but Hughes is a very good receiver out of the backfield.

Bottom line on offense will be protecting Clausen. If Clausen’s jersey is clean at the end of the game the Notre Dame offense will put up plenty of points.

Notre Dame on Defense

Notre Dame had a pretty nice preparation for Michigan’s spread attack by facing Nevada’s pistol offense last week. While the offensive systems have distinct fundamental differences, they are similar enough that there should be some carryover in Notre Dame’s defensive preparations.

Coming off of a shutout of one of the top offenses in the country last year should instill plenty of confidence in the defense, but when they went back and watched the game tape I’m sure the coaching staff hammered home all of the same concerns that have been expressed on the blogs and forums this week.

Nevada averaged over 5 yards a carry and created some nice running plays due to poor tackling from the Irish defense. Charlie Weis mentioned a couple times this week that the defense stunted themselves out of position multiple times against Nevada allowing for the long runs. If this happens again this week, Michigan certainly has the athletes at quarterback and running to make Notre Dame pay for their mistakes.

Working in Notre Dame’s favor this week, however, will be Michigan playing two true freshmen at quarterback – Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. For more on their debuts last week check out our Michigan Scouting Report we posted Thursday. For a quick recap though, both played very well for true freshmen and both pose different threats to the defense. That said, both are still true freshman and Jon Tenuta has shown in his previous coaching stints that he can make life miserable on inexperienced quarterbacks – see the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech game in 2007.

The Notre Dame pass rush looked about as good as it’s been since Weis has been at Notre Dame last week. Had the defense been more disciplined in their tackling, theywould have registered five or six sacks. As is, Notre Dame sacked the big and mobile Colin Kaepernick twice for 10+ yard losses both times. Notre Dame will want to put as much pressure on Forcier and Robinson as they can and force them into mistakes. Both are capable runners and can avoid pressure, but neither have seen anything close to the kind of pressure that they will see this weekend up to this point in their careers.

It will be interesting to see who Notre Dame uses along the defensive line this week. Darius Fleming spent most of his time down on the line last week as the defensive end opposite Kerry Neal. Nevada recognized this and did most of their damage running off tackle right at the undersized defensive ends. If Notre Dame uses the same defensive line on running downs again this week, Michigan will likely look to exploit the same mismatch.

The x-factor for Notre Dame on defense is going to be Manti Te’o. The superstar freshman got his first taste of game action last week and did not disappoint in the limited action he saw. Toryan Smith did a very nice job starting last week but simply doesn’t have the same sideline to sideline speed as Te’o. That speed is going to be critical this week in stopping Michigan’s spread attack. Te’o should see more time this week and could be a big factor at linebacker.

Michigan has a solid group of wide receivers, but outside of Junior Hemingway (who is “doubtful “ for the game), they don’t have anyone who is going to put much fear into a secondary that should rank as one of the nation’s best this year. Notre Dame’s corners matchup well with the Michigan receivers and should allow Tenuta to dial up as many blitzes as he wants. If Hemingway is unable to play, the matchup of the Michigan receivers against the Irish secondary favors Notre Dame even more.

The key for Notre Dame is going to be creating confusion for the freshmen quarterbacks. This doesn’t necessarily have to be done with constant pressure. With how much Notre Dame likes to blitz, backing out of the blitz and dropping into coverage could cause just as much confusion.

Something else to watch out for is how much pressure Notre Dame can get without blitzing. The Irish were able to generate a little bit of a pass rush last week without blitzing for the first time in a while. If they can do this again this week and leave some help in the middle of the field to prevent long runs from the quarterbacks, the outcome should be very favorable for the Irish.

Notre Dame on Special Teams

The Notre Dame special teams units weren’t very busy last weekend. Notre Dame fielded just one kickoff, only punted a few times, didn’t attempt a field goal, and faced just one field goal attempt. Theo Riddick did look pretty good on the one kick off the Irish fielded, and Notre Dame has a history of big returns in the Big House so that is definitely something to keep an eye on. With Aldridge out of the game, Weis said he plans on putting Barry Gallup on the kick return unit to help the true freshman Riddick.

Freshman kicker Nick Tausch got his feet wet kicking five extra points last week, but didn’t attempt a field goal. This means that his first collegiate field goal attempt could come in front of 100,000+ fans on the road this weekend. That isn’t an ideal situation and could be a cause for concern.

Notre Dame’s kick coverage units look to be a strength again this year and should be able to contain the Michigan return game pretty well.

Notre Dame Players of the Game

If Notre Dame is going to go into the Big House and win this weekend, Jimmy Clausen is going to have to have a big game. Clausen’s road wins as the Irish quarterback the last two years include UCLA and Stanford in ’07 and Navy, Washington, and Hawaii in 2008 – not exactly hostile environments. A win in Ann Arbor, even if Michigan is still rebuilding would be another notch in his belt. Clausen will definitely have the weapons at his disposal to have another nice game this weekend. If the line gives Clausen time to pass – he’ll have that big game.

Other players to watch on offense outside of the obvious ones are Mike Ragone and Jonas Gray. I already mentioned Ragone. Gray, a Michigan native, has settled in as the backup running back behind Armando Allen and had a few nice runs to the outside last week.

Defensively, I’ll go out on a limb and predict a big game for Manti Te’o. The Irish linebackers are going to be busy this weekend and if Te’o sees some increased action, he’ll have a big game for the defense. With a couple freshmen at quarterback, look for someone in the secondary to come up with a big game as well – most likely Darrin Walls or Robert Blanton.  Blanton is a very instinctual corner that excels at jumping routes. If the Notre Dame pass rush is getting to Forcier, he could come up with a big play or two.

Prediction Time

I’ve gone back and forth all week on this game. One minute I look at this game on paper and ask myself how Notre Dame is only a three point favorite. The next I watch the Western Michigan game and ask myself how the Notre Dame defense will slow down the Michigan running game. At the end of the day, I think Michigan will rip off a few big plays on the Irish defense, but won’t be able to sustain offense throughout the game and will turn the ball over a couple times with the kind of pressure Tenuta is going to bring.

I think Notre Dame wins this one, but Michigan will make its fair share of plays and will be in the game most of the time. The Irish passing attack will just be too much for Michigan and will force the Wolverine offense to pass more than they’d like playing right into Notre Dame’s strength defensively.

Michigan is still a year a way from being a really dangerous team, but they have enough weapons in place to be a pretty solid team and definitely have the ability to upset the Irish if Notre Dame doesn’t bring it’s A game.

Notre Dame 34, Michigan 21

Previous Predictions

  • Week 1 – Notre Dame 42, Nevada 21 (W, Notre Dame 35-0)

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      1. I heard it from on of my buddies who is a Michigan fan. So I went on boards and asked and all the scUM fans confirmed he is not playing. Brandon Minor is playing though. Jr. Hemmingway is not playing.

  1. ND 31 scUM 14

    Tate and Floyd draw double teams from Mich DB’s and Safeties opening up the middle of the field. Here is where we gauge them for huge games with Ragone and Rudolph and even Allen out of the backfield. I am not even mentioning our 3rd , 4th WR’s. Kamara, Parris, Evans will have chances today to catch the ball. The running game should benefit from the safeties drifting back. Only 6 to 7 guys in the box we should be able to open some massive holes for Allen, Hughes, Riddick, Gray to run through. I think our offense will be unstopable today.

    O MVP
    Jimmy Clausen 275+ yards passing 3 Td’s

    D MVP

    First Start for Manti Teo. 12 Tackles 1 sack

    Go Irish

  2. ND 45 Mich 17.

    Too much offense and the ND players are on a mission to succeed and win. The 3rd slot receiver Kumara/Parris/Evans will have a lot of touches and Allen/Gray will run for 150 combined.

  3. ND 38 MI 23 ND jumps to a 28 – 10 halftime lead, but gives up a long run in the 3rd, scores another touchdown, bends to give up two field goals before netting one late in the 4th to put a cap on it.

    1. Well, I had it in reverse, sort of. I can’t believe how this game went. I won’t predict anymore this year. Part of me wants to watch and part of me just can’t take it anymore.

  4. I really don’t see how scUM will be able to score 14 points on this ND defense. The only way is if like nepachris said, Charlie takes his foot off the pedal. I deep down feel ND will be up 28-3 going into the fourth quarter. Because the second team defense will eventually get in and Crist will be in as well I don’t know how much we’ll score the rest of the game so I’ll just say ND 35 scUM 10.


  5. I’m not afraid to admit that this game scares me. I’m just afraid of some of the big play letdowns we’ve seen in years past, and the potential for that we saw at times in the Nevada game. That said, I was very scared going into the Nevada game, and we all saw how that turned out. Of course I don’t see this fear as a bad thing, it’s not that I fear they’re better than ND, I fear ND not being as Awesome as they can be.

    That said, I’m standing by my bold prediction before the season, and this game won’t even be close. I watched Charlie’s presser from Thursday. That guy does not like Mich. At All. He will not be slowing down, what-so-ever. I can see Mich scoring 20 pts. But I also think ND’s going to go seriously nuts this week. When he has Dayne Crist go in during the 3rd quarter (because the game will be well in hand and he doesn’t want to expose JC too much) he’s going to open up the Shaq and Deon show. Then he’s going to shove a little bit more Gray and Riddick down their throat just for good measure.

    ND 45 UM 20.

    1. i hope you are right. i left the score at 35 because chuck hasn’t shown a “killer” instinct yet. i really feel we are capable of hanging alot of points on these guys if weis keeps his foot on the pedal even with crist in!

  6. This one is a difficult one to predict. Last week I was off a bit, as the Irish showed up and really damaged a smaller and less talented Nevada squad. Michigan will be bigger. Will they be any better? As far as I can tell, Michigan will only be marginally better. They have all sorts of problems with their program — kids leaving, freshmen quarterbacks, coaches practicing too much, etc. — so I am thinking that they’re not necessarily much better than Nevada. That is, they may have better raw talent but they don’t have much of a better team because their team lacks a certain amount of continuity (i.e. 25 players — more than an entire recruiting class — have departed Ann Arbor without playing since fall of 2005).

    But, this is Ann Arbor. This is high-priced coaching and blue-chip recruits. This is still going to be a battle. So, I think your prediction is fair. I like the Irish offense to put up another 35 points against a still-confused Michigan defense. I think our defense will confuse freshmen quarterbacks, but I see Michigan doing well on special teams. They’ll have a punt return for a touchdown.

    Final score:
    Notre Dame 35
    Michigan 14.

  7. If Michigan gets 21 points it will be time to worry again. I think that score is way off providing the line remembers how they let Jimmy get hammered in 07′ and make amends this game, providing Weis calls a good game and stays away from the predictable calls in predictable down situations and providing the IRISH remember before playing each game how much they owe themselves and their fans after these past couple years it aint gonna be close! ND 35 MI 3. Charlie – let the young stars shine in the spotlight! Riddick – Evans and especially Te’o! GO IRISH! Crush the Wolverines!

    1. Nice Pick Chris! Ive got to agree, ND 35 Mich 3 sounds a little more realistic to me. And Frank made a great point about Jon Tenuta’s ability to confuse freshman QBs, just like that opening game in 2007. GO IRISH!!!!

      1. i have a bet with a coworker who believes michigan is gonna win a close won. the funny thing is my “prediction” isn’t that far off. i have it at 35-10. good call from one chris to another. by the way, hasn’t there been alot of “chris” posters lately???

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