Behind Enemy Lines – Notre Dame v. Michigan ’14

Notre Dame - Michigan 2014
(Photo: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)

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

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  1. Also, not to be a debbie downer, but it’s frustrating when we finally have a qb who makes the right read every time, but his receivers drop the ball. We must’ve had at least 5 drops tonight.

  2. Tough to know how good we will be based on this game. Michigan could be awful for all we know. All I know is that 4-0 is looking pretty good after Purdue and Syracuse the next 2 games.

    1. Jack, I think were better than what we thought we would be at this time especially with the suspensions. Shocked the defense could shut the run down like they did. Wasnt really liking how we looked at times on offense but were not turning the ball over which is huge. I dont like the revolving door with the RBs that BK plays. I would like to see one of those three backs preferably Bryant get 20+ carries per game. And Chris Brown needs to figure it out soon. This offense does miss DD.

  3. Impressive overall performance. However, tough to tell how good they really are. This UM bunch is not very good.

  4. Notre Dame has a lot of offensive weapons…the most I have seen in a long time.

    Holding Michigan scoreless in the first half has raised my eyebrow in regards to our defense.

    Things are getting interesting in South Bend….

  5. LOVE watching Notre Dame football without having Tommy Turnover Rees as our QB. We’re doing big things this year. We have a tough attitude about us and REDEMPTION on our minds. GO IRISH

    1. Dont blame TR. He did the best he could. Kelly is the one responsible for not having any depth at the QB position. We finally have QB depth after five years. I do see a frustrated Malik Zaire. I think he will transfer unless theres an injury.

      1. You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. You want depth, but say the depth will transfer if they can’t play.

      2. My hope is that Zaire stays but what worries me is he might not be happy in mop up duty the next two years. hopefully ND puts a beat down on Purdue and Zaire gets some meaningful playing time.

  6. Nice questions Frank! My crystal ball sees you taking over for Morley Safer and Baba WaWa some day!

    But Tyler swung and missed on your first changeup question.

    Gardner’s biggest difference is that he is on the road.

    Last year Michigan went over 40 five times up there in A Squared.

    But on the road, the only time Mr. Gardner went over 40 was in the road loss to rebuilding Penn State.

    Ol’ 98 doesn’t travel well! Not to confuse Tyler with the facts, but Michigan scored 307 at home in 7 games. that’s a cool 44 per game.

    On the road? 118 in five games. That’s a lukewarm 23.6 on the road. Of course, they had to face, on the road, those great defenses of Connecticut, Northwestern and Iowa.

    Facts be facts

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