Michigan’s victory over Central Michigan didn’t provide much insight into what to expect next week against Notre Dame. Once again, Michigan handed a weak opponent a healthy dose of the running game and pass rush. Once again, Michigan looked like a team from the mid-90’s rather than what we’ve seen over the last few years. Central Michigan and Vanderbilt won’t be confused with elite teams but both teams are probably better than people realize. Vanderbilt should’ve beaten Alabama this week and Central gave Boston College a run for its money. That doesn’t say a whole lot for the Notre Dame game but the fact that Michigan was able to overpower both teams with the run game and consistently pressure the quarterback is a good sign.
Notre Dame blasted Penn St. on Saturday which definitely came as a surprise to me. I thought ND was going to win but to dominate a good Penn St. team like that was something I wasn’t expecting. Penn St. shot itself in the foot with first half turnovers and mistakes in execution. Penn St. was able to move the ball early but didn’t have any points to show for it. Those that were labeling ND as overrated because they barely beat a good Ga. Tech team on the road should probably be biting their tongues at this point. ND is for real. Their offense is unstoppable when Brady Quinn is on. Unfortunately for the rest of the college football world, the Ga. Tech game could be the last game this season when Quinn won’t be on his game.
Michigan will have to play in the same mid-90’s fashion to beat Notre Dame next week. Michigan will have to pressure and punish Quinn from the first snap to the last. Jake Long and Adam Kraus will have to continue their surge on the left side of the line. Lloyd Carr will almost certainly stick to his conservative approach which isn’t necessarily a bad thing against a high scoring team. I don’t think Michigan can win a shootout against the Irish. Chad Henne would have his hands full trying to put that many points on the board. Remember, Henne hasn’t been a consistent thrower since Braylon Edwards graduated. Michigan’s best shot on Saturday is to run effectively behind Long and Kraus and mix in the passing game when Notre Dame starts cheating to stop the run.
I have been extremely critical in the past with regards to Carr’s stubbornness in game-planning. His refusal to adapt to his roster has cost Michigan many games in the past. However, Carr doesn’t need to change his normal game-plan to adapt to this year’s strengths. This version of the Michigan Wolverines fits perfectly into Carr’s run first, run second and play tough defense philosophy. For the first time in recent memory, a player in the post-game interviews said something meaningful. Steve Breaston said that next week’s game will come down to execution. That is exactly what will decide the game for Michigan. If Long and Kraus are good, and Woodley, Branch, Biggs and Co. are pressuring Quinn, Michigan will be in the game. Without a consistent pass rush, Leon Hall, Morgan Trent, Brandent Englemon, Ryan Mundy and Jamar Adams will be exposed. Michigan will then have to unleash the passing game which will in turn force Michigan to abandon its game-plan. Michigan isn’t a terrible passing team. The passing game has a chance to be extremely effective when it’s predicated on the run.
If there’s ever a time for Carr to be stubborn, it’s this week. There is nothing from last season or the first two games of this season that indicates Henne can put up big numbers in the passing game. He is a better decision-maker than ever before, but his long ball is below average and the Michigan coaching staff hasn’t allowed him to get comfortable throwing downfield this year. If Jim Herrmann were still the Defensive Coordinator this season, Michigan would have no chance of beating Notre Dame. Quinn would pick Michigan apart with precision. The departure of Herrmann has meant the return of the pass rush. Michigan has its best chance of winning at Notre Dame in Carr’s tenure. Notre Dame will enter the game ranked #2. Michigan hasn’t beaten a team in the top two since 1996. A win here will propel Michigan in the polls as well as in the public eye. A win would also show that Michigan should be good enough to run the table to the season finale against Ohio St. A loss would set the Wolverines up for another 3-4 loss season. This is the most important Michigan football game in 9 years. This is a crossroads game for the Michigan program. The high from victory or the low from defeat will likely be as amplified as any game this decade.
I am making the trek to South Bend to cheer on Michigan. I am hopeful that this experience will go down as one of the greatest experiences of my lifetime. The last college football game I was able to attend before this season was Michigan’s road victory over Ohio St. in 2000 led by Drew Henson. The last road game other than the 2000 Ohio St. game that I was able to attend was the Michigan victory over Penn St. in 1999 led by Tom Brady. Those two games, along with the entire 1997 season, make up the vast majority of my most cherished sports experiences. I would love to add this game to the list. For the first time possibly ever, I will be imploring Carr to stick with the “Michigan way”. I don’t advocate that philosophy over the long hall, but clearly, this year’s team is a run and play defense unit. Go Blue!