Early Friday afternoon, rumors of Notre Dame wrongdoings within the football program began surfacing, and as the day marched on, it turns out there actually was some weight to something that apparently started on Reddit. Four Fighting Irish players are being held out of practice and competition because of the school’s ongoing investigation. While this story unfolds itself over the next few weeks, out attention now turns to how this could possibly affect the Michigan Wolverines‘ last dance with the Irish for the foreseeable future.
First up, the four players under investigation: wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback Keivarae Russell, defensive lineman Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore. CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler confirmed all four have been removed from the football team while the school conducts its investigation, and there’s no word on whether or not they’ll be allowed to return.
This Notre Dame team is going to look very different when Michigan travels to South Bend on Sept. 6.
Daniels was second on the team last season with 49 catches for 745 yards. After him, there really isn’t a proven option at wide receiver. Chris Brown is going to have get in the mix a lot more this season, and Notre Dame will almost certainly need a surprise guy to pop up out of a competition in order to compete out wide. This offense is likely going to bank heavily on the play-making of quarterback Everett Golson and a combination of running backs.
This loss plays very well into Michigan’s hands. Golson has shown he’s relatively reliable with his arm, but the Wolverines’ secondary is going to be much more talented than it was the last time these two teams met. I’m not convinced Golson makes much out of the passing game in this one. Michigan’s secondary is going to be all over this one. And also keep in mind that this is only Notre Dame’s second game; a primary target won’t be established yet.
In turn, Greg Mattison is going to need to load the box often and work to contain Golson and his running backs. That means tempting the quarterback to put the ball through the air, and that’s when big things start happening for the defense.
While the loss of Daniel may end up leaving the deepest crater, Russell is probably the most talented player being lost in this scandal. He had a chance to perhaps solidify himself as one of the best corners in the country in 2014, but that chance has since slipped away, along with a good majority of Notre Dame’s pass protection.
This loss doesn’t mean the end of the world for Notre Dame against Devin Gardner’s arm. I’m not knocking Gardner by any means, but the rest of the Irish secondary is fairly competent and, if developed, could make it work without Russell. In particular, former five-star safety Max Redfield is stepping into his sophomore season and will likely be in the mix more often than he was last year, which could mean big things for the defense as a whole. Yes, Michigan does obviously benefit from the loss of a corner like Russell, but the door isn’t completely wide open for Gardner and his receivers to work at will down field.
This early in the season, Michigan is not going to have its run game completely intact. Williams was likely going to have a starting role at defensive end, but his loss certainly doesn’t mean the Wolverines’ offensive line all the sudden turns into a superstar unit. If this game was happening in October, that’s when you might look at this loss and see a real opportunity for Michigan to exploit something up front, assuming progression is made throughout this season. But right now, not having Williams on the field for this one isn’t anything huge for Michigan.
Notre Dame has some big shoes to fill at linebacker this season, and Moore was going to have to part of the crew that’s attempting to patch it up. After playing in all 13 games in 2013, Moore didn’t exactly establish himself as a threat against the run or the pass, but that opportunity was waiting for him again this year, and who knows what he would’ve made of it this time around.
Gardner is going to have to be aware of pressure being brought by the linebackers. I think it’s a good bet that Brian Kelly‘s defense turns up the heat in the middle and tries to force some bad decisions, considering how thin they are now at linebacker. If Gardner can make quick reads and utilize his tight ends in the passing game, we shouldn’t have a problem seeing the impact of a mostly inexperienced linebacker corps, which could have been helped immensely by Moore.