Michigan To Get Back On Track In Big Games
Justin Mantell - Monday, September 11, 2006
Michigan Wolverines versus Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday, September 16, 2006




“Play Like A Champion Today” 


In recent years, when playing Michigan, Notre Dame has not needed to play like a champion to beat the Maize and Blue.  Michigan has helped out by beating themselves with turnovers and a general lack of mental focus and preparation.


It depends upon how one looks at it--has Notre Dame done just enough to win the last two years, or have they just been the recipient of good mojo?    


Michigan has put itself in a position where a win on Saturday in South Bend, is a must for this program.  There is no reason that Michigan should not have won at home last season.  Home field advantage, we out-gained the Domers, completely shut them down offensively, but they still found a way to win and they had the edge in the turnover battle.


After two games for each team in 2006, we know that Brady Quinn doesn’t throw the best passes when pressured, and that the Domers have some trouble stopping the run.  As far as Michigan, we know they can rush the football and we know that the defense is much more aggressive than in past years.  Other than that we have not seen much of what Michigan can do.  An aggressive defense and running the ball successfully seems to favor Michigan. 


The only team that has had more trouble winning big games than Notre Dame in the last couple of years is Michigan.  There is the ‘X’ factor.    


On Saturday, BlueFan sees Michigan giving the Notre Dame defense more looks than it can handle.  As for the Michigan defense, Charlie Weis better be conferring with his Offensive Line Coach to figure out a way to protect his quarterback, or it’s going to be a very long day for “Boy Wonder” Brady Quinn.


The media talked a lot about the opener at Georgia Tech, and Penn State coming to town, but not much has been said about Blue rolling into South Bend.  Something else that favors Michigan, which has started the season under the radar.     


Look for the Michigan offense to try something tricky on their opening drive.  BlueFan would suggest a flea flicker on the opening snap and then never looking back.  You want to talk about backing defenders off the line of scrimmage.  That would certainly help, and then start pounding the ball inside to wear down the “much improved” Notre Dame defense.  Through two weeks, we have seen Henne throw only a couple screen passes to the running backs.  This may be an indication that screens will be a good portion of the Michigan defense against any pressure inside...or it certainly should be.  Michigan will also get the receivers more involved in the game.  Mario Manningham and Steve Breaston each caught only two balls versus Central Michigan last Saturday.    


On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan needs more of the same, although Central did burn them with some misdirection.  If Charlie Weis is worth his salt he has noticed this and he will call a few plays where Darius Walker tries to take advantage of the aggressive Michigan defense.  We have seen Jeff Samardzija tear up many different defenses.  What we haven’t seen is a defense play him physically.  He is tall and lanky and BlueFan isn’t sure he is up to the task if he takes enough shots, and gets bumped enough off the line.  It’s up to Ron English to have his defense ready for anything against the Domers. 


If Michigan has an advantage in the rushing game and on defense, there is one area they need to work on—getting downfield on kickoffs.  Michigan gave up 188 yards on 7 kick returns to Central, for a nearly 27-yard average.  They weren’t much better versus Vanderbilt in the previous week, giving up 91 yards on 4 kickoffs.  One way to be sure that there are zero return yards is for Ross Ryan to get back to his old ways of booming the ball through the end zone.  We have not seen that often enough in 2006.


While on the topic of special teams, any time the real Steve Breaston wants to start returning punts would be nice.  His kick returns have been okay, but his punt returns have been non-existent, thus far.   We really need to see some good punt returns and win the field position battle on Saturday. 


Run the ball with authority, protect the football, pressure the quarterback, and win the special teams battle.  Do that and the two year drought versus Notre Dame is over.



Tale of the Tape                     

                 Michigan                                            Notre Dame
Scoring                                                    34/game                                                28/game
Yards                                                      384/game                                             391/game
Rushing                                                 249/game                                             115/game
Passing                                                 135/game                                             276/game

Scoring                                                     12/game                                              14/game
Yards                                                      188/game                                             321/game
Rushing                                                   29/game                                              138/game
Passing                                                 159/game                                             183/game


Turnover Margin
Margin                                                        +4                                                              +3
Per Game                                                  +2                                                            +1.5



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