Two weeks ago, I would’ve told you this was a ho-hum game for the Irish. The Wolverines were in the midst of NCAA violations and hadn’t even named a starting quarterback yet (there were three eligible candidates). It’s safe to say their offseason was as peculiar as Haggis.
But like a three-card monte street specialist, Michigan pulled a fast one. They ended up routing their opponent - a laudable Western Michigan team- leaving no doubt that those extra hours of practice paid off (that’s a joke). Their win also widened the eyes of the Irish players and coaches that coach Rodriguez has a boatload of young talent in Ann Arbor.
Michigan starts with their three quarterback system; Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson and Nick Sheridan. Forcier proved himself as the gunner by throwing for 179 yards and three touchdowns, Robinson - who doesn’t tie his shoelaces on purpose - established himself as the runner (74 yards on 11 carries), and Sheridan, who proved himself as the third-stringer.
Junior Hemmingway leads the Wolverines at the wide receiver slot (caught five passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns) and Carlos Brown gets a bulk of the carries that don’t go to the quarterbacks.
Big Blue’s defense complemented their offense, as chocolate milk often does with PB&J. New defensive coordinator Greg Robinson thrives on putting tons of pressure on the quarterback, which was evident with the three turnovers they produced. They held Western Michigan to 38 rushing yards on 24 rushes, and like the Irish, would’ve pitched a shutout had they failed to give up a 74-yard pass play in the fourth quarter. Their secondary, though, was suspect (gave up 263 pass yards) and could pose a big problem against the duo of Tate and Floyd.
I view Michigan as a more talented version of Nevada. Coach Rodriguez loves to run his quarterbacks and call a lot of misdirections. His defense up front is powerful against the run but his defensive backs are vulnerable to big plays, especially with the blitz packages they have.
The series between the two schools has been difficult to predict in recent years. Michigan leads the series 20-15 but both schools have four wins each in the past 10 years. Last season, the Irish thumped Michigan in South Bend 35-17, although the Wolverines had their worst season - and possibly team - in school history.
I expect both teams to put up offense, even after last week demonstrated two stout defenses. Notre Dame should find success throwing the football but will give up big chunks to Michigan’s run game. And as always, you’ll have to wait until Thursday to see my predictions.