It’s Michigan week – the last Michigan week for the foreseeable future – so today we are going behind enemy lines for the first time this year. We exchanged some questions with Tyler over at The Big House Report to get his take on the game this weekend and the series in general.
My questions for Tyler are below while a series of questions that were posed to me will be posted over at The Big House Report later today.
1. How different is the Devin Gardner that Notre Dame fans saw last year vs. the one they will see this weekend.
I think the biggest change you’ll see this season in Devin Gardner doesn’t even necessarily have much to do with him. If you think back to last year’s game, Gardner was forced to do everything—it was that way for the entire season. This time around, Michigan will have a better established ground attack, led by Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, who each breached 100 yards last week. The offensive line will be without Kyle Bosch, who is taking a leave of absence from the program, but I still think the positive trend continues, mostly because of the great coaching that has been working with the line all spring, summer and fall. So the Devin Gardner you see this Saturday is going to be much more efficient and effective as a passer. He has established himself sporadicly as a good passer, but I really think you’re going to get to see a much more consistent Gardner on Saturday.
2. Given the plays Everett Golson made outside the pocket and escaping from pressure last week, do you expect Greg Mattison to dial up the pressure on Golson more this week or drop players back into coverage more to attempt to confuse him?
This is why I love Greg Mattison. He’s going to mix it up very well against Everett Golson, dialing up the pressure when needed and dropping back into coverage when needed; he gets a great balance. One thing Michigan did last week that we haven’t seen in a long time is bring the corners up for tighter coverage on the receivers, and it worked well, granted Appalachian State wasn’t really a threat through the air. But that overall aggressiveness has been spread throughout the defense. I’m expecting an emphasis on pressure early in the game, and depending on how Golson responds, Mattison will adjust from there.
3. What surprised you the most about the Notre Dame performance last weekend?
I was especially impressed with a few things against Rice. First and foremost, Everett Golson clearly displayed what that year off meant to him and his development. He was crisp through the air, only making one poor decision on the day, and showed some serious arm strength. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but considering the bit of uncertainty we had about his game after a year off, I was extremely impressed. Secondly, the adjustments made in the secondary really helped put away Rice. A few blown coverages allowed for some easy points given up, but the unit looked a lot cleaner as the game went on. I was interested in seeing how the secondary would do after suspensions and an injury to captain Austin Collinsworth. It wasn’t necessarily the overall performance that caught my attention, but the in-game adjustments and improvements were impressive. Finally, I liked what Notre Dame was able to do on special teams. The Irish really struggled in that department last season, but punt returns set up Golson and the offense with good field position throughout the game. Despite a missed field goal from the foot of Kyle Brindza, I think there’s reason to be encouraged by the special teams units.
4. Outside of Devin Funchess, are there any wide receivers on the Michigan roster who have established themselves yet that Notre Dame should be worried about?
Aside from the offensive line, this was the big question on offense heading into this season, and as of now, I don’t think a receiver outside of Devin Funchess has established himself as a real threat to Notre Dame. However, that’s not to say one is waiting to come out; the whole receiving corps looked impressive last Saturday, but the show clearly belonged to Devin Funchess, and there weren’t too many opportunities for others to establish themselves. You could argue that Dennis Norfleet is a guy to keep your eye on, but he hasn’t proven much of anything yet. Outside of Norfleet, it comes down to guys like Freddy Canteen, Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh, who all have the potential to do something great, but I’d be surprised if it happened this soon.
5. Michigan has struggled on the road under Brady Hoke. What has accounted for the Wolverines struggles away from Michigan Stadium over the last three years?
Turnovers have haunted Michigan on the road, and you simply can’t expect to compete at a high level if you have problems turning the ball over on the road. I also think a share of the blame has to go towards former offensive coordinator Al Borges. I argued all of last season that Borges was not giving the offense a change to succeed. Everyone knew the offense was sluggish, but I was very slow to blame the players themselves. This season, Doug Nussmeier has done a nice job of simplifying things, especially for the offensive line, which will hopefully in turn allow for a better overall performance. I don’t think these players are intimidated on the road, and I don’t think a road environment affects them any more than the next team. If Michigan can cut back on the turnovers, the Wolverines are automatically putting themselves in a better position to win on the road.
Bonus: What is your take on the series with Notre Dame ending, or at least being on hold for the foreseeable future?
Personally, I think it’s extremely unfortunate. While this rivalry feels like it’s so old and historical, it’s relatively young, and I think time was only going to let it blossom even further. On the flip side, though, I understand there is business that needs to be done, and while it’s sometimes hard to understand for those of us who enjoy the game so much, there are times when business trumps all; that’s just the world we live in. I’m not mad at Notre Dame, I won’t be cursing the Irish for “chickening out.” Instead, I think it’s fair to be upset with the situation, and life will go on.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Michigan 21