Saturday's Sack: Notre Dame vs Michgan—They're Just Getting Started

Jonathan KitchensContributor ISeptember 11, 2009

SOUTH BEND,IN - SEPTEMBER 13:  Morgan Trent #14 of the Michigan Wolverines reaches for the ball against Michael Floyd #3 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 13, 2008 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Someone's season is going to change for the worse on Saturday. 

Two teams of storied rivalry; Michigan and Notre Dame meet for the 37th time in the Big House. One of them go home with a whole lot of unanswered questions.  The other goes home with that special feeling that they could have something good going on this season.

It's another weekend, and time for another Saturday's Sack.  This week of course it's a rivalry week with Notre Dame heading to the Big House to face the Michigan Wolverines. So, without further ado, let's just jump right in.

As before, I'll do the opponent first in my breakdown of what each team must do if they want to spend Happy Hour-Happy in Ann Arbor.

Michigan: Offense

Run the Ball.  For a few years now Notre Dame has had a very average run defense.  They are susceptible to the big run play.  Last week Nevada was able to rip off some long ones and you should have the ponies to replicate that feat. 

John Tenuta will blitz the fire out of the offensive line and keep Forcier confused as to where the blitz is coming from and who will be open for a dump off or safety valve pass. The best way to defeat Tenuta's pressure scheme is to run right up the gut, right past it.

Protect Your QBs. 
Your playing with a young freshman QB.  I don't care how "mature" you think he is for his age, a freshman will get rattled if pressured.  In order to avoid costly picks that will keep your defense on the field, you need to keep the pressure and sacks to a minimum.

This defense got a few sacks against a very good QB last weekend and all they have been hearing about is how great Forcier is.  They will hit him hard if you don't protect him.  What you don't need is an early season injury to Michigan's Tebow.

Utilize Short Passes.
  Tenuta plays a soft cover three coverage, always has, and Corwin is probably blue in the face trying to get him to let the CBs play up.  The fact that they will not is a blessing to you.  Since they play so far off the WR, you will be able to toss a short pass quickly for a solid gain on almost every down. 

This will help Forcier's confidence, his pass numbers, and a WR might make a play after the catch.  This will also help mitigate all of the blitzing you'll be facing.  You can win this game on short passes and running alone. 

If you start to sling it down the field, you will run into interceptions and lots of third and longs.  This is a run first, short pass second game.

Michigan: Defense

Cover.  This is a fairly self explanatory key to victory but it is an important one none-the-less.  It is also easier said than done.  You have a decent corner in Warren and a promising player in Cissoko on the edges.  Michigan fans tell me they are All-World lock-down corners. 

But who are we kidding?  Between the two of them they have one INT, about 50 tackles, and about six passes defended.  Reashon McNeil of Notre Dame has 11 passes defended, 2 INT, and 41 tackles, and he isn't starting. 

So, in order to stop Notre Dame's juggernaut of a WR core, you will have to roll safeties over to help Cissoko and Warren.  If you double cover both edge receivers, you leave LBs to cover the middle against Kyle Rudolph and the third WR. 

This will be a matchup issue as your tallest DBs will be on the edges and Kamra is 6'5".  Your best bet is if Warren and Cissoko make a huge jump from game one and one of them can single cover Tate. As unlikely as it sounds that is the best bet for beating NDs WR.

Get to Clausen.
  Basped and Moch came in with incredible resumes when it comes to getting to the quarterback.  Both were kept quiet on Saturday.  You have to make a concerted effort to get double teams against your DTs so that Graham can get Sam Young man-to-man.  That is your best bet to get to Clausen.

I know, I know, the Michigan DL is faster this season.  Quick DTs really don't mean that much because they are colliding with the OL, burst, and strength are much more important and you want your speed to the edges.  Anyway you can, you have to get to Clausen.  He will destroy your suspect secondary if he is given time.

Force Turnovers.
Michigan lost the turnover battle badly last year in South Bend, and this year is has to be Michigan's defense causing the turnovers if Michigan wants to walk away with this one comfortably.  There are issues with the count being heard in all the noise and oftentimes silent counts are off. 

The Big House will be rocking and you need to take this advantage to give Clausen different looks so that he will not be able to get set before he snaps.

So now that the Wolverines have had a go at getting done what they need to win at home. Let's hit up the Irish.

Notre Dame: Offense

Control the Line of Scrimmage.  You did a pretty good job against Nevada and their DL weighs about the same as Michigan's. This will be important though as Michigan is gearing up for the pass. Their DBs and LBs will be aggressive against the pass to try and slow down that offense.

If you can start to run the ball, even a little bit, the LBs and safeties will have to bite on play-action and that will leave a WR somewhere in man-to-man coverage.  Make no mistake, the secondary will be better than Nevada's but they are by far not the best secondary you will face this season.

Use the Middle.
  Michigan is fully embracing Rich Rods defensive scheme of using smaller faster LBs to fly around the field.  This means that with the safeties helping to support pass coverage on the edges, the LBs will be along in the center.  This is where Kyle Rudolph can shine. 

He out-weighs every single LB on Michigan's roster by at least 20lbs, in some cases much more.  No one else on Michigan's team weighs as much as he does until you get to the defensive line.  Meaning? 

You need to throw to Kyle in the middle.  He isn't going to take tough shots and he is taller than all the LBs by anywhere from two inches to as much as six inches.  Use him.  A lot.

Utilize the Third Receiver.
  Michael Floyd and Golden Tate get all the hype, but Duval Kamara, Shaq Evans, Robby Parris, John Goodman, and Deion Walker will all see play time.  You can easily confuse a defense by hitting many receivers.  Duval creates mismatches with his size. 

He is taller than all DBs and LBs and Safeties.  A jump ball is his catch every time.  He could also be a threat across the middle.  Shaq is a mismatch with speed, as he is a little slower than Tate but faster than Floyd. You have to find a way to get more WRs the ball so they will pull coverage off of your main guys a bit to try and stop you underneath.

Notre Dame: Defense

Hit the Freshman. While it sounds as if I am suggesting hazing...well lets just call it initiation.  Against Nevada the defensive line was relatively quiet.  That cannot be the case this weekend.  You have to find away to get to Forcier and Denard often.  This will rush their decisions and cause them to throw poor passes.

This will also shake them up in general and throw off their timing.  You know all about this as you watched Jimmy Clausen look lost after a few sacks.  Hit them more times than the LBs this week.  Make it a contest of sorts.

Take Away the Deep Throw.
  With all of Michigan's running weaponry, you have to limit their offense and make them one dimensional.  The DBs will have to limit the passing game to allow the front seven and safeties to help in run support.

If Michigan is limited to short yardage passes like Nevada was, they will have to run the ball.  You can then stack the box and have a LB QB spy floating out there to make sure he doesn't take off streaking for the end-zone.

Bring Them to the Ground
.  Against Nevada, you would have looked much better if you had tackled just a wee-bit better.  There were some missed tackles and blown assignments that let plays go longer than they should have.  That is easily attributable to first game jitters, but that has to stop this weekend.

Forcier and Denard are not as big or strong as Kaepernick, so they will not be able to out muscle you.  They are more elusive, however, and you will need to make sure you have good angles and solid hits with wrap-ups included.

So, that's it for the two teams. Let's make some predictions now.

Notre Dame 35

Michigan 21

Notre Dame's offense will eventually over-power a Michigan defense that is still young and inexperienced at spots.  Notre Dame will take advantage of a suspect secondary to pull it out in the second half.  I think this one is close for the first half; but Michigan doesn't have the defensive depth to stay out on the field all day.

Once guys get tired, ND will plug in fresh WRs and RBs and take the game over. Barring turnovers for either team this will be a fairly hard fought game most of the way through.  Turnovers either way make this a very, very close game, or a complete blow-out depending on who is getting lucky.


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