After a convincing 43-10 win over Miami (Ohio), the Wolverines
will pack their bags and try to stop a disturbing trend: In each of
the last four years, Michigan has dropped its first road game.
One year ago, the Wolverines embarrassed Notre Dame 38-0 in Ann
Arbor. But the last time Michigan traveled down to South Bend in
2002, the Wolverines gave the ball up four times and committed 10
penalties en route to an ugly 25-23 loss to the Irish. In that
game, Michigan was a 4 1/2 point favorite, but this year the
Wolverines are giving up a gargantuan 13 1/2 points.
Michigan passing offense vs. Notre Dame passing defense:
This is the biggest question mark for the Wolverines.
Nineteen-year-old true freshman Chad Henne played well in his first
college start against Miami — 142 yards on 14-for-24 passing
with two touchdowns and a pick — but he’s never played
outside the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium. How will Henne
manage the hostile crowd of Notre Dame Stadium? Braylon Edwards,
Jason Avant and Steve Breaston — arguably the best receiving
corps in America — should make Henne’s day much easier
by giving a mediocre Irish secondary fits. Notre Dame’s back
four gave up a slew of big pass plays to Brigham Young during last
week’s 20-17 loss. Also, the Irish may not have anyone
capable of covering the pro-sized Edwards. The Michigan offensive
line must contain senior defensive end Justin Tuck, who led Notre
Dame with 13 1/2 sacks last year.
Michigan rushing offense vs. Notre Dame rushing defense:
Last year, Chris Perry ran for 133 yards and three touchdowns
against the Irish, but 2004 is a new year. The Wolverines struggled
on the ground against Miami, amassing just 132 yards on 40 carries
for a lowly 2.9-yard average. David Underwood took the bulk of
Michigan’s carries, but looked tentative and had trouble
finding the hole. Both Jerome Jackson and Mike Hart looked
promising late in Michigan’s win and will probably see some
time against Notre Dame. A successful running attack would take
some pressure off Henne and prove huge for the Wolverines. The
Irish shut down BYU on the ground last week, but the Cougars have
never been known for their ground game.
Notre Dame passing offense vs. Michigan passing defense:
Like Michigan, Notre Dame starts a quarterback that cannot yet
enjoy a Thursday night at Scorekeepers … at least legally.
Nineteen-year-old sophomore Brady Quinn — who garnered plenty
of interest from Lloyd Carr in high school — started nine
games last year, but he’s still very rough around the edges.
Quinn had a prolific day against BYU, going 26-for-46 with 265
yards and a touchdown. But BYU’s defense is less than
imposing. Quinn’s main target is Rhema McKnight, who caught
eight balls for 92 yards and a touchdown against the Cougars.
Last week, Miami tried to pick on senior Markus Curry, but Curry
came down with two of the secondary’s five interceptions.
Marlin Jackson banged up his shoulder last week, but is expected to
play. Ryan Mundy excelled at free safety next to strong safety
Ernest “Ambulance” Shazor, grabbing a pick of his own.
Michigan’s defensive line must apply more pressure than it
did last week.
Notre Dame rushing offense vs. Michigan rushing defense:
Notre Dame’s offensive line had loads of trouble opening up
holes against BYU, as the Irish rushed just 21 times for 11 yards.
Marcus Wilson led Notre Dame on the ground with nine carries for 21
yards. Senior tailback Ryan Grant missed last week with a sore
hamstring and his status is questionable for tomorrow. Grant
torched the Wolverines at home two years ago, rushing 28 times for
132 yards and two touchdowns.
Six-foot-4, 333-pound junior Gabe Watson headlines the biggest
defensive line ever at Michigan. The Wolverines held Miami to 60
yards rushing on 25 attempts.
Special Teams: Last season, Steve Breaston burst onto the
national scene with a huge day against the Irish returning punts.
But Michigan continues to struggle in many other areas of special
teams. The Wolverines missed two extra points and heartily
struggled to contain Miami punt returner Ryne Robinson.
Against BYU, Notre Dame punter/kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick made his
lone field goal attempt and was very effective punting the ball.
McKnight looked indecisive returning punts last week.
Intangibles: Michigan will face many challenges this
weekend. The Wolverines have to travel to South Bend, a place that
hasn’t been too friendly to the Maize and Blue in the past
(1-6-1 in their last eight trips to South Bend). They’re
giving the start to a true freshman who has never taken a snap in
an away stadium. And they have to face a team that’s been
preparing all summer to erase the embarrassment of last
year’s debacle. Also, it’s never easy to beat
God’s team two years straight.
Edge: Notre Dame
Michigan 27, Notre Dame 10