Friday, September 09, 2005

My Fearless Prediction on Tomorrow's Game

I've seen two common themes in the individuals picking Michigan to beat the Irish tomorrow. One, Michigan is too good at home. Two, Michigan's offense is too good. I'm here to tell you that reasoning is wrong (And yes, I'm changing my preseason prediction on this game).

It is true that Notre Dame has not won in its last five appearances at the Big House and Michigan has won 16 consecutive home games. However, it should be pointed out that those five losses came from the bungling regimes of Davie and Willingham. Charlie Weis is no Davie and is no Willingham. He actually does not have his head up his ass during the game. The last Notre Dame coach who did not have his head up his ass during the game, Lou Holtz, went 3-1 at the Big House.

While its also true that Weis doesn't have the Rocket to return kicks or Tim Brown to catch passes, Notre Dame is as good as Michigan on the offensive side of the ball. Let's take a position by position breakdown:

Advantage: Slight edge ND
While Henne had a very solid freshman campaign and will only get better, Brady gets the slight edge because of his experience and the coaching of Weis who is getting Brady to play like certain other quarterback who has the name Brady.

ND RBs vs. UM RBs
Advantage: UM
Michigan wins this match-up not only because Michael Hart had a much more productive freshman year than Darius Walker, but also because they have more depth than Notre Dame with their stud freshman back Kevin Grady.

ND WRs & TEs vs. UM WRs & TEs
Advantage: ND
Now I know what you're thinking, "Chris, I heard Michigan's receivers are really talented and will be one of the best receiving cores Notre Dame faces all season." I have one word to describe Michigan's WRs: Overrated. Michigan does have a really good WR in Jason Avant, but as Pittsburgh found out last week, it takes a lot more than one good WR to beat the top notch teams. For all the talk about Steve Breaston, he has accomplished very little as a receiver. He's certainly a really good kick and punt returner, but his receiving production leaves a bit to be desired. Last season he averaged 8.6 yards a catch; pretty pathetic for a guy with his speed, and last week, against the vaunted Northern Illinois pass defense, he caught two passes for 15 yards. Furthermore, Michigan's very solid tight end, Tim Massaquoi, is probably going to miss the game. Notre Dame wins this match-up because of their depth. Brady has five very solid targets to throw to in Rhema McKnight, Anthony Fasano, Matt Shelton (assuming he's healthy), and the emerging Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall. Michigan has yet to prove that it has a viable option outside of Jason Avant.

Advantage: Slight Edge UM
Michigan gets the slight edge because they are returning four starters and have proven year in and year out to have one of the best offensive lines in the country. However, if Notre Dame's offensive line continues to play like it did last week, this match-up draws even.

So if these two teams are fairly even offensively what will be the key for Notre Dame or Michigan to win? Running the football effectively and controlling the clock. It sounds obvious and cliche, but it's true. In the last six meetings between these two teams, the team that has rushed for the most yards has won the game. Notre Dame will win the rushing battle tomorrow because their rushing defense is better than Michigan's. While Pittsburgh is no Michigan in terms of running the football, Notre Dame held Pittsburgh to 103 yards rushing whereas Michigan let an average Northern Illinois team run for 211 yards. Lloyd Carr can talk all he wants about personnel changes and the Michigan defensive players can talk all they want about how they're going to be fired up to stop the run, it does not change the fact that Michigan has had a problem stopping the run dating back to last season. Expect more of the same tomorrow, but Michigan's offense will keep this game close to the end. Notre Dame 38 Michigan 35