It’s almost here—the final meeting between Michigan and Notre Dame for who knows how long—and in preparation for what is always a huge day in college football, Frank Vitovitch of UHND.com takes some time to exchange a Q&A with us, regarding the rivalry and what to expect from both teams when they take the field in South Bend tomorrow night.
Below you’ll find TBHR’s questions in bold and Frank’s answers to follow. TBHR thanks Frank for his time; check out his Q&A with us by clicking here.
1. How is Notre Dame going to go about attacking a Michigan defense that is going to be more aggressive than in recent games?
I think we saw a glimpse of how Notre Dame is going to attack most teams last week. Notre Dame is going to be more aggressive on offense this year with Everett Golson. Even with his time away, he was a different quarterback last week even if it was just Rice. He displayed better football, pocket presence, and accuracy last week.
I think we will see Notre Dame test Michigan deep this weekend by taking a few shots early. Unlike last year with Tommy Rees, Notre Dame can really stretch a defense with some of the speedy wide receivers to pair with Golson’s big arm. If Notre Dame gets the ball first, I wouldn’t be surprised if the first play of the game was a play action with the Irish looking to bomb it out.
2. Is there anything Michigan fans absolutely need to know about this Fighting Irish team?
This year’s team has the potential to be a truley dynamic offesnive team unlike what we’ve seen in the past from Brian Kelly‘s Notre Dame teams. Last year’s squad did not feature go to running backs. This year’s does. Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston are about as good of a sophomore duo as you will find anywhere. Both have big play ability and give Notre Dame the ability to pound the ball if the want. Add that with Golson’s abilities and the aresenal of wide receivers he has and the Notre Dame offense could finally start to look like the offenses Kelly had at Cincinnati.
The last few years no one has had to worry AT ALL about the punt return game of Notre Dame. That doesn’t look to be the case this year. In 2013 Notre Dame gained a paltry 106 yards on punt returns all season long. Last weekend they picked up 80 yards on punt returns between Cody Riggs and Greg Bryant.
Defensively, Notre Dame is young and inexperienced up front. If I were Michigan I would attack that front seven early and often – especially the linebackers. MIKE linebacker Joe Schmidt is a former walkon and while he was in the right place often last weekend, he also got run over by Rice runners more than once so that is a major concern of mine.
3. Devin Funchess put on an amazing show against Appalachian State last week. After seeing his dominance, what can Notre Dame’s secondary combat his skill?
Baring any last second decision from Notre Dame regarding the ongoing academic investigation, Notre Dame will be without Keivarae Russell which is a huge loss. Russell had a chance to be an All American this year and not having him is a huge loss to the Irish secondary. Notre Dame will also be without captain Austin Collinsworth at safety due to injury.
Rice took advantage of Collinsworth’s absence for a couple of big plays last week as the Irish safeties communication was lacking to say the least. Communication should be better between the safeties with a full week of practice between Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate, but it’s still a major concern because ideally you’d like to use the free safety to provide some extra attention to Funchess.
Luckily Notre Dame has 5th year senior transfer Cody Riggs to line up against him. Riggs transferred from Florida and had a great first game in an irish uniform last week. Notre Dame is going to play a lot of press coverage this year so it will likely be Riggs’s job to contain Funchess.
4. Everett Golson looked impressive last week. Do you think he continues that success into this game against Michigan and the rest of the season?
I do. Golson started to show the signs of being a big play quarterback in the second half of 2012 and in the BCS title game he was one of four or five players total that looked like they belonged on the field with Alabama in the BCS title game. His work with George Whitfiled looks like it paid off too because mechanically he was much more sound last week than I remember seeing him be in 2012.
The thing I really liked seeing out of Golson last week was the fact that his eyes were always downfield when there was pressure instead of just tucking and running. He did a great job at avoiding pressure while continuing to look downfield. It resulted in a long touchdown one time and what should have been another long bomb that was dropped after hitting the receiver squarely in the hands.
5. Brady Hoke was famously quoted as saying Notre Dame is “chickening out” of this series. What is the general buzz around Notre Dame about the end of this series for the foreseeable future?
I think most Notre Dame fans are upset to see the series end. It is a great rivalry in so many ways – the most of which in my opinion – is that the two schools genuinely don’t like he each other very much. And I mean that in a good way. Any good rivalry has an equal amount of distain on both sides and this is a rivalry that definitely has that. While it’s a shame that this series will not end, I will say that most Notre Dame fans are really excited about some of the other marquee games that Notre Dame has been adding like Georgia, Texas, and as of Thursday, Ohio State. I’m sure the timing of that announcement ruffled a few feathers in Ann Arbor which I’m sure will add even more of an edge to the game Saturday night.
I also don’t think this series is dead. Notre Dame and Michigan are both way too smart and much too good at marketing their brands to not look at scheduling more games down the line. Let’s say for instance there was an extended break in the series.
Imagine how much hype their would be if another home and home or even longer series got scheduled down the road.
The Michigan game always worries me. ALWAYS. Even when Notre Dame’s been up and Michigan’s been down, this game is almost never lopsided in Notre Dame’s favor. Based on the action of the betting line, it looks like most of the money has been placed on Michigan too since it opened at -6 and was -3.5 last I checked. Given Notre Dame’s offensive firepower and defensive inexperience, I think this is going to be a shootout. I couldn’t live with myself if I picked the Irish to lose so I will go with Notre Dame 37, Michigan 34.