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Notre Dame Football: Michigan Wolverines Q&A

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Pat Rick talked to Josh LaFond of Maize N Brew, and also his (Pat Rick’s) friend Hux, to get the skinny on the Michigan Wolverines ahead of Saturday’s big season opener

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Media Day Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen, in case you just woke up from a coma and have no idea what day/month/year it is, allow me to inform you that college football is BACK.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, ranked 12th in the AP Preseason Poll, will square off against the 14th-ranked Michigan Wolverines this Saturday in a primetime, under-the-lights, preceded-by-ESPN’s-College Gameday contest.

So, per usual, I went behind enemy lines to talk to Josh LaFond of SB Nation’s own Maize N Brew, asking him a number of EXTREMELY important and incredibly relevant questions about the Wolverines, including inquiries about:

  • Coach Jim Harbaugh
  • His bright and shiny new QB
  • How stacked the Michigan defense is
  • Which US Presidents would make up the best football squad
  • Football coaches singing karaoke
  • Players growing 2 feet overnight (in height...not two extra appendages — although that would also be a great question to ask people *scribbles note furiously*)
  • And other things

Sounds pretty informative and useful, right???

Well, sit back, relax, and take a gander at all of Josh’s fantastic answers below (as well as a brief interlude featuring my friend since childhood, Hux), and arm yourselves with the knowledge you need heading into Saturday’s HUGE Fighting Irish season opener.

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First of all, how do you feel about this Michigan team? What do you think their ceiling is this season?

Pretty confident, if we’re being honest, Patrick. The fact that they’re ranked #14 and #15 in the AP and Coaches polls has a lot to do with being overlooked this preseason. This is the most talented defense Michigan has fielded since their 1997 national championship team, and the offense is loaded at skill positions as well as with a top tier QB in Shea Patterson, who I’m sure we will get to later.

Their ceiling is as high as they want it to be. They have a defense that is once-in-a-generation talented. If they can just get competent — in fact, average — play from their offense, they have a great shot to not only contend for the Big Ten, but win it and give the playoff committee something to think about come December.

Are Wolverine fans getting at all restless about Jim Harbaugh yet? Are you? What’s the status on Michigan fans’ belief he can take you to the promised land?

I would say that the rational part of the fan base — I’d like to think myself included — aren’t restless. I’d honestly compare Michigan and their fan base’s expectations to that of Notre Dame’s. We’re both tired of blowing great teams on lost seasons, and sick of starting the year full of promise but ending in disappointment. Now that, I’m sure we can agree on.*

*Editor’s note: Yes.

As far as Jim Harbaugh is concerned, I’ve said this multiple times and I’ll say it again; if Jim Harbaugh cannot restore Michigan to its former glory, then who can? Opposing fan bases and media pundits like to make it seem like his seat is hot, but the fact is that it’s not. Harbaugh is Michigan’s plan A-Z and if he can’t win big, I think personally that it says more about the state of the program as a whole, rather than just what Jim Harbaugh can do. I hope that makes sense.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Media Day Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

How improved will the Michigan offense be this year with Shea Patterson at the helm? Who are the other key names to know on that side of the ball?

It should be leaps and bounds better. The Wolverines were arguably mediocre quarterback play away from wins over Michigan State, Ohio State, and South Carolina. All were games that Michigan either led in, or had the opportunity to win, but due to a struggling QB, they choked them all away.

Shea Patterson, although yet to start for the maize and blue, was one of, if not the best quarterback in the SEC during the year and a half that he started. His passing stats last year alone were better than what Michigan put on the field for the whole year. Now that he’s healthy, he should shine.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Some other names that I’ll mention are star running back Karan Higdon and tight end Zach Gentry. Higdon is a preseason Doak Walker award (nation’s top RB) watch list representee and has bulked up this offseason. He’s a downhill runner who has the acceleration and the quick twitch that make him hard to bring down. Although he’s in a 1A and 1B scenario with fellow RB Chris Evans, he should still be getting the bulk of the carries and has his sights set on a heckuva year.

As far as Gentry is concerned, he is a mammoth of a man and is all of his 6’7”, 250+ lb frame. The former QB recruit has the athleticism and speed to make himself a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, as has been evidenced over the previous year.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

If Shea Patterson can get it anywhere close to this guy, Zach will have more than a shot to catch it. Don’t think I’m drinking only Kool-Aid — he has the potential to be the best pass-catching TE I’ve seen in my lifetime, seriously.

Michigan has one of the best defenses in the country coming back this season with guys like Devin Bush and Rashan Gary guaranteed to be wreaking havoc out there. What makes that group so good, and who are the key guys that ND needs to account for at all times?

If you’re looking for just one area of focus that makes them so good, it has to be the scheme that defensive coordinator Don Brown puts into practice.

Brown has been categorized as a “high risk, high reward” coaching style. The truth is, however, that it’s not a risk if you ask him. It is more along the lines of organized chaos, and that unrelenting pressure he attacks opposing offenses with is what utilizes the talents of Devin Bush Jr., Rashan Gary, and others to the best of their abilities.

To succeed, Notre Dame will definitely have to focus in on the defensive line for Michigan, and try to contain them by whatever means necessary. When you have guys like future NFL draft pick Rashan Gary (as mentioned) and 5th year senior Chase Winovich holding down the edges, as well as young talents at defensive tackle in Michael Dwumfour and Aubrey Solomon, it makes it a tough task to contain them no matter how talented the offensive line is.

Give me the X-factor for Michigan on offense, defense, and special teams (if there is one) -- who are the guys whose performances are most crucial to the Wolverines getting that W?

Offense: Shea Patterson (Quarterback)

Shea really needs to have an efficient performance for the boys in blue to head back to Ann Arbor with the win. He doesn’t have to carry the offense necessarily, but he needs to limit mistakes, take care of the football, and utilize his legs to get out of danger, picking up whatever positive yards he can.

Defense: Khaleke Hudson (VIPER Hybrid Linebacker)

Khaleke Hudson took over for former Michigan star jack-of-all-trades Jabrill Peppers last season, starting at VIPER (which is what Don Brown has named his hybrid linebacker). Hudson can cover the slot and tight ends, as well as contain, and rush the passer. He will be key in containing Wimbush, Book, and the rest of the ND offense.

Special Teams: Quinn Nordin (Kicker)

If this game is as tight as I expect it to be, Nordin’s leg will be vital in getting points on the board. He was inconsistent at times throughout the last year, but if he has honed it in and in addition to the ability to hit 60+ yard field goals as he did last year, he is a weapon that Michigan needs to perform come Saturday.

Do any of Notre Dame’s players scare you? Who are you most concerned about on the Irish team?

Their entire defense scares the ever loving crap out of me, if I’m keeping it 100 with you.

While yes, Shea Patterson is the best QB Michigan has had on its roster since Chad Henne was here, and while UM is still loaded at the skill positions, their o-line is COMPLETELY unproven and Notre Dame will come after them early and often. You can bet your arse on that.

I can’t list one player because there are too many. It’s the defense as a whole, and that’s with a bullet.

***

WE INTERRUPT THIS VERY GOOD Q&A FOR SOMETHING INCREDIBLY STUPID: TIME FOR A WORD FROM PAT’S PERSONAL PANEL OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL FANS, AKA SOME BUDDIES OF HIS

In my Q&As this year, I’ve decided to add in a small section where I offer up quotes about the upcoming game/opponent — sometimes prompted by specific questions, other times not — from a special panel of college football fans (my friends).

This week, my friend Hux AKA Tex (no affiliation to ND or UM, by the way — he just attends more sporting events than anyone I’ve ever known, making him a certified fan of sports) had the following to say in a GroupMe group message we are both in...I’ve stitched it all together as a beautiful and devastating stream of consciousness:

“I tried @PatRick. I can’t answer these questions haha. I don’t know one player on Michigan anymore. I literally can’t name one. BUT that could be a great blurb in your article. ‘Guy who knows everything about sports can’t name one player. They’re no longer relevant. Period.’ ”

“The athlete turned logo on their jersey is more relevant than everyone on their sidelines. And he went to North Carolina, and retired when I was in grade school.”

“Also, Jim Harbaugh has been at Michigan for 4 years now??? Where has the time gone? Number of 11-or-more-win seasons at Michigan: Brady Hoke 1, Jim Harbaugh 0. Number of New Year’s Six bowl wins at Michigan: Brady Hoke 1, Jim Harbaugh 0.”

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Michigan v Virginia Tech Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Aaaand that was talking Michigan with Hux.

Now, back to Josh’s fantastic answers to my Q&A.

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Who would win in a karaoke contest - Jim Harbaugh or Brian Kelly? Please tell me what song(s) each would sing and be very detailed about how charismatic and powerful their respective stage presences are.

Jim Harbaugh would most definitely sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond. Is there really any other choice? Five bucks says he sings the “BA BA BA!” part of the chorus, too.

A really bad artist’s really bad rendering of that.

On the other hand, I would think Brian Kelly would chose something more uh, intense, for lack of a better word. ‘When I’m Gone’ by Three Doors Down comes to mind. I could see him turning that fiery shade of red we are all used to while screaming it at the top of his lungs. The chorus almost begs for the fan base to love him “before he’s gone.”

While Harbaugh would totally win over the 55-and-over crowd with a three-minute heavenly serenade, I don’t imagine his voice is enough alone to give him the victory over Brian Kelly.

Kelly rips off his shirt at some point during the performance and after a crowd surf mid-chorus, secures the hearts of all those in attendance and drops the mic knowing he’s sealed the deal.

The really bad artist is still out here making really bad renderings

Michigan is one of 4 universities to have had both a Super Bowl-winning QB and president of the United States graduate from it (along with Navy, Stanford, and Miami Ohio). If you were putting together a football team of only US presidents (or presidential candidates), who would you pick and why? You do not need to fill out a full offense and defense for this, but I’m not stopping you...

Gerald R. Ford and John McCain vs whatever 22 other guys you want to throw at them.

I’ll take the former in a landslide.

If you could pick one player on the Michigan team to grow 2 feet taller the night before the game, who would you choose? Please be wary that this player would not be used to the extra two feet of height and would struggle to control his body super well, at least early in the game.

Tight End Zach Gentry.

He’s already 6’7”, as I mentioned earlier. Imagine a 8’7” TE!

I would never even ask him to run, block, or run any route other than a go. Just send Zach to the end zone, throw up a prayer within five feet or so, and you’ve got yourself six points my friend.

Is there anything else Notre Dame fans should know about Michigan’s program, team, fans, traditions, etc.?

Respectfully, I think Michigan and Notre Dame fans know just about everything about each other. Personally — and speaking for Wolverine fans for that matter — we are just glad to have the rivalry back and I think we all would like to see it happen on a regular basis.

Although it doesn’t have to be every year, college football needs Michigan vs. Notre Dame back and I think we will see it happen before long.

Give me a prediction for the game - who wins, what’s the final score, and what your reasoning is for those predictions.

I’ve got Michigan winning 17-13.

Both defenses are elite and although Michigan’s might be slightly better purely from an overall standpoint, Notre Dame is NOT to be trifled with. The reason I have Michigan winning, though, is that the difference in this game is how the offenses play. Now, while I am banking on Shea Patterson to be efficient, I can’t say I am as confident in Brandon Wimbush or Ian Book.

It’ll be a tight, nail biting game almost all day, but unless Wimbush can turn around his apparent accuracy troubles, I don’t see him beating this defense on his legs alone. To take advantage of Don Brown’s scheme, you have to keep them honest, and I don’t know if Wimbush or Book can necessarily do that.

Now, readers, come after me for my hot takes that are presumed to be biased.

Michigan v Penn State Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

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I want to give a HUGE shout out to Josh for answering all of my questions with genuine consideration and fantastic detail — it just goes to show you that even among the most hatable fan bases, there can still be people that are not so bad, even though I disagree with all of Josh’s college football preferences and affiliations and football opinions. Please feel free to agree with me in the comments below.

For any and all Michigan updates heading into the game, please be sure to check out the Maize N Brew site (give ‘em hell in those comment sections, you guys — especially on their Q&A article that I participated in, which will be published in the next day or two — I need the backup), as well as follow them on Twitter @MaizeNBrew.

Furthermore, Josh was an excellent sport despite my...unorthodox questions, so please give the dude a follow on Twitter as well — he knows his stuff.

Also, a final special thanks to my guy Hux, who struggled through not being able to open my Google Doc of questions and then proceeded to just speak from the heart about how much Michigan stinks. He’s the hero we both need and deserve.

See you in my Game Preview on Friday — Go Irish!