The BluePrint Blog

Where Michigan fans get it in!

General Info:

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Notre Dame Stadium in Notre Dame, Ind.

TV: NBC

Line: Notre Dame -1

OK, Football Fans – the time is upon us again.  The 2018 College Football season is underway.  We are one day away from, arguably, the marquee match-up for week 1, the Michigan Wolverines versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

You can feel the excitement and anticipation building in the air. If you are a Michigan fan, (it’s likely you are if you are reading this), the hype and build-up has gotten stronger and stronger over the recent weeks.  Even the most cautious of fans are struggling to fight off the optimism; however, right about now is when the butterflies are setting in and we begin second guessing our predictions, confidence, etc.

This preview may or may not help you with this predicament.

Before we dive into specifics, let’s recap the season for both teams, briefly.

Michigan “underachieved” (8-5 overall) in the eyes of many.  This can be explained or excused away, with youth, injuries, scheme, play calling, and all kinds of other arguments.  Many of these are indeed valid but based on the off season leading up to this point, it would seem those excuses and explanations are gone – donezo, new season.  On the positive side, defensively, the Wolverines were #3 in the nation, and offensively, the run game was decent (Top 50).

Notre Dame, on the other hand, finished ranked #11 in the nation (10-3 overall). In a season full of ups and downs, the Fighting Irish looked really good at times (stomped Sparty, played #2 Georgia to a 1 point loss, numerous other beat downs given to good to less than teams). Other times, they looked rather pedestrian (got stomped by Miami, barely beat Navy, lost to Stanford). They also beat LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Overall, a good season for the Irish.

So, this match-up could get interesting. . .

Let’s get to it.

Michigan Defense vs the Notre Dame Offense

First we will look at some key statistical rankings.

Notre Dame Offense According to Football Outsiders (S&P) – Click here to view Football Outsiders’ webpage and to get info on what all this alphabet soup means.

Off. S&P+ Rk Success Rt+ Rk IsoPPP+ Rk Rushing
S&P+
Rk Passing
S&P+
Rk SD
S&P+
Rk PD
S&P+
Rk
33.6 24 112.8 23 133.0 9 130.7 5 100.7 65 113.9 16 122.7 14

Key Losses: RB Josh Adams (1430 RYds), RB Deon McIntosh, WR Kevin Stepherson (5 TD), WR Equanimeous St. Brown (515 Yds, 4 TDs) TE Durham Smythe – 6 of 9 top receiving targets are gone. OG Quenton Nelson and OT Mike McGlinchey.

Michigan Defense According to Football outsiders (S&P)

Def. S&P+ Rk Success Rt+ Rk IsoPPP+ Rk Rushing
S&P+
Rk Passing
S&P+
Rk SD
S&P+
Rk PD
S&P+
Rk
18.7 10 139.1 2 115.9 24 130.5 8 137.4 3 128.6 5 140.5 5

Key Losses: DT Mo Hurst (59 Tkls, 5.5 Sks), LB Mike McCray (79 Tkls, 4.5 Sks),

Notre Dame had a pretty good year offensively while averaging just under 450 yards per game and scoring just over 34 points per game. These figures were good for 27th and 24th, nationally, respectively. They would have been even better had their QB, Brandon Wimbush, been more efficient with the ball.  Wimbush only completed 45.5% of his passes but only had 6 interceptions. Wimbush, while errant with the arm at times, is pretty good with his legs and feet.  The QB was second on the team in rushing, behind RB Josh Adams, with 804 rushing yards and 14 rushing TDs.  Wimbush added another 16 TDs through the air.  Gone are the leading rusher, receiver, and in total, 6 of the 9 top targets on the receiving end of Notre Dame’s offense.  The Irish also lost two of their best linemen in Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey.

While there are plenty of new faces, in terms of starters and/or the roles they will play in this offense, it remains true that this unit has a chance to be as good or better than it was last year.  The Irish have recruited well at O-Line and somewhat at skill positions, so they won’t miss too much of a beat as the schedule progresses.  That said, they are a bit thin at RB and WR. The two main receiving threats they do have in Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin, are legit.  Both of them are tall targets with good to great athletic ability.  Notre Dame also has a TE, Alize Mack, that showed promise in 2015, was academically ineligible in 2016, and never really re-surfaced in 2017.  They hope he can break out in 2018, and if not, there are some other options at TE, including once Michigan Target, Tommy Tremble.

Opposing the ND offense, will be the Michigan defense.  The Michigan defense was non-arguably one of the best defenses in the nation in both 2016 and again in 2017. This unit just reloads. This year, they don’t lose much in terms of numbers of players, but they do lose some significant production in DT Mo Hurst (“heart condition”, stolen by Raiders in late rounds, damn you Lions) and in LB Mike McCray (79 tackles, 4.5 sacks). Filling in for those two players are Mike Dwumfour and either Josh Uche, Josh Ross, or Devin Gil.  Dwumfour has received rave reviews after Spring and Fall camp; many compare him to the person he’s replacing, Mo Hurst. They are built similarly while MD may be just a tad larger than MH was at his age. Uche and Ross both seem primed to hit the ground running or to knock runners to the ground this year.  The WILL LB position may actually be better this year than it was last year and that’s not a knock on McCray.  LB in general is extremely deep for the Wolverines, as is DL, and CB.  The only unknown remains how improved the Safety positions will be in coverage this season.  In 2017, the Safeties were vulnerable to deep routes in the middle of the field as they seemed to struggle in man coverage.  Look for Coach Don Brown to help by increasing the amount of zone concepts that are run in passing downs and also for the Safeties to simply have gotten better at the positions.

Where Notre Dame is weak in depth, offensively, defensively, Michigan is not.  This will play into the advantage of Michigan, as they will be able to rotate players in seamlessly which is a must, in order to stay fresh against an uptempo offense and running QB.  Michigan’s DBs will have to play sound coverage against ND’s outside weapons, but more importantly, the front 4 to 7 must get pressure on Wimbush and force him to continue his coin-flippiness at throwing footballs. Khaleke must also seal his edge, while the other edge does the same, when they are not blitzing of course.

Michigan will likely start this game very much like they did against OSU last year.  It is imperative that the Offense does their part in order to keep the defense fired up and also off the field a bit, helping them stay fresh.

Players to watch on Michigan Defense: Rashan Gary (highly motivated this year, look out!), Khaleke Hudson (Viper extraordinaire), Mike Dwumfour (Doing his best Mo Hurst impersonation this year, keep an eye on him).

Players to watch on Notre Dame Offense: QB Brandon Wimbush (49.5% completion percentage, good athlete), WR Tandem Miles Boykin/Chase Claypool (Both go 6’4 plus hops)

Edge: Michigan

Michigan Offense vs the Notre Dame Defense

Michigan Offense According to Football Outsiders (S&P)

Off. S&P+ Rk Success Rt+ Rk IsoPPP+ Rk Rushing
S&P+
Rk Passing
S&P+
Rk SD
S&P+
Rk PD
S&P+
Rk
26.5 85 107.0 44 104.9 49 120.2 14 94.5 86 103.3 56 115.2 30

Key Losses: QBs Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, OL Mason Cole, TE Ty Wheatley Jr, WRs Eddie McDoom, Kekoa Crawford, RBs Ty Isaac, Kareem Walker, FB Khalid Hill

Notre Dame Defense According to Football Outsiders (S&P)

Def. S&P+ Rk Success Rt+ Rk IsoPPP+ Rk Rushing
S&P+
Rk Passing
S&P+
Rk SD
S&P+
Rk PD
S&P+
Rk
22.4 27 123.3 10 138.3 5 125.1 13 127.8 7 119.6 10 141.8 4

Key Losses: LB Nyles Morgan (92 Tkls, 7 TFL), DL Andrew Trumbetti (28 Tkls, 4 TFL), DL Jay Hayes (27 Tkls, 3.5 TFL), LB Greer Martini (75 Tckls, 3 TFL), CB Nick Watkins, CB Shaun Crawford (ACL)

The Wolverine offense was nothing special last year, and this is news to no one who followed them or watched the Amazon “All or Nothing” series.  They were plagued by injury as QB Wilton Speight went down relatively early in the season and backup turned starting QB for a few games, Brandon Peters, also went down.  The offensive line couldn’t get settled on the right side, where Mike Onwenu settled in a bit at RG while RT continued to rotate Jon Runyan and Juwann Bushell-Beatty with little success. Combine these two problems and add in the youth factor (WRs who are learning to run routes and block people) and you’ve got a one-dimensional offense.  So, pretty much if a team could stop the run game, they could stop Michigan’s offense.  This happened 4 times in 2017 once in 2018 (Bowl Game), and it was less than exciting to watch.

Enter the 2018 season and enter, Shea Patterson. Also enter staff changes, scheme changes and other things which we’ll get to but first let’s swoon for Shea.  Patterson, ruled immediately eligible after transferring from Ole Miss, was named the starter at QB well before the ND game – notable because Harbaugh typically hasn’t done this in seasons past. Also notable because dude threw for 2259 yards in less than 8 full games before getting injured last year. This is more than Michigan QBs combined for in all of last season. Shea can be a gunslinger, and with that comes the chance for interceptions – he threw 9 of those last year.  However, he can also extend plays with his legs, and threw 16 TDs, 7 more than Michigan QBs combined in 2017. Most importantly, Patterson is fully healthy and benefited from the new strength and conditioning program at Michigan.  This means he will be even better than he was at Ole Miss at making things happen improv-style.

Speaking of new strength and conditioning program, this leads us to the other changes.  New strength program = better and stronger players.  Also add, Ed Warriner, widely heralded as one of the best OL coaches in the country. Then sprinkle in a more open playbook due to better OLine and QB play.  Add in two WR coaches in Roy Roundtree and Jim McElwain.  Now you’ve got heaps of potential on offense, but nothing guaranteed because we haven’t seen a thing aside from a few videos online and a 45 minute open practice. Confidence is at an all-time-high for the offense in the Harbaugh-era though.  The one negative going into the season is that Tarik Black has broken his other foot and is now out for an indefinite amount of time.  This sucks for the kid, he’s a baller.  He’ll be back at some point in the season hopefully and in the meantime, Nico Collins, DPJ, Oliver Martin, Grant Perry, and a plethora of TEs will provide plenty of weapons for Shea to utilize.  On the ground, Michigan still has the two-headed monster, which is now an even bulkier monster, in Karan Higdon and Chris Evans.  Don’t be surprised if both of them eclipse 1,000 yards this year or get damn close.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, is no slouch on defense.  They are not Michigan on defense either.  In 2017, they finished 47th in total defense, but 27th in the S&P rankings listed above.  They were 31 in scoring defense, which placed them right about where Florida State, Army and Texas were. On average, teams put up 215-ish yards through the air against the Irish, good for the 48th best passing defense and 154 yards on the ground, good for 47th best rush defense. This would seem to say that ND is pretty much average, maybe slightly better, at both run and pass defense. They do have a stout defensive line, but it is nowhere close to as deep as Michigan’s.  They have pretty good LBs (Coney, Bilal), decent players in the secondary (Tranquill, Vaughn), and added Free Safety transfer, Alohi Gilman (Navy).  News broke Thursday afternoon that ND lost one of their better defenders in Nickle DB Shaun Crawford who tore his ACL in Tuesday’s practice. This could prove to be a big loss, especially in this game, where Michigan will throw a multitude of weapons out there who would normally be covered by Crawford. Yet and still, this unit, overall, should prove to be a nice test for Michigan’s “new” offense.  New is in quotes because it won’t be as new as some think it is, it’s just that we’ve not been able to see the whole playbook since it has been so limited lately.

This is also a rivalry game and both teams should be pretty amped up, especially ND at home, under the lights, where they are 6-0.

Players to watch for Michigan Offense – QB Shea Patterson (Ole Miss transfer and AKA “The Answer”), RB Duo Karan Higdon/Chris Evans (250 combined yards?), WR Duo Nico Collins/DPJ (3 TDs combined?)

Players to watch for Notre Dame Defense – S Drue Tranquill (very versatile), LB Te’von Coney (best LB on the roster), DB Julian Love (PLAYMAKER)

Edge: Push (only because we haven’t seen it yet)

 

Thoughts From The BluePrint Family

@UMichWD :

Short and sweet.  If Shea is connecting on passes and throwing it all over, this should be a blowout win. The defense could force ND to be one-dimensional and if that happens, this thing will be over before it starts. ND has tall lanky WRs and so did BYU in 2015; we all know how that one ended. Really, I see this one being similar to Florida last year.  The Michigan offense is going to need to make plays to win this game. If they do, though, the Wolverine defense will hold up their end of the bargain.

@WarnerT53: 

The 14th ranked Wolverines must travel 178.7 miles to the destination of South Bend, Indiana. Where the host Notre Dame Fighting Irish will attempt to add a top 15 win to sport their early season resume.

Will that happen?

No.

Don Brown will once again control the Michigan defense. It is this reason and this reason alone that I have confidence the Wolverines can go into South Bend and pull off the upset. With returning starters littered all over the defense, the speed and ferocity of the Wolverines defense will be too much for Wimbush and Co. There will be much forcing of turnovers and other costly mistakes caused by Michigan’s defense this Saturday evening.

The offensive side of the ball looks to improve with former number one quarterback recruit, slash, former Ole Miss Rebel, Shea Patterson at the helm. Shea leads a “new look spread” offense for the Wolverines. Patterson is supported by talented backs in the likes of Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, as well as a lengthy and athletic receiving corp. The game will ride on the defense; however, it’s up to Patterson and Co. to find the endzone.

The first game of the season against a rival can really determine how this season will go for this year’s Michigan Football Team. I’m not too worried about the defense against the Fighting Irish. As long as Michigan can contain Brandon Wimbush and lock-down the outsides while also not letting these BIG wide receivers get into the game, it will be a long day for Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish.
Offensively, I think if the Wolverines run the ball consistently and get at least four to five yards a carry, this will open up the passing game and let Shea Patterson do what he does best. Look for Michigan to get the tight ends and wide receivers in a good rhythm even in the absence of Tarik Black. Also, as long Michigan’s offensive line, more importantly, the Offensive Tackle position plays well against the pass rush and protects Shea, Michigan will come out with the win.
Shea Patterson 200 + yards along with 2 TDs passing. Karan Higdon & Chris Evans combine for over 150 yards rushing. Grant Perry, DPJ, Zach Gentry & Nico Collins are going to be Shea’s top targets.
On the defensive side of the ball, Devin Bush will be the leading tackler for the game. Chase Winovich & Rashan Gary both get one sack each. Lavert Hill will get a pick with a few passes defended. Defense shuts Notre Dame out from scoring in the second half!

If the Michigan – Notre Dame rivalry has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. But I can’t help it, I’m very confident the Wolverines pull this off, and pull it off big. Michigan’s weakness in the Harbaugh era has been QB play, and Shea Patterson is the answer. On the other side, Notre Dame’s QB play has a lot of questions and some that haven’t been answered still in 2018. Wimbush knows his coach has no confidence in him, and that he can pulled at any minute. That’s a recipe for disaster against this Michigan defense. I do think Michigan will give up one big play, probably on a broken play where Wimbush does something crazy.

Overall, the defense will play so well that they will have everyone in the national media talking next week. Michigan’s offense will run the ball efficiently, see some big plays from the pass game, and maybe some of the electricity we’ve been missing from the QB position. It’s only going to take one game for the ridiculous narrative of Harbaugh being on the hot seat to change to, “Michigan is a legit title contender”.

@MMBaker5 ‏:

First game jitters and I’m not even on the field!! I don’t like using “This is the year” seems kinda overused but I’m excited!
Notre Dame will string a couple plays together and score on their first drive. Michigan will make a couple big plays but be a little too run heavy the first drive and have to punt. The Michigan defense will hold ND to a FG. Exposing ND’s two incapable QB’s. Shea will drive the field after a deep pass to Gentry followed by an option run and huge pickup. We will then open the floodgates. Michigan “fans” will be nervous about the start of the game but jump back on the bandwagon after the 38-10 win.
Players to watch:
Offense: Shea Patterson, Karan Higdon, Zach Gentry
Defense: Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich
Sleeper is Grant Perry.
Coach Harbaugh is THAT dude!

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Derrick Ryan
What's up guys. I'm Derrick Ryan, the Webmaster for this site. I'm also an editor and blogger for The BluePrint Blog. Aside from these responsibilities, I also work full-time at a Fortune 500 company in IT, in my not-so-spare time. In addition to the above, I also love spending time with my family. I have a beautiful wife and was blessed with twin children, a boy and a girl. Our children keep us busy with sports, school and music, but I also enjoy video games (hit me on on XBox Live: DertyDoc), movies, music, camping, and cooking (I'm a goon with the spoon). Lastly, I'm extremely passionate about the University of Michigan and Michigan Athletics. GO BLUE! P.S. -Thank you RaSean aka Michigan Man Ray for giving people like me a platform to express my interests and opinions.
Derrick Ryan

Latest posts by Derrick Ryan (see all)

Derrick Ryan
What's up guys. I'm Derrick Ryan, the Webmaster for this site. I'm also an editor and blogger for The BluePrint Blog. Aside from these responsibilities, I also work full-time at a Fortune 500 company in IT, in my not-so-spare time. In addition to the above, I also love spending time with my family. I have a beautiful wife and was blessed with twin children, a boy and a girl. Our children keep us busy with sports, school and music, but I also enjoy video games (hit me on on XBox Live: DertyDoc), movies, music, camping, and cooking (I'm a goon with the spoon). Lastly, I'm extremely passionate about the University of Michigan and Michigan Athletics. GO BLUE! P.S. -Thank you RaSean aka Michigan Man Ray for giving people like me a platform to express my interests and opinions.

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