By Tim Chapman Writer/Analyst


Michigan Pass vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense
Edge: Michigan

John Navarre hasn't put up flashy stats (50 % comp., 190 yards-per-game, 3-1 TD-to-INT ratio) - he hasn't had to. The lavish run game has been Navarre's best friend, helping relieve him from much of the offensive burden. At the same time, it hasn't really put him into situations where he has needed to step up and deliver. That should change this week. Notre Dame's pass defense was slow to show up last week, but strengthened as the game went along. Still, they were nothing spectacular, giving up 275 yards and 2 TDs through the air. The Irish were susceptible to the big play, and Michigan poses similar speed and intuition on the outside and deep-middle parts of the field like Wazzu brought last week.

Look for the Wolverines to develop their passing game. Being that this is Notre Dame, I think we'll see the maize-and-blue playbook turn a new page or two. This is John Navarre's first spotlight game of the year. He's proven he has the arm to get things done, but will need to get cooperation and production from the players around him. That means no afforded dropped balls, no missed blocks (mainly RBs picking up gap blitzes), no miscommunication on pass routes, etc. Notre Dame's defense is opportunistic and feeds on the fear and uncertainty of opposing teams.

The Fighting Irish will likely stack the box, and bring their safeties closer to the line to help against the run. This opens up the deep middle and puts Notre Dame's corners on an island, in press coverage. Wazzu had success with their TEs last week, so look for the Wolverines to leak one out here and there. Expect a solid game from Navarre and the pass game, especially when the game is on the line.

Notre Dame Pass vs. Michigan Pass Defense
Edge: Michigan

Though they claim to be a "west coast" offense, Notre Dame won't wow you throwing the football. Carlyle Holiday isn't your prototypical "west coast quarterback", but he knows how to run this offense efficiently enough to win ballgames. The Irish rarely beat you deep, running an eventually predictable set of their routes short along the sidelines and underneath in soft areas of the defense. This offense runs on timing and it will be up to Michigan's defense to disrupt that timing.

Notre Dame's offensive line continues to break in four new starters and they looked extremely battered last week. The Irish gave up seven sacks against a quick Wazzu defensive line. Michigan brings notable speed on the outside, and is more physical than Wazzu was. This could bring problems for the ND passing game.

Michigan will constantly apply pressure to Holiday from the outside, forcing him up inside the pocket and right into the teeth of that defensive line. The key for the Wolverines is to keep contain on this guy. If Holiday breaks outside, he is a dangerous runner in the open-field. He also fairs pretty well at surveying the field on the run, eventually making something out of nothing. Michigan is likely to play a lot of zone coverage, keeping everything in front of them. The DBs will be sitting and waiting for Holiday to make a mistake against the blitz and throw right into harm's way.

I like the Wolverines to control this passing attack and fluster Holiday with their pass rush. As long as the Wolverines keep him in their grasp, they'll be okay. The Irish attack will aim at the open spots in the middle, vacated by blitzing LBs. This will work to minimal effect because of the athletic ends the Wolverines can drop into coverage (i.e. the zone blitz).


Michigan Run vs. Notre Dame Run Defense
Slight Edge: Michigan

Chris Perry comes into the game as the nation's leading rusher, averaging 8.5 yards a carry and 208 yards per contest. Those numbers seem outstanding at first glance, but the opponents were Central Michigan and Houston. Those schools currently rank 112th and 116th, respectively, against the run - now comes his first real test. Notre Dame gave up only 55 yards to a Washington State team that tried to make a more concentrated effort on running the football. Then again, Wazzu has nowhere near the caliber of O-line, nor the combination of speed and power U of M has. The numbers for each side in the run game can be rendered moot to this point and we'll get a good taste of who is the real deal after this one's finished.

Perry is best when he has room to run between the tackles and can get into the open field. Notre Dame will likely stack the box and clutter the middle. This will force Perry outside, giving the quick Irish LBs - if quick enough - time to adjust, get to the perimeter and make the play. To counter, I like the Wolverines to do one of two things. First, they spread the field using three-wide sets and force the LBs to move out along the edge and honor the outside. Second, utilize a two-TE set, similar to what Ohio State does, and use ends Massaquoi and Mignery to hit and attack those LBs.

Count on the run-game to be a factor for the Wolverines early. But Notre Dame, which is a stronger team in the second-half, will find ways to thwart the blocking schemes and hold Perry to minimal gains in the mid-to-late stages of the game. As good as the Michigan line is, they can't block eight guys. Perry will put up close to 100, but he won't get it nearly as easy as before.


Notre Dame Run vs. Michigan Run Defense
Slight Edge: Michigan

Notre Dame struggled running the ball last week, netting less than four yards per carry. With an inexperienced offensive line in front of them, the talents of Ryan Grant and Julius Jones have to transcend foreseeable barriers and get the job done. Lucky for them, Michigan's run defense has been under some scrutiny from head coach Lloyd Carr. Excluding yardage lost due to sacks, the Wolverines have allowed close to five yards a pop. That statistic has to improve starting this week.

Notre Dame will look to run right at that Michigan defensive line. They'll count on their fullbacks and TEs to pave the way to get the tailbacks into one-on-one isolations against those Michigan 'backers and safeties. A workable run game is imperative, especially straight-I lead plays, draws, and counters, which will in turn set up the play-action pass. Michigan, on the other hand, will take their strong safety and walk him up to support the LBs in run situations. The Wolverines have enough faith in both - their secondary and their pass rush - to effectively take away this facet of the Notre Dame offense.

I think we'll see Julius Jones reemerge as the top Notre Dame rushing threat, giving Michigan's defense problems early on and in scattered parts of the second half. But remember, the Wolverines' defense has been challenged by the coaching staff to step it up a notch. They want this crew to be able to stop the run and has flat-out questioned their ability to do such. Folks, stories have taught us - it's not wise to wake a sleeping giant. I like Michigan to have success halting this ground game, beating Notre Dame in the trenches.


Special Teams
Slight Edge: Michigan

I like the Wolverines here simply because of their punt unit. Adam Finley is averaging over 43 yards per and will do a good job of keeping the Irish from starting with quality field position. The Wolverines are well coached in special teams coverage and should keep Vontez Duff in check. Notre Dame's Nick Setta, as is usually the case with double-duty kickers, has struggled so far in punting the football. Michigan's Steve Breaston is a dangerous punt returner whom the Irish may not be fully aware. Michigan's placekicking woes have been momentarily hushed by the rise of freshman Garrett Rivas, who is 2-of-3 on the year.


Final Thoughts
Michigan and Notre Dame… The game is a college football signature marking the middle of September. Consider it the Midwest's version of Florida-Georgia. Neither team is the other's biggest rival, but they're pretty damn close! The Irish won last season's back-and-forth game in dramatic fashion, picking off a John Navarre pass in the final minutes. It was hard-hitting, exciting and controversial. And now, 366 days later, we're ready to kick off in Ann Arbor and do it all over again!

I think the Irish will marginally neutralize Perry and the ground game, but that will systematically open up the passing game and lead to some big scores. I like Braylon Edwards to get back on track in this game and deliver a 10-catch, 150-yard performance. The Irish, though quick up front, are out-matched against this offensive line. Their best bet, defensively, is to pressure Navarre and force him into throwing before thinking, and taking advantage of mistakes.

On the other side of the ball, I like the Michigan defense to step up in a big way and take the Irish run game out of the picture, ultimately driving Notre Dame out from their game plan. Holiday is not fashioned as good a passer as he will need to be, and Michigan can expect great things from their defense this week. Notre Dame is a slow-starting team and Michigan takes flight in the second and third quarters. By the time the Irish wake up, it will be too late. How does that song go? Umm… oh yeah, "Hail to the Victors".


Chappy's Pick: Michigan 28, Notre Dame 10