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Friday Mailbag: Michigan

Rice v Notre Dame

Rice v Notre Dame

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Live from 30,000 feet, on an internet connection envious of the old AOL dial-up days, let’s get into the mailbag. But before, let’s address a quick item: 1) A few people have taken issue with my comments “assigning blame” to the five student-athletes off the field. Let’s just agree to disagree, but I’ll make one point: After listening to Jim Harbaugh this week cite the constitution and due process, let’s remember these guys aren’t in a court of law. This is Notre Dame’s process, for better or worse.

Do I think this should move quicker? Yes. Do I want to reach a conclusion, so we aren’t still talking about students “withheld from football activities?” Definitely. But it was summer school. Don’t put yourself into a situation that requires alerting the NCAA, an academic investigation by the university’s general counsel, or an Honor Code hearing.

On to the mailbag:

@NJMetsBlogger:Is Michigan’s defense really as good as they’re saying? Also is Jabrill Peppers healthy for the game?

We will certainly see. But I don’t know that we can draw many conclusions from the Appalachian State game, a first-year Sun Belt member who was a 4-8 FCS team last year, so hardly the world-beaters that shocked Michigan in 2007. But Greg Mattison is an excellent defensive coordinator, so he puts a lot of pressure on a quarterback, and did a number on Golson in 2012.

As for Peppers, if you put a boot on an ankle sprain at halftime of a game, I’m hesitant to believe that we’re going to see the freshman phenom at full strength. But Brady Hoke’s not talking about injuries, and the last thing we heard from him on Monday was that Peppers was going to play.

domerboyirish: In terms of our running backs and the offense, why don’t we ever employ a two back set or even send a guy in motion? It seems like our offense always comes out of the huddle into a formation and never adjusts, shifts, or motions. What is the philosophy behind this?

We are one game into the season and likely saw as vanilla of an offensive attack as you could expect against Rice. But while I agree a two-back set with Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant could be really interesting, who do you take off the field?

Also, I don’t know if you’re watching close enough. Notre Dame did a ton of shifting and motion last year, utilizing their tight ends and formational shifts to create matchup issues. But I’ll keep an eye on presnap movement tomorrow and check back in.

dmacirish: do you view this game as being decided in the trenches? if so should we anticipate to see a “breakout” of tight end pass and catching?

I don’t know if we’re in for a breakout game for Ben Koyack, but I do think Notre Dame has an opportunity to win this game in the trenches. I’m skeptical of the Wolverine’s offensive line, a truly mediocre unit last year, and that was with first-rounder Taylor Lewan and third-round pick Michael Schofield.

Hoke is keeping his line rotation secret, too. Slow-playing the return of suspending center Graham Glasgow. But realistically, even the Irish’s young defensive line -- and especially tackles Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones -- should expect to have big games.

As for Harry Hiestand’s troops, both Steve Elmer and Ronnie Stanley were beat by speed moves last week against Rice, but the interior held up very well against Christian Covington. That’s a nice reminder that Christian Lombard is a pretty good player when he’s healthy. Notre Dame needs to dictate terms at the line of scrimmage and establish the ground game to help set up the deep passing game.

Mattymill: I’m 37 yrs old, but still revert to a 10 yr old when watching the Irish. My wife allows me that 4 hr window each week to be immature. My question is this: how long prior to kick-off should I take my dose of Pepto Bismol?

After this week, I’m impressed you made it to the weekend. Maybe mix a nice whisky in with that Pepto and your problems will be solved.

nducsb: How much do you think Corey’s hand is really limiting him? He was supposed to be one of the breakout players and we barely saw him last week.

That’s a good question. You’ve got to think that a fractured thumb doesn’t make for the easiest situation for a wide receiver. Then again, this offense isn’t going to be a feed the ball to one guy passing game. So while Robinson is going to have a big season, it’s not necessarily the thumb that kept him to one catch, especially considering Golson only completed 14 passes.

glowplugv: All the game predictions I’ve seen (CBS, Blue and Gold, etc) all predict the offense being able to play at the same level and above that they did in the Rice game and outscoring MI. Scary that there were no major penalties, no turnovers and the special teams became special in the Rice game. Was it just the competition or are the Irish that good?

They certainly played Kelly’s cleanest opener yet. But I don’t expect Notre Dame to rack up 567 yards against Michigan. That was the third-highest output of the Kelly era, so let’s lower the bar a little bit. And against a talented Wolverines secondary, you can’t expect to see receivers running wide open 50 yards down the field. But Notre Dame believes -- and for good reason -- that they’ll be able to throw the ball.

We’ll see. As they say, that’s why you play the game.

@ontario_bill: Is it possible that BK has a verdict on who’s in out of the 5, and he’s not announcing as a surprise?

No. Although it’d be a pretty cool move.

heisenbyrg: Two part question: Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario in which Golson suffers a concussion in the first quarter and is out for the remainder of the game. Zaire comes in and plays well until he breaks his collarbone scrambling midway through the third quarter. Notre Dame is down by three points and has the ball when Zaire goes down. Question 1) Who takes the next snap at quarterback? Question 2) How does the live blog react?

Get ready to meet a fine young man by the name of Montgomery VanGorder. Or for the apocalypse. I think I might prefer the latter, just for the reaction of the live blog. Otherwise, I’d just cut the connection, a la Ed Harris in Truman Show.

irishinmich: As the season unfolds, will Kelly stick with his “We need to figure out how to get them all touches” approach with the running back trio?…..or will one back emerge as a clear #1?

Great question. I think getting them all touches will continue to happen, but I don’t suspect that they’ll be as evenly distributed. I was happy with the explosiveness that Cam showed last week, as I thought he got a little bulky and slow last season. He’s just not a natural enough talent to steal carries unless he’s capable of breaking one, which I think he showed with some added burst. (No, it’s not like Bryant or Folston, but it’s there.)

I don’t know if a featured back will ever happen, but I expect some separation to reveal itself, maybe even Saturday night.

sfnd: Nearly everyone would agree that BK has improved the program in nearly all aspects. But why has BK not achieved consistent success against Michigan (a program that has not been at its peak in recent seasons)?

Well, let’s go through the games. In 2010, Irish march down the field for an early touchdown. And Dayne Crist gets “blurred vision.” Nightmare scenario ensues, true freshman quarterback throws an interception on his first passing attempt. Walk-on named Montana doesn’t play much better. Crist comes back in, Irish take a late lead but get gutted in the end by Denard.

In 2011, Irish outplay Michigan for most of game until fourth quarter defensive implosion takes place. Offense does it’s best to do the same with red zone mistakes and five turnovers. ND won 2012 and then in 2013 the defense gives up 41 points when they get torched in somewhat exotic coverage schemes and Irish throw two interceptions.

In short: Notre Dame averaged three turnovers a game against Michigan in Kelly’s four years. That can’t happen. They also played bad defense against some very mobile quarterbacks. The reasons? Oh, we could write books.

johngaltisspeaking: Why will Michigan win by 18 points when we are favored to win?

If Notre Dame wins, do you promise not to write comments any more?

goirishgo: It sounds like the UM defense may be susceptible to the inside run game. To what extent is ND willing to commit to the run?

I think this is one of the key factors of the game. I’d like to see Notre Dame run the football, and do it at pace. If the Irish can do that, they’ll keep the Wolverines D on their heels, and it’ll open up some passing opportunities.

don74: When I watched the Rice game I thought Schmidt played a good game. Watched Kelly’s presser on Tuesday and he thought Schmidt played a great game. Now I read many of the ND sites making Schmidt seem like he played the Rice game like Brian Bosworth trying to stop Bo Jackson.

People have a hard time forgetting that Schmidt wasn’t a four-star recruit, but rather a recruited walk-on (the horror!) Nevermind that Michigan’s top tackler the past few seasons had been Jordan Kovacs, a former walk-on who the NFL didn’t shun because he lacked impressive scholarship offers as a 16-year-old, and is now a member of the Miami Dolphins.

If you’re looking to poke holes in Notre Dame’s defense, that Schmidt is the unlikely man in the middle leads you there. I tend to think he was very productive and will continue to be in this system.

danirish: Have the days of a few “star” receivers come and gone? Or will the year be one of many receivers catching a few balls here and there?

I think from what we saw against Rice, by the end of the year, all wr’s will have decent stats. None by design will be the Michael Floyd or Derrick Mayes type.

Dan, when Notre Dame gets another receiver like Floyd, be assured that Kelly will feed him the ball. But when they have guys that can do certain things really well, they’ll utilize those skills. That, and I think there’s more depth playing for the Irish at receiver, unlike the guys that surrounded Floyd early in the BK era.

Not to worry: If Kelly and company land a five-star WR, they’ll feed him the football just like they did Floyd.

coachtemp: Did not see much “press” coverage by our CB’s? I’m sure losing KR hurt but did his absence cause a drastic departure from the game plan or do you think that BK was simply disguising that coverage for Michigan?

I think it’s tough to play press man coverage against a mobile quarterback. Leaves you pretty vulnerable to scramble yards. But I also think losing KeiVarae Russell doesn’t help.

Both defenses have talked up playing aggressive, press man coverage. It’s certainly a gamble and something with a razor-thin margin for error. We’ll see if that was more talk or if we end up seeing some coverage blends.

jommy995: Other than landing the Michigan job when the team was at an all time low, what has Brady Hoke ever done to be considered a good coach?

Say what you want about Hoke, but the guy earned his way to Michigan. He did a great job at Ball State and had a nice run in San Diego. That he wasn’t Michigan’s first choice for the job isn’t surprising, but let’s not get crazy here.

wisner74: Keith, what percentage of those of us more senior ND fans/alums — say 55+ years old — would you think don’t view Michigan as an actual rival?

What percentage of the same group would be perfectly happy if ND never plays Michigan again?

I’m guessing about 90% in both cases.

Kind of a cool question. This “actual rival” thing feels a lot like the “True Yankee” debates you hear when dealing with another insufferable fanbase -- a group I lump both ND and UM fans into. Have the two teams played as often as many suspected? No. And the reason behind that is a rather vile and intolerable truth that most Michigan fans don’t want to hear about.

But I’ll say this: Notre Dame and Michigan should be playing each other. Notre Dame and Michigan pretty much hate each other. And that’s awesome -- especially in a college sports world that gets so pumped up for battles like that.

That Dave Brandon and the Wolverines tried to make the Irish look bad for trying to get a grip on their scheduling after the ACC agreement blew it up, is likely the biggest cause for this delay. Not to mention bush-league moves like playing the “Chicken Dance.”

But this is a profitable football game for all parties. And an important one. That’s the biggest reason why we’ll hear something sooner than later I’m sure. Or at least I hope.

@EmptyQueue: I noticed that our kick returners wear jersey Nos. 1,2 & 3. Is that how you’d rank them? Who wears #4?

Man, good question. But let’s get the bad part done first: Eilar Hardy wears No. 4, and we don’t know when he’s going to wear his jersey next.

My ranking is very incomplete, especially with only seeing one game. But I liked what Cody Riggs did in the punt return game, and I’m a sucker for guys that don’t call fair catches... as long as they catch the ball. (I’m talking to you, Earl Thomas!)

I also thought Carlisle did a great job hitting the hole with speed on kickoff return. George Atkinson may have been one of the fastest guys in college football, but if you’re tip-toeing, it doesn’t matter.

@jimboch02: did you break the news that Rees is going to be a GA next year?

Rees said he’ll be applying for GA jobs, likely to begin in January. He didn’t say whether that’d be at Notre Dame, though Brian Kelly has said he’d welcome Rees back into the fold with open arms.

@manninti: Worried about the defensive ends. Tell me I shouldn’t be worried about freshman being able to get pressure and/or keep contain.

Can’t tell you that, sorry. Remember Bob Diaco made both Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt healthy scratches against Denard Robinson as freshmen, just because he was worried they wouldn’t play assignment correct football.

But I think the young pups played pretty good football last week. And they’re going up against an offensive line just as inexperienced as they are. They’ll have more on their plates, but at this point, you’ve gotta love the ones your with.

newmexicoirish: Keith, knowing that we were going to be fairly thin and inexperienced at linebacker, I have been following with great interest Jarrett Grace’s recovery. At this point I’m getting a bit concerned. For the last month and a half it seems we keep hearing that he is making great progress ( and believe me I hope he is) but there doesn’t seem to be a target date for his return. I realize that a multiple tib/fib fracture is very dicy when It comes to full recovery, but it’s been almost a year.

NM, I am just glad that Grace’s football career is continuing. That’s how serious the injury was, and multiple breaks and multiple surgeries usually are going to take some time to heal. For as advanced as medicine has gotten on things like ACLs, these are bones.

Grace suffered his injury on the last day of October. If he makes it back on the field before the calendar year, I think it’ll have been a great success.

rocket1988: Where do you think ND should be ranked? We saw a lot of movement this week. After week one who is you way too early top ten? Also, can our crowd take a staND and make UofM call a timeout?

Beauty of this question: It doesn’t matter. I haven’t looked at a poll for more than 30 seconds, because it’s completely meaningless. The only votes that matter are those from the new CFB Playoff Committee, and if ND keeps winning, they’ll be just fine.