Notre Dame had one of the best defensive lines in the nation in 2012. Though the Fighting Irish lost a few of their starters, the depth on the line has ensured that they remain considered one of the toughest in the country.
This week, the Irish head to Ann Arbor to take on rival Michigan in their last meeting at The Big House.
Here are three reasons why the Wolverines' backs will have a rough day this Saturday.
1. Lack of Depth at RB
Last Saturday, the Wolverines lost redshirt freshman Drake Johnson to a torn ACL during their game against Central Michigan. Prior to his injury, Johnson earned a spot on Michigan's two-deep roster behind star running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.
The injury leaves rushing duties to senior Toussaint and true freshman Derrick Green as his primary backup.
Green is no slouch. The former 5-star running back was given offers by Auburn and Alabama. However, his lack of experience will be an issue when he goes toe-to-toe with the Irish defense.
2. Issues with the Offensive Line
Students of the game know that it takes more than speed, power and agility to make a successful running back. You also need a solid offensive line to open running lanes. As such, problems for the Wolverines' ground attack go beyond the lack of depth at back.
Michigan's new starting center, Jack Miller, showed several red flags during the team's game against CMU. B/R featured columnist Phil Callihan noted Miller's miscues:
He was spun around by a defender, missed a block, found himself dangerously close to being illegally downfield on a 36-yard passing play and contributed to an illegal procedure penalty when the offense took off prior to his snap of the ball. And that was just during the first quarter.
Keep in mind that the inexperienced Miller will be directly across the line from Irish goliath Louis Nix. Nix and defensive end Stephon Tuitt are potential first-round NFL draft picks.
Michigan's offensive line, on the other hand, features three players with one start apiece.
3. The Irish Front Seven
Last, but certainly not least, there is the Irish defensive line.
In 2012, Notre Dame had the nation's seventh-best rushing defense, allowing just 105.7 rushing yards per game.
The Irish have three returning starters on the line. The aforementioned Nix and Tuitt, along with Prince Shembo. They are joined by defensive end Sheldon Day, linebackers Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox, and freshman former 5-star recruit Jaylon Smith.
While Smith is the youngest player on the line, what he lacks in experience at the college level, he makes up for in talent.
According to 247Sports.com's composite rankings, Smith was the No. 2 overall recruit and the top outside linebacker of the class of 2013.
Add all that up and you have one serious uphill battle for Toussaint this Saturday in The Big House.
He is an elusive scatback with great speed and a low center of gravity, but his talent will simply not be enough to overcome the issues on the Michigan O-line, the strength of the Irish front seven and the lack of depth at his position.
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