It’s time for another round of “Five Things I Hope to See…”. How did Michigan do last week? Believe it or not, quite freakin’ well:
- Minimal turnovers from the quarterbacks — I believe zero qualifies as ‘minimal’.
- Solid play from the starting corners — Besides a couple overzealous plays resulting in pass interference calls, Donovan Warren had a great game, and Boubacar Cissoko was very solid before leaving the game early with an injury. So, check.
- An outside receiver steps up — Hello, Junior Hemingway.
- Michigan gets pressure on Tim Hiller — The Wolverines only recorded two sacks, but were constantly hounding Hiller, forcing several rushed throws and a couple interceptions. Check.
- The offense opens up — Compared to last year, this absolutely happened. The added screen element to the zone read is a huge addition to the offense, and the team’s knowledge of the offense is miles ahead of where it was last year.
So, yeah, five out of five isn’t too shabby. However, Notre Dame poses a much more formidable challenge. What does Michigan need to do to take down the Fighting Irish?
- Force the Irish to become one-dimensional — Despite having a ton of success through the air against Nevada (the worst team in the country against the pass last year), Notre Dame only managed 4.3 yards per carry on 41 attempts in their opening game. Granted, some of that came while killing clock, but the greater point remains: Michigan has the ability to shut down the Irish run game, and if they do so, the Wolverines can focus on avoiding the big play and getting pressure on Jimmy Clausen. Speaking of which…
- Get pressure on Jimmy Clausen — Duh, I know, but this will be huge for Michigan. Anyone who watched the highlights from the Nevada game saw what Clausen can do when he has the time to set his feet and step into a throw; the guy has deadly accuracy and receivers that will get open. However, Clausen has not done well when facing pressure in his career; he has a tendency to get happy feet in the pocket and make poor decisions when the defense is bearing down on him. Notre Dame will almost certainly be doubling Brandon Graham at every opportunity, so Craig Roh, Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and the linebackers will be charged with getting to Clausen and forcing him to keep one eye on his protection.
- Another outside receiver steps up — Unfortunately, it looks as if Michigan will be without the services of Junior Hemingway, who emerged against Western as Tate Forcier’s favorite target on the outside but is questionable/doubtful (depending on which Rich Rodriguez quote you look at) due to an ankle injury. Greg Mathews had a quiet game, catching two passes for 18 yards, and Darryl Stonum was all but invisible while not recording a single catch. One of those guys is going to have to produce against Notre Dame if Michigan hopes to consistently move the ball through the air. It’d be nice to see Stonum have a big game, as he is more of a deep threat than Mathews, but he’d need to show us something we haven’t seen from him before in his thus-far disappointing Michigan career.
- Michigan gets an 100-yard day out of a running back — It looks like Michigan will be unleashing Brandon Minor after he sat out the WMU game with a bum ankle. That could be huge, as Notre Dame looks susceptible up the middle, and Minor is the Michigan back most suitable for crashing between the tackles 20 times in a game. Carlos Brown looked good last week, and should get the starting nod while splitting carries with Minor. If one of those guys ends up cracking the century mark, I like Michigan’s chances.
- Utilize the bubble screen — Notre Dame DC Jon Tenuta is known for bringing a lot of heat via the blitz, which could either completely disrupt Michigan’s zone read or open up the field for big plays. The screen option on the zone read was wide open several times last week, and if Notre Dame is bringing extra guys off the edge, Michigan should have a lot of space available on the outside. If Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson can make the correct read and get Kelvin Grady or Martavious Odoms the ball in space, we could see some game-changing plays off the zone read screen.
The more I look at this game, the more I think Michigan has a really good chance of pulling the upset. Obviously, Warren and Cissoko need to have strong games against Michael Floyd and Golden Tate, but if that happens, Michigan suddenly has a decided advantage against Notre Dame. This one is going to be close, potentially decided by a field goal, a broken play, or a single turnover. I picked Michigan to beat Notre Dame before the season, and I see no reason to change that opinion after a first game that far surpassed my expectations. Michigan 34, Notre Dame 28.