Alex: We’re finally on the doorstep of the season! Just one day until Michigan football takes the field against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and we’re here to break it down. Before we get into the matchups, do you like the decision to put Notre Dame back on the schedule?
Evan: I literally can’t contain my excitement. We are less than 36 hours from kickoff. And to answer your question, no. The Playoff Committee has clearly shown that they do not reward difficult schedules. This game can only hurt Michigan, there is almost no way that it helps. Michigan should be scheduling a bad power 5 team, a MAC team, and some other bad team for their three non conference games every year. What do you think?
Alex: I agree with your points. The SEC routinely has cupcake non-conference schedules and get rewarded with playoff berths. That said, I also have a soft spot for the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry. It was one of the few bright spots of the Rich Rod/Hoke era, and Michigan and Notre Dame are just kind of made for each other. Two programs where fans expect far more than what is reasonable and frequently get far less than expected.
Onto the game, the biggest question for Notre Dame appears to be at quarterback. ND Coach Brian Kelly has mentioned that he is open to playing both Brandon Wimbush (who started most of the games last year) and Ian Book (who relieved Wimbush in the Citrus Bowl). Do you think we’ll see both guys on Saturday night?
Evan: I think we will see both guys. Wimbush is a great runner and has a big arm, but he’s one of the least accurate quarterbacks I have ever seen play for Notre Dame. I anticipate Book seeing the field sometime mid-second quarter or later. Regardless of who is taking snaps, the Michigan defense is going to feast on these quarterbacks. I don’t expect either one of them to have any kind of sustained success. Here’s a question for you: over/under 250 total yards and 14 points for Notre Dame?
Alex: I’ll take the under on 250 total yards. Notre Dame had an elite rushing offense a year ago (#3 in S&P+), but they lose starting RB Josh Adams, as well as the left side of their offensive line. They still have a lot of pieces on the offensive line, but the extreme weakness of their passing attack (Wimbush completed just 49.5% of passes a year ago) will mean that Michigan can put safeties in the box and let them and the linebackers tee off on the running game. That said, points are a little tougher to say because that brings into question one of the biggest factors of this contest: turnovers.
Evan: Don’t say that word too loudly. It’s everyone’s biggest fear for new Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson and this offense. After some of the horrific fumbles and interceptions last year, I think the Michigan faithful will come into the season with a little bit of PTSD. Until Patterson and the skill position players can prove that they will take care of the football, everybody will be on edge when Michigan has the ball.
That being said, I anticipate very conservative play calling from Harbaugh and his offensive staff, especially early in the game. The defense on the other hand, will probably bring pressure early and often. I think the Michigan defense creates 3 turnovers in this game, and Michigan only gives the ball away once.
Alex: That’s a good point because it seems as if Juwann Bushell-Beatty is going to start this game on saturday, despite reports seemingly suggesting that James Hudson is ahead of him on the depth chart. That would probably be because of two factors: wanting a veteran to start a night game in a hostile environment rather than a freshman in his first ever start. The second factor is that while being a pretty bad pass blocker, JBB is also a pretty good run blocker. I anticipate that the game plan will be rather conservative, as you suggested. In all likelihood, Michigan wants to just get a lead, let their defense do the work, and then maul Notre Dame on the ground to salt the game away. Patterson shouldn’t be asked to do too much, just to hit on play action and burn the safeties if DPJ slips by them down the field.
I suppose you never answered the over/under question you asked me?
Evan: Under on the yards. Because the NCAA still counts sacks as negative yards, I’m expecting ND’s total rushing yards to be under 50 yards. The passing yards will be close, but with ND rotating quarterbacks, I doubt that they get over 200. As far as points, I think 14 is the number. Actually, I think 250 yards and 14 points are both right around my numbers for Notre Dame.
And in response to your analysis about JBB and the game plan, I think you are spot on. As soon as Michigan can get some points on the board, it’s the defense’s game from there. My biggest concern for the game is actually special teams. If DPJ muffs a punt early or there’s a botched punt by whoever ends up starting, it could sway momentum and throw off the defense. That is the most likely way I could see Michigan getting behind early. They just need to be calm, execute, and not make any egregious mistakes. Maybe the California sunshine I got all summer just made me too optimistic (at least that’s what you’ve been saying to me for a month), but it feels like this is Michigan’s game to lose.
Alex: It’s definitely a game where feeling optimism makes me nervous because Notre Dame-Michigan games are always bonkers. And also, the referees when you play @Notre Dame are always very questionable, so Michigan can’t let the game come down to a close call on a pass interference or something.
Let’s wrap this up. Give me the x-factor of the game and your prediction (score).
Evan: I just hinted at my x-factor: special teams. That is the one area that I don’t have full confidence in Michigan controlling. Both kicking and returning are question marks, so hopefully Harbaugh has those problems solved. I think Michigan wins 20-14. Not a missed XP, but two field goals for Quinn Nordin (and a long miss at some point too). The defense dominates ND for most of the night and creates turnovers that lead to scoring opportunities. What do you think?
Alex: My X-Factor is the offensive line. I know it’s an easy way out, but if it’s a close game, and I suspect it will be, whether the offensive line can grind out crucial first downs late against a stout defense could be the difference between winning and losing. Still, I think Michigan is the better team, so I’m picking the Wolverines, 17-13.
Image Credit: https://www.uhnd.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/notre-dame-michigan-rivalry.jpg