Following a bye, the 2019 Notre Dame football schedule will provide a formidable foe as the Irish travels to Ann Arbor to take on their long time rival, the Michigan Wolverines. In their last eight trips to the Big House, Notre Dame has won on just one occasion, in 2005, and dropped their last four visits.
While Michigan finished their 2018 season with a 10-3 record, the defensive collapse in their final two games has put pressure on head coach Jim Harbaugh to get things back on track. The first of those losses came in the season opener at Notre Dame, followed by 10 straight wins that saw them give up a total of 125 points. Indicative of that defensive meltdown was the fact that the regular season finale at Ohio State and the Peach Bowl loss to Florida saw that same defense allow 103 points to go up on the scoreboard.
Michigan Offense: Ups and Downs All Around
In his first season after transferring from Ole Miss, Shea Patterson threw for 2,600 yards, including 249 in his debut against the Irish. He also finished with 22 touchdown passes and limited his miscues to just seven interceptions, three of those coming in the two losses that ended the year. With new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis installing a spread offense that Patterson is already familiar with, the possibility of improving on those numbers exists.
Patterson may have to go to the air more than he’d like because the running game has been severely depleted. Tru Wilson is the top returnee in this area, gaining 5.9 yards per carry for his 364 yards last season. He’ll be joined by Christian Turner who only carried the ball 20 times for 95 yards, After that, a host of question marks remain.
For that receiving corps, staying healthy is the top goal, with a number of talented performers coming back after being banged up. Donovan Peoples-Jones leads this quartet after snagging 47 passes and scoring eight touchdowns, while Nico Collins is near that after 38 grabs and six scores. In a more pass-happy offense, the hope is that Ronnie Bell and Tarik Black will collect more than their 12 combined receptions last year.
The Wolverine offensive line made big strides in 2018 as the starting unit was able to gel into a collectively strong unit. The left side remains potent with junior tackle Jon Runyan and senior guard Ben Bredeson protecting Patterson’s blindside, while junior center Cesar Ruiz is another asset. On the right side, senior guard Michael Onwenu will have either sophomore Andrew Stueber or redshirt freshman Jalen Mayfield by his side.
Michigan Defense: A Likely Decline
The Wolverine defensive line is another area that sustained a severe hit with the loss of both Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. Replacements will come from a trio consisting of Michael Dwumfour, Carlo Kemp and Aidan Hutchinson, while Josh Uche will serve as a pass rushing option whether he’s on the end or in linebacker mode.
There is one huge hole that needs to be filled at middle linebacker with Devin Bush, with Josh Ross in that unenviable role. Flanking Ross on one side will be Khaleke Hudson, who’s hoping to get back to his 2017 form after taking a step backward last season. On the other side will be Devin Gill, who put up similar numbers to Hudson, though he may end up sharing that position with Jordan Anthony.
The Michigan secondary also suffered some damage with the departure of two starters, but it does have all-conference cornerback Lavert Hill back after contributing one interception and four pass breakups. He’s likely to be joined by Ambry Thomas. As far as safety, Josh Metellus and Brad Hawkins are likely to start the year, but top recruit Daxton Hill may vault into the starting lineup fairly quickly.
Michigan Special Teams: Kicking Mysteries
Who will be handling kicking duties for the Wolverines likely won’t be decided until the end of camp, with Jake Moody a slight favorite over Quinn Nordin. Last year, Moody took over down the stretch after Nordin’s inconsistencies necessitated a change, with Moody also displaying a strong leg. Punting will once again be handled by Will Hart, who averaged 47 yards per kick. Returning kicks will also have a returnee in Thomas, with Bell expected to join him, while punt runbacks are again the department of Peoples-Jones.
The Last Time Notre Dame Played Michigan
Last year’s opener on the 2018 Notre Dame football schedule saw the Irish jump out to a 21-3 lead before having to hold on for a 24-17 victory. That win wasn’t clinched until late in the game, when a strip by Jerry Tillery forced a fumble that was recovered by Te’von Coney with just 46 seconds left on the clock.