Behind Enemy Lines returns this week with an exchange of questions with Seth from the original Michigan Football blog – MGOBlog. Seth provided us with some thorough, and often colorful and candid, responses to our questions about this weekend’s showdown Under the Lights.
UPDATE: Also be sure to check out the questions we answered for MGO Blog over on their site.
Note: the views and opinions expressed in this post are of our guest blog partners at MGOBlog and not those of the editors of UHND.com
What is the main difference between Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner that Notre Dame fans should be aware of and will Gardner be as generous with the football to the Notre Dame defense as Robinson was a year ago?
Well for one Gardner ties his shoelaces. For two Gardner isn’t the most explosive collegiate athlete since Michael Vick. The difference is that between Vick and Vince Young. Whereas Denard was generously listed at 6’0″, Devin is the same height as Tom Brady, Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Scott Dreisbach, and Drew Henson—all Carr-era artillery pieces with NFL careers that span from “better than Joe Montana” to “more overrated than Brady Quinn.” Gardner is not those guys (even Henson isn’t a good example); Vince Young as a junior is just about perfect. Gardner is a ridiculous athlete who will keep plays alive in the backfield long enough to get through several bars of Benny Hill, and possesses the same loping speed that Young used to make linebackers look silly. The other difference with Gardner is when things break down he looks to run: in five games as a starter last year he doubled the times Denard scrambled over nine starts.
Denard’s diarrhea of interceptions in Sound Bend was weird even for him, the difference, when we charted them, simply chalked up to “Manti Te’o is awfully good at linebacking.” Devin will throw some picks, but not that many, and once you get him near the red zone he’s a touchdown machine. Where he falls behind is long drives: he’s still not even a year removed from his moonlight at receiver and Michigan’s still in the testing phases of its hurry-up offense. If you can get a guy in Gardner’s feet his mechanics get out of whack and he’ll turf one or sky it behind his receiver for an arm-punt. Given the bad matchup of our young interior OL vs ND’s front three I’m putting the over-under on those balls at four, with two leading to INTs.
Defensively, ESPN’s College Football Preview said the way to beat the Wolverines is to spread the field and make them cover athletes in space. Is this true and if so, what are your thoughts after seeing the debut of Amir Carlisle, Troy Niklas scoring from 66 yards out, and wide receivers TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels both turning in career days last weekend?
Are you sure you’re not reading last year’s preview? Michigan graduated two scrappy, slowish defensive backs and replaced both with far more athletic players, one a big upgrade (JT Floyd was a cornerback every opponent schemed against; to replace him we get back star-tracked Blake Countess), the other a downgrade between pretty big and massive.
The important guy we replace is Ed Reed-except-not-athletic Jordan Kovacs, the former walk-on who made up for the slowitude by knowing what quarterbacks were going to do before they themselves did. His replacement…um…well the guy they wanted to seize the job was sophomore Jarrod Wilson (you’ll remember him from giving up that key pass interference in the end zone last year). Wilson didn’t seize the job, and they moved tiny mite nickel corner Courtney Avery there late in fall practice; Avery missed this week with a nagging back issue but is expected to return. Kovacsian free safety Thomas Gordon will be back this week after a game in Hoke’s doghouse; his move down to the short safety says what you need to know about the overall speed upgrade back there.
So no, I wouldn’t go four-verts on these guys unless Wilson is in there and the run game is churning out 6 YPC. As for the those career days…how do I put this kindly…YOU WERE PLAYING TEMPLE!!! Temple leaves open 25-yard seams to unathletic tight ends because they are awful at coverage, and they turn them into 66-yard buffalo stampedes because they are also awful at Geometry. It’s not like Jones and Daniels were setting up the corners with an out then bursting to get open by 15 yards; they just ran by them. They might be able to find some separation against boundary corner Raymon Taylor; more likely they’ll have to fight for balls or rely on Rees to hit NFL windows.
No, the way to beat this defense in passing is they can’t generate enough organic pass rush if you force them to leave the run defenders in. Mattison does some whacky things to get that rush and if you catch him off guard you’ll find a one-on-one matchup against a 5’10 guy somewhere.
Notre Dame’s inside linebackers looked lost in coverage in game one Post-Te’o. Who does Michigan have that can attack the middle of the field that Notre Dame fans should be worried about and how will the Wolverines try to exploit this vulnerability?
Really? Interesting. In this year’s preview book I noted Calabrese was an important dude to watch because replacing the midfield coverage of Te’o while regularly sending five guys would answer whether ND’s defense was Te’o or repeatable. The answer here is you get to pick between a 6’6″/250 dude with Mikey Mouse’s hands, or a Mickey Mouse-sized dude who’s ridiculously productive on 3rd downs. The pro prospect tight end is Devin Funchess, whom we are constantly comparing to Eifert because we don’t have many 6’6″ coverage nightmares in our history to point to. The widdle guy is 5’9″ Drew Dileo. Stop the next Spartan who passes by and ask about Dileo. Or don’t if you’re not particularly malicious and/or don’t think you can get vomit stain out of the carpet.
That said, it’s not so much about the weapons here as where you put them. I don’t know what Temple was doing to you but Michigan probably lacks the ability to exploit the middle because ND doesn’t have to worry about covering deep so much. Our best outside receiver is Gallon, a 5’8″ guy with a cloaking device—oh right you remember—well Gallon has a long pro career ahead of him against corners without a hope of keeping up with his cuts, and he’ll out-jump most guys three inches taller than him, but he’s still, you know, 5’8″. The other outside receiver is out for the season and his replacements failed to get any separation against Central Michigan, who isn’t Temple but might as well be. Simple Cov2 zones should suffice; you’ve got three new starters on the offensive line so twisting and stunting the DL could net Tuitt some easy pressure without help.
Tommy Rees looked like an improved passer for Notre Dame last week, but still showed that he isn’t going to win any foot races. How much pressure is Michigan going to send his way this weekend ?
That’s not what I remember. I remember Rees scoring ND’s only touchdown on a called run last year. Anyway our defense is basically the same as yours if (actually: when) the CAT puts his hand down. Michigan’s pressure last year mostly came from the SAM linebacker, analogous to the DOG in your defense. That guy may return in October but for now his replacements are okay-just-guys. The CAT equivalent is where we’d like to get some organic pressure and there’s hype from that position; we’ve yet to see production against a legit offensive line (do you have one of those now? Ah, miss Charlie so much.)
On 1st and 2nd down expect to get time to throw, less if you’re tipping pass and we can get away with playing the nominal starter, penetrating 3-tech Jibreel Black; he’s only 280 lbs so if you can establish a run game against him he’ll have to sit. If you can’t get a run game going, well, you know Greg Mattison well enough to not give his diabolical mind a chance to stretch itself against tipped passes. Okie FTW!
We all know how Brady Hoke feels about Notre Dame pulling out of the series (at least for now) due to their new found ACC schedule requirements, but how do Michigan fans feel about it?
Well, it hasn’t hurt local rubber chicken sales, let me tell ya.
About 50% of Michigan fans live in such proximity to our drunken Greek brothers to the north that we’ll put Michigan State as a clear second rivalry after THE rivalry. The rest are those who make metro-Chicago and New York virtual maize and blue territory. They plus the SW Michigan contingent cohabitate with enough Domers to claim the Irish as their second-most important rival.
The dudes who remember a time before this series are old and otherwise preoccupied with saving such anachronisms as the huddle. When my generation was growing up “Rocket Ismail” was one of the first swear words we learned. We revere “The Catch” and still shake with anger at “Phantom Touchdown.” We remember Carlyle Holiday and use him when talking about the history of modern college QBs. We cherish “Brady Quinn for Heisman” and “Clausen for Heisman” even more because it was what ended the most miserable two weeks of our lives. And oh let’s not even start on how the kids feel about that 4-point epic victory, or that other 4-point epic victory, or that other 4-point epic victory.
I’m obviously speaking just for myself and the little corner of the Michigan fanbase that thinks like me here, but I love playing Notre Dame. I think your fight song is the next-best to our own, I think your stadium experience is the purest one left among the giants of college football, and that South Bend is within that-day driving distance, and that our fans cohabitate in Chicago and New York and southwestern Michigan, and that the smart X% of your fanbase and the smart Y% of our fanbase respect each other immensely. I have zero respect for your administration, whom I find to be spectacularly arrogant, extraordinarily petty, and cowards of the first degree.
So how do we feel about it? We feel that long-jilted Notre Dame made a mistake in turning down the REAL THING in the late ’90s. We find all those young hussies you’ve convinced to hang on your arm and speak only when asked—Big East, ACC, whatever—are but increasing levels of self-denial. We feel that in our recent time together, all those spectacular last-play affairs, things got a bit too real. We feel you’ll live an exciting and lavish lifestyle that ends with you all alone and wondering why that second-best win total seems so empty.
So yeah, enjoy those bar fights MSU gets you into, and your stuck up girlfriend in Palo Alto, and that awkward relationship with your old neighbor you use to pretend you’re still a rust belt midwesterner. I’m sure they’ll understand you.
Brady Hoke’s first season exceeded all expectations. Then his second saw Michigan lose 5 games. What are Michigan fans’ feels towards Hoke as he enters the critical third year on the sidelines?
Remember how a year ago you guys looked at your schedule and said “wow, okay, five losses against that seem okay.” We lost to three teams who went undefeated until one beat another in the national championship. We lost to Ohio State because everybody did (and we nearly had them). We lost Nebraska because Denard got hurt and that was the offense. We lost a bowl game on a last-second play. On the other hand we needed a last-minute drive to beat MSU and a last-minute miracle to beat Northwestern.
Calling this year “critical” for Hoke when Rich Rod’s “WIN THIS WEEK OR DIE!” 2010 is still fresh is ridiculous. He and his staff are recruiting on a level we haven’t seen since high schoolers’ names first appeared on websites. In a year they turned Rodriguez’s shambles of a defense and while we knew that was a lot of duct tape, the thing has held together despite heuristics (75% of the 2010 recruiting class is gone) that should point to doom. If they inherited a once-in-a-generation player they never would have recruited on offense and that fusion was a bit awkward, okay, that was the deal we made on Day 1. It’s hard to see many ways the transition “back” could have gone better.
Hoke has united the fanbase by talking like an old guy but doing all the things we new guys couldn’t get Lloyd to (like correctly going for it on 4thdown). Also he improved the defense from worst 20 to top 20 in a year, loaded the roster with 4- and 5-stars who lead their respective leagues in ladies escorted across streets, and even fixed the kicker. He comes with bona fide coaching star Greg Mattison, whom you may remember as “the only thing anyone liked about Bob Davie’s teams.” Our only complaint is they will wait to see the NFL do something (e.g. go up-tempo, run a zone read correctly, spread punt) before they’ll try it. That is a small thing, smaller now that the NFL has the other Kelly. The depth chart is mostly underclassmen recruited since January 2011, so the fan consensus is this is still a year away before things get FOR REAL; in 2014 just about everyone returns except the two awesome offensive tackles (unless Gardner goes to the NFL). Hoke is not only guaranteed a fourth year, he’s probably going to kick it off by signing the top two recruits in the country.
After seeing Brian Kelly lead the Irish to a 12-1 mark and title game berth in 2012, what are your thoughts of him as a head coach after witnessing the last three failed head coaches at Notre Dame stumble and bumble their way around the sidelines for more than a decade?
Well remember he spent most of his career over at Grand Valley State–when the story goes he was following Bo Schembechler around and trying to recruit whatever kid Bo spoke to–and then some time at CMU, so we know him well. In fact we did a lot of looking at Kelly when that debacle of a 2008 coaching search was going on. You have to imagine after two decades at Grand Valley and Central every coach in the state knew him and had a strong opinion of him. The consensus is the guy can coach but he’s too abrasive to have worked out here. That sounds meaner than I mean it. He is a jerk–by now you know this–but unlike previous hires he arrived with a strong track record he is living up to and a good staff who are performing as they should. It still amazes us that you hired Willingham and Weis, and the O’Leary thing is still too funny–sometimes I wonder if all that was really just the NCAA enacting some sort of double super-secret probation for undisclosed violations under Holtz. Seems appropriate.
The underdog has won 7 of the last 9 meetings between Notre Dame and Michigan. Why do you think that is and how do you feel about that considering Michigan has opened as a slight favorite?
We’re talking about two programs that writers are constantly overrating early in the year based on little more than how many angels sing when our helmets appear (Michigan currently leads 814 to 780). A short history of victorious underdogs: 2004 Carr got too conservative when forced to start true freshman; 2005 epic ref screw-job; 2006 most overrated team ever; 2007 Cripple Fight!; 2009 thanks for the extra drive, Charlie!; 2010 Crist got hurt; 2011 lol Gary Gray.
So what do I make of the dog having an edge in this series? I take it to mean that prognosticators don’t know what to do with Michigans and Notre Dames, especially that early in the season and under guys like Willingham, Weis, and Rodriguez. I think the newspaper guys build up whoever had a better season the year before, and the gamblers throw up their hands and just set the line at whatever will get people interested in betting it.
Obligatory score prediction?
We didn’t mention the obvious: if Gardner gets hurt all bets are off and Notre Dame fans post a Shane Morris for Heisman video to even the series. Otherwise I think both teams’ defenses will look better than they are, and Michigan wins it on a preposterous comeback 33-29.
Reminder: The views and opinions expressed in this post are of our guest blog partners at MGOBlog and not those of the editors of UHND.com