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Notre Dame Football: Michigan Wolverines Preview

Pat Rick lays out how he thinks these two hate-filled programs match up for their Saturday night tilt in Ann Arbor

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Hey all you party people, it’s Remember the Six week!!!

Your 8th-ranked, 5-1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, fresh off a bye week, travels to Ann Arbor to square off against the 5-2, #19 Michigan Wolverines in The Big House tomorrow evening.

Michigan (14th) is actually ranked ahead of Notre Dame (19th) in the overall SP+ ratings put out weekly by Bill Connelly of ESPN, and have shown a very strong defense and a very middling offense in what has certainly been a disappointing first 7 games for them, having needed overtime to beat the Army Black Knights, having been shellacked by the Wisconsin Badgers for their first loss of the year, and having just lost a tight one last week against the Penn State Nittany Lions after mounting a nice little comeback (post-falling behind 21-0).

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

The line for the game has swung from UM being slightly favored to the Irish being the slight favorites in Vegas, but Brian Kelly has never won in Ann Arbor and ND hasn’t won there since 2005. It should be VERY interesting to see if the Irish are able to take care of business there this season and hand the Wolverines their 3rd loss before November, or if ND once again stumbles on the road in this series and has to endure plenty of UM smack talk over the ensuing years until these two programs decide to play each other again.

To determine what might happen and much more, let’s take a look at how these two teams match up on offense and defense and try to work our way to a prediction, eh?

Michigan Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense

The Wolverines come into this game with what has been an inconsistent, unreliable offense through the first 7 games of the season. Ranked 52nd on offense in SP+, 80th in total offense (67th in passing, 80th in rushing), and 85th in yards per play, first year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has certainly not had the start he wanted to have when handed the reins to the offense heading into the season.

On the other side of the ball, Clark Lea’s ND defense has certainly exceeded preseason expectations after he lost Jerry Tillery, Te’von Coney, Drue Tranquill, and Julian Love to the NFL, as the unit has seen its veteran captains at defensive end (Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara) and safety (Alohi Gilman, Jalen Elliott) lead a quick-learning unit that is currently 35th in the country in SP+, 15th in scoring, 41st in total defense (31st passing, 64th rushing), and 33rd in yards per play allowed.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, the numbers above aren’t quite elite besides scoring, but the ND defense has been a very reliable group that has kept the Irish hanging around in a few games where the offense was slow to get moving.

Tomorrow, they’ll have to take on a Michigan offense that has certainly underperformed compared to the talent on-hand. QB Shea Patterson is a former blue-chip recruit who started at Ole Miss before transferring to UM before the 2018 season, and he’s still struggling to put together a few consecutive really good performances. With that said, he’s still a productive signal caller, having thrown for 1,522 yards, 9 touchdowns, and just 4 interceptions so far in 2019.

However, Patterson’s game certainly comes with some flaws, including a less-than-ideal 57% completion percentage and 6 fumbles already this year, with 4 of those having been recovered by the defense. He’s also been sacked 12 times, so between the inaccuracy, fumbles, and being somewhat of a sack magnet, it will be VERY important for the Irish that Julian Okwara (5 sacks, 5 QBH, 2 FF, 1 FR) and Khalid Kareem (20 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 7 QBH) — along with Adetokunbo Ogundeji (3 QBH, 1 FF, 1 FR TD) and Jamir Jones (3 sacks, 4 TFL, 1 FF) in relief — bring the heat into the backfield tomorrow evening.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Knowing that the best way to force some turnovers and slow down the Wolverines would likely be to hit Patterson early and often, look for Lea to also send linebackers and the occasional DB on blitzes into the backfield, with speedy, athletic, aggressive guys such as Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (37 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF), Alohi Gilman (38 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR), and Kyle Hamilton (21 tackles, 2 PD, 2 INT, 1 TD) hopefully slipping through the cracks and making big plays — or at least forcing Patterson to rush throws or abandon trying to pass on certain plays altogether.

If those guys can’t get pressure and the UM offensive line holds up to give Patterson a pocket and some time, it could get very interesting for the Wolverines. Michigan has a number of very talented receivers who will be taking on man coverage, and so if Troy Pride Jr. (18 tackles, 3 PD) and some combination of TaRiq Bracy (20 tackles, 5 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR) and Shaun Crawford (if he’s healthy and able — 12 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT) aren’t able to blanket the UM receivers, Irish fans may see some big offensive plays given up by Lea’s defense. Gilman and Elliott (26 tackles, 2 PD, 2 INT) will be huge here as well, as they have to ensure they don’t let those talented Michigan receivers slip behind them for huge plays over the top.

The most dangerous guys out there for Michigan are the wide receiver combination of Ronnie Bell (24 rec, 432 yds), Nico Collins (19 rec, 358 yds, 2 TD), Donovan Peoples-Jones (17 rec, 175 yds, 2 TD), and Tarik Black (18 rec, 241 yds, 1 TD), who are all individually capable of getting loose for big gains.

Add in some solid athletes at tight end like Nick Eubanks (18 rec, 175 yds, 1 TD) and Sean McKeon (6 rec, 96 yds, 2 TD), and there will be plenty of guys for Patterson to connect with if he finds the time and space to get through his progressions and make some throws.

Patterson is also a decently capable runner, having rushed for 5 touchdowns this year. Combine that ability with true freshman running back Zach Charbonnet (a 5-star prospect who’s run for 457 yards and 7 TD on 4.9 yards per carry this season) and backup Hassan Haskins (217 yds, 5.6 ypc, 1 TD) and Michigan certainly has the athletes to pick up some nice chunks of yardage on the ground, if their offensive line can muster the push needed.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

That will be a tall task for them, of course, as the ND defense has been much better since the beginning of the year about containing the run game, really only looking vulnerable to the run in the first couple games and against USC, when they were much more focused on playing prevent defense and stopping big plays through the air.

That push to halt the run is led first and foremost by the big men in the middle on the defensive line, as starters Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish have really come along this season. Tagovailoa-Amosa has 14 tackles, 2 TFL, 4 QBH, and a near-fumble recovery touchdown return so far this season, and Hinish has made some big plays as well, sacking the QB twice while also forcing a fumble and accumulating 3.5 TFL overall. Add in a heavy rotation guy like Jayson Ademilola (12 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 QBH), and this group is certainly capable of setting the tone up front and really wrecking the UM offensive line’s chances of getting a good push.

Bowling Green v Notre Dame Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The second line of Irish defenders will be equally important as the guys who need to continue their sure-tackling ways, as Owusu-Koramoah, Drew White (29 tackles, 7 TFL, 1 sack), and Asmar Bilal (35 tackles, 5 TFL) will need to make sure they are disciplined and decisive in filling gaps, flocking to the ball carrier, and keeping no/short gains from becoming medium/long ones.

Offensive Wolverine to Watch

QB Shea Patterson + the Michigan OL

For as good as the Michigan receivers are and as promising/talented as Zach Charbonnet is, this offense’s success will be determined by whether the Wolverines offensive line can keep Shea Patterson upright, and if he can deliver accurate, timely balls to the right targets when that happens. Without Patterson effectively passing on Saturday, I don’t think Michigan will be able to keep up.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Irish to Watch

DE Julian Okwara

This game, more than any other left on the schedule, it will be crucial that Okwara is able to get upfield, wreak all sorts of havoc, and put ridiculous amounts of pressure on Patterson with his speed, athleticism, and relentless pursuit of sacks. If Okwara can replicate his Virginia performance, the Irish will ROLL on Saturday evening.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 Bowling Green at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Halftime Funtime

Best Names in the Game

  1. Michigan DL Luiji Vilain
  2. Michigan LS Camaron Cheeseman
  3. Notre Dame RB C’Borius Flemister
  4. Michigan DL Kwity Paye
  5. Notre Dame LS Axel Raarup
  6. Notre Dame S Litchfield Ajavon
  7. Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble
  8. Michigan DL Michael Dwumfour
  9. Notre Dame DL Hunter Spears
  10. Michigan OL Dan Jokisch
  11. Notre Dame LB Ovie Oghoufo
  12. Michigan QB Ren Hefley
  13. Michigan DB German Green
  14. Notre Dame DE Nana Osafo-Mensah
  15. Michigan DB J’Marick Woods
  16. Michigan TE Joseph Files
  17. Notre Dame CB Temitope Agoro
  18. Michigan RB Tru Wilson
  19. Notre Dame DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji
  20. Notre Dame RB Jafar Armstrong
  21. Michigan RB Abe Jaafar
  22. Michigan P Izaak Gerkis

Gettin’ Presidential In Here

Michigan is one of just four schools to have both a Super Bowl winning QB and a US President graduate from their school (the other three are the Stanford Cardinal, Navy Midshipmen, and Miami-Ohio Redhawks, FYI).

Pac-12 Championship - USC v Stanford

So, I wanted to take this time to put together my All-President football team. Here’s what I came up with, and I refuse to explain or defend any of my picks — but I look forward to seeing comments with different lineups you all would put together:


QB: Abe Lincoln

FB: Teddy Roosevelt

RB: George Washington

WR: Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama

TE: Ronald Reagan

OT: Lyndon B. Johnson and Donald Trump

OG: Chester A. Arthur and James A. Garfield

C: Herbert Hoover


DE: Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush

DT: William Howard Taft and Grover Cleveland

OLB: Zachary Taylor and Ulysses S. Grant

MLB: Andrew Jackson

CB: Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy

S: John Tyler and Franklin Pierce

P: James K. Polk

K: Martin Van Buren

Again, I will not provide any elaboration here. I think my choices speak for themselves, folks. Also, let me be clear — I know Gerald Ford actually played football at Michigan...but screw that, I’m not picking a Michigan man for my presidential football squad.

Let’s List Not-Good People Who Attended/Tried to Attend Michigan!!!

Because it’s always fun to trash Michigan and the kinds of people who would attend/root for that football program, let’s quickly review all of the...notorious Wolverines from over the years...

  • John List: this mass murderer and longtime fugitive earned a a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Michigan
  • François “Papa Doc” Duvalier: this former president of Haiti was elected president in 1957, thwarted a military coup d’état in 1958, and then rapidly turned his regime “totalitarian and despotic,” doing things like establishing an undercover government death squad that killed anyone who openly opposed him, solidifying his rule by incorporating elements of Haitian mythology into a personality cult, and declaring himself “President for Life” after a couple elections in which he ran unopposed. Papa Doc spent a year at the University of Michigan studying public health
  • Ted Kaczynski: also known as The Unabomber, Teddy here was an American domestic terrorist, anarchist author, and former mathematics professor who abandoned an academic career in 1969 to pursue a primitive lifestyle. Between 1978 and 1995, he killed three people and injured 23 others in an attempt to start a revolution by conducting a nationwide bombing campaign targeting people involved with modern technology. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics from the University of Michigan
  • H.H. Holmes: this fine fellow was a con artist, a bigamist...and also a serial killer who confessed to having murdered 27 people in a place called “The Murder Castle” (although only 9 could be plausibly confirmed and some people he claimed to have killed were still alive when he claimed it). His serial killing is featured in Erik Larson’s 2003 book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. He graduated from the University of Michigan Department of Medicine and Surgery in 1884
  • Hawley Harvey Crippen: this dude, usually known as Dr. Crippen, was an American homeopath, ear and eye specialist, and medicine dispenser. He murdered his wife Cora Henrietta Crippen and was the first suspect to be captured with the aid of wireless telegraphy. He studied at the University of Michigan Homeopathic Medical School before graduating from the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College in 1884. Notice the timing here — Crippen and H.H. Holmes were once classmates at Michigan, which is just downright fun!!!
  • Perry March: this guy also killed his wife, and then conspired to murder his in-laws. The case received attention in the national media, where it was the subject of two segments on the CBS News program 48 Hours. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a major in their Asian studies program
  • Richard Loeb: This guy was part of an infamous pair, Leopold and Loeb, who in May 1924 kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago. They committed the murder — characterized at the time as “the crime of the century” — as a demonstration of their perceived intellectual superiority, which, they thought, enabled them to carry out a “perfect crime” and absolved them of responsibility for their actions. Loeb was the University of Michigan’s youngest graduate at age 17
  • Larry Nassar: You’ve definitely heard of this evil man from pretty recent news — Nassar is the convicted serial child molester who preyed on hundreds of young girls while working as a doctor at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State. He earned his undergraduate degree in kinesiology at the University of Michigan, graduating in 1985
  • Charles Guiteau: This man was a lawyer and writer who assassinated President James A. Garfield in 1881. He inherited $1,000 from his grandfather as a young man and went to Ann Arbor with every intention to attend the University of Michigan. However, due to inadequate academic preparation, he failed the entrance examinations. He REALLY wanted to go to Michigan, though, which I think says a lot

So there you have it — Ann Arbor’s finest!!!!

Notre Dame Offense vs. Michigan Defense

According to Bill Connelly’s SP+ ratings, this match-up is strength vs. strength for these two teams. I think many of us would argue that ND’s defense is definitely more of a strength than the offense, but on paper, the Irish will try to continue to be the team that is #13 in the country in scoring offense, #13 in yards per play, and #30 in total offense (#42 in passing, #41 in rushing).

Unfortunately for Notre Dame, they will be facing the second-best — and you could definitely make an argument for them being the best — defense they will play all season. Don Brown’s defense this season is #4 in SP+, #14 in total defense (#8 in passing, #30 in rushing), #10 in yards per play allowed, and #21 in scoring defense.

That group is led by some athletic linebackers that gobble up ballcarriers, as Khaleke Hudson (64 tackles) and Jordan Glasgow (51 tackles, 4.5 TFL) are all over the field at all times, swarming to the ball. Along with Cameron McGrone (30 tackles, 6 TFL) and Josh Uche (23 tackles, 7.5 TFL), the Wolverines have a bevy of fantastic linebackers who are aggressive and can make it very difficult to move the chains on offense.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It will be interesting to see how Tony Jones Jr. is able to run against this defense, as the senior has had easily his best season through the first half of the schedule, racking up 557 yards and 4 touchdowns while picking up a jaw-dropping 7 yards per carry. Some of that production has been inflated a bit by weak opposing rushing defenses like Bowling Green (102 yards), Louisville (110 yards), and even USC (176 yards on 7 ypc against those assholes), but Jones also tore up a very solid Virginia defense in late September to the tune of 131 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hopefully Jafar Armstrong will be able to play a bigger role now that he’s had another couple weeks to continue healing and prepare for an active role, and Jahmir Smith could also spell TJJ and provide fresh legs — especially in short yardage situations.

The key will be the push that the Notre Dame offensive line is able to get, and after a slow start to the year, the crew of Liam Eichenberg, Aaron Banks, Jarrett Patterson, Tommy Kraemer, and captain Robert Hainsey has done a much better job of bulldozing folks and giving TJJ room to run. The Irish are currently 15th in the country in yards per carry with 5.4, so they will need to continue that strong running efficiency against the likes of defensive linemen Aidan Hutchinson (36 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 FF), Kwity Paye (31 tackles, 8 TFL, 1 FR), Carlo Kemp (24 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 FR), and Michael Danna (19 tackles, 2 TFL). That will be no simple task, considering that Wolverines front seven is giving up just 3.03 yards per carry this year — good for 17th in the country.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Illinois Michael Allio-USA TODAY Sports

The Irish have to hope they see some success on the ground in order to keep the Wolverines honest (it worked for Wisconsin for sure, so there’s definitely a blueprint), or otherwise the Michigan defense will be bringing heat all day knowing that they just need to flush Ian Book out of the pocket and sack him a few times to really throw the Irish off their game.

UM has the horses to do just that, as they are currently tied for 14th in the country with 3.3 sacks per game as a team. A whole bunch of the folks I have already mentioned are involved in that killer pass rush, as Uche (5.5 sacks), Paye (4.5 sacks, 3 QBH), Glasgow (4 sacks), McGrone (3.5 sacks, 3 QBH), Hutchinson (2.5 sacks, 3 PD), Danna (2 sacks), and Hudson (1 sack) have all chipped in to help Don Brown pressure opposing QBs.

If those guys are able to consistently get to Ian Book — who’s already been sacked 9 times this year and does NOT play super well when he is forced to abandon his progressions and scramble — then the Michigan DBs, who are aggressive, confident ball hawks with a knack for making plays, will likely capitalize in a big way.

In the Michigan secondary, Brad Hawkins is a steady sure-tackler (45 tackles, 1 PD), while guys like Josh Metellus (34 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR), Lavert Hill (11 tackles, 3 PD, 2 INT), and Ambry Thomas (15 tackles, 3 PD, 2 INT, 2 FR, 2 TFL) are known for generating turnovers and taking advantage of QB mistakes brought about by that vicious UM pass rush. Sprinkle in talented youngsters Daxton Hill and Vincent Gray (28 tackles, 4 PD combined), and the Michigan secondary is definitely dangerous.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Book will need to keep taking care of the ball as well as he has, throwing just two interceptions this season compared to his 1,419 yards and 14 touchdowns. His ability to limit turnovers has certainly played a big role in the Irish leading the nation in turnover margin, but it will also definitely be tested against Don Brown’s crew.

Book will look to find guys like WR Chase Claypool (27 rec, 394 yds, 4 TD) and TE Cole Kmet (21 rec, 265 yds, 3 TD), his two go-to star receivers, as much as possible. Their size, leaping ability, athleticism, and hands could come in handy with taking some shots over the top of the aggressive, pressing Wolverine DBs, and Chip Long may need these two to come down with some jump balls in order to keep the chains moving.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Other receivers like Javon McKinley (8 rec, 200 yds, 3 TD), Chris Finke (15 rec, 182 yds, 1 TD), Tommy Tremble (9 rec, 136 yds, 2 TD), Braden Lenzy (4 rec, 87 yds, 1 TD; 68 yds, 22.7 ypc, 1 rushing TD), and potentially even spot appearances from guys like Lawrence Keys III (7 rec, 70 yds) and Avery Davis (6 rec, 98 yds, 2 TD) will all be critical for making plays to keep drives alive when the big guns like Claypool and Kmet aren’t open.

Book, of course, can also do some damage with his legs — especially if that Wolverines pass rush DOES force him to abandon the pocket more than any of us would like. Book has run for 188 yards and 3 touchdowns this season on 3.8 yards per carry, and multiple times his legs have been critical in getting important scores in the red zone.

Speaking of the red zone, this is a very interesting stat that MAAAAAAY end up being relevant come Saturday evening, as my friend Pete Sampson pointed out:

The Irish may not have a ton of opportunities in the red zone against a defense like Michigan’s, so converting when they get there could end up being the difference in this ballgame. With the stats above in mind, I like the Irish’s odds to do so.

Defensive Wolverine to Watch

DL Kwity Paye

Michigan HAS to get lots of pressure on Ian Book in order to disrupt Chip Long’s offense and force some turnovers/lots of three-and-outs. Kwity Paye is Michigan’s best pass rusher in the front four, and so his ability to get by Eichenberg and Hainsey will be very important for Michigan in executing the aggressive game plan they will almost certainly utilize against this ND offense.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Irish to Watch

QB Ian Book

The offensive line’s ability to give Book time will be very important, but Book himself needs to prove he can stand in the pocket (and step up in it if needed) amidst a frantic pass rush and still go through his progressions and show the patience needed for his receivers to run their routes and get open against aggressive man coverage so he can toss them the ball accurately. Book has had a slew of good-to-okay games this year, and with this being the last real defensive test for him and his offense, it’s time he stepped up and put together a beautiful, clean, efficient game that carves up Don Brown’s defense and allows the Irish to clinch the game with Tony Jones Jr. and Clark Lea’s defense in the 4th quarter.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams???

The big thing I want to say here is that Michigan is a pedestrian 66th in the country in special teams, according to SP+, while Brian Polian’s squad is an exceptional, unbelievable, exquisite 6TH-IN-THE-COUNTRY on special teams.

Jonathan Doerer has been fantastic in his first year handling the kicking duties, making all 27 of his extra points to-date and making 6-of-7 field goals, including 3-of-4 from 40+ yards out, with his best being a 52-yarder he drilled against USC two weeks ago.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolverines, meanwhile, have had two different kickers this season, with Quinn Nordin making all 15 of his extra points and missing all 3 of his field goals, and Jake Moody having a much stronger statline of knocking down all 9 of his extra points and 5-of-7 field goals.

Alright, Let’s Predict the Result of This One

Notre Dame 27, Michigan 21

Michigan is a talented team that’s certainly underperformed in the first seven games of their season, and playing at home against a team they hate like Notre Dame likely will inspire them to bring their A-game, which is worrying.

However, despite their elite defense and talented skill position players on offense, I think Ian Book plays a very good game, the ND offense is able to run the ball fairly effectively, and Clark Lea’s defense will continue to be as reliable and stingy as ever in terms of forcing a couple turnovers, refusing to give up a ton of points, and finding a way to make enough plays to win the game.