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Michigan staff prepares for test against Irish

Sep 19, 2012, 6:33 PM EDT


The Michigan coaching staff met with the media this week to discuss the football game this weekend. Head coach Brady Hoke discussed the challenges ahead for his football team, while offensive coordinator Al Borges discussed the evolution of Denard Robinson and the work the offense still needs to do. And as it happened last year, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was asked to look back on his eight years in South Bend, while also talking about the challenges that come from facing Everett Golson, Tyler Eifert, Cierre Wood and company.

Let’s cut down to the nitty gritty and find some interesting tidbits.


After throwing 15 interceptions last season in his first year in Borges’ system, many wondered if Denard Robinson was a square peg being shoved into a round hole when shifting to Borges’ West Coast offense.

Robinson’s completion percentage plummeted during 2011, dropping to 55 percent after he completed 62.5 percent of his throws for 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his first season starting for Rich Rodriguez. While Robinson’s commitment to the classroom and learning the Michigan offense has been commendable, the fruits of his labor aren’t yet apparent. Through three games, Robinson has completed just 54.7 percent of his throws, with four interceptions in three games to go along with six touchdown passes.

Still, Borges sees a more comfortable quarterback playing this season, and one that’s focused on the fundamentals.

“Without question. Without question,” Borges said.”How many balls have you seen him throw off his back foot in three games where he’s lunging backwards, tossing the ball in the middle of the secondary? He didn’t do that all the time last year but he did it some, and they were usually catastrophic, but he doesn’t do that near as much. I’m knocking on wood. I never assume anything, but his footwork is like night and day. He’s pulling balls down now and working up underneath the pocket and taking off and buying beats. He had a play during the game and it was a zero blitz where he got underneath the rush, gave Vince a chance to chip off a blitzing linebacker and threw the ball to Devin for a touchdown. A year ago he would have run backwards, and they’d have chased him for about an hour, and he’d probably end up throwing it out of bounds.

“It’s a different kid, and I think you’ll see more and more of that as you go.”

Of course, Irish fans saw more than a few of those lunging backward heaves into the secondary. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, they ended up being the plays that got Michigan back into the game in 2011.


Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is tasked with a new challenge: shut down an Irish offense that now relies on mobile quarterback Everett Golson. He’s hoping the ability to work against a pretty elusive guy every day in practice helps with that.

“Well I hope a lot. I hope a lot,” Mattison said about containing a mobile quarterback.
“Although if you’ve seen the first three games, we haven’t looked great if the quarterback has scrambled. But I know the speed at which we have to play against Denard puts pressure on you every day. I would think that would help us when you get into a game like this.”

Even with a quarterback like Golson taking over for Tommy Rees, Mattison is confident that Notre Dame won’t alter their offensive identity.

“They’ve changed a little bit but they’re still Notre Dame,” Mattison said. “They want to run the football and they want you to make mistakes so they can hopefully get a shot on you and try to test your coverage with their speed and take shots down field. So I think it’s a lot alike. ”

While they didn’t necessarily hit on their shots down the field, you can consider it a good sign that Mattison and company know what’s likely coming, especially with vertical threats and mismatches with guys like Tyler Eifert and potentially Troy Niklas. (John Goodman scoring on the deep ball last Saturday, and Davaris Daniels‘ yards-per-catch have to help stretch the Wolverines’ defense out as well.)

Michigan hasn’t been good stopping the run, and they’re a bit undersized in their front seven after having to replace three of their top four up front from 2011. So if the Irish can get decent blocking from Ben Koyack after a disappointing start to the season, then there are some personnel matchups that Notre Dame can take advantage of, letting Eifert split wide.

You get the feeling that Eifert’s lack of production was because he’s the best in-line blocker Notre Dame has at tight end and Koyack and Niklas weren’t ready to handle that duty against a front seven like the Spartans.

Lastly, Mattison talked about just how important this rivalry is to him.

“This is as big as it gets to me,” he said. “I’ve always believed that forever. It’s just when you think of college football, you think of Michigan and you think of Notre Dame. This is really football. That’s what makes it exciting, and that’s what makes you excited that you’re at Michigan. That you’re here and you get a chance to go in there and see what you guys can do.”


For his part, Hoke didn’t offer much bulletin board material, instead paying compliment to Notre Dame and their 3-0 start, and relishing the ability to play another good opponent and evaluating the progress his team has made after getting dominated up front by Alabama’s front seven.

“Seeing how far we’ve come from game one to game four is exciting,” Hoke said. “There’s no question this is going to be a test. They’ve been very productive as a football team, as a defensive team. We’re going to have to block the line of scrimmage. We need to do a great job with protection.”

  1. 808raiderinparadise - Sep 19, 2012 at 6:49 PM

    “We need to do a great job with protection.” – Hoke

    I was unaware people in Michigan used protection? Therefore I agree with him.

    On a serious note … I sure hope the D-line is a terror and relentless and the LBs/second level need to have some patience with leaving their asisgments to run-up and tackle Denard, his best passses are when he fakes the read-option, runs up and then fires a easy short pass to a wide open slot WR because everyone shoots up.

    Let our gigantic/fast D-line dictate his decisions. LB’s stay home.

    • joeschu - Sep 20, 2012 at 11:47 AM

      To me, this is the key to the game. Our front 3/4 have created some tremendous havoc, and I believe they will again.

      To me, this is Manti’s opportunity to validate all the football praise that’s been (deservedly) heaped upon him this past week. There’s no doubt he’s an incredible ND man, but he’s also had a tendency to over-pursue or get caught leaning the wrong way. This game could become the proof-point that he’s matured into the finest LB in the land.

      Last week proved that he’s an incredible man and a great source of pride for Notre Dame. This week is Manti’s opportunity to cement his status as a fully matured and dominant LB against a team that has been a thorn in ND’s side and a major barrier to ND breaking through.

      If the front 3/4 create havoc in the backfield, and the back 4 do a decent job in coverage, the backer’s are going to need to provide the discipline/containment to keep Denard from running wild. If Bobby D’s D-Boys can play disciplined football, it could be a fabulous weekend.

  2. kiopta1 - Sep 19, 2012 at 7:20 PM

    Good call 808. LBs do need to play with speed and discipline.

  3. bernhtp - Sep 19, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    When I watched the game on replay, Koyak’s blocking whiffs became even more apparent. Losing Welch was a bigger loss than I originally thought.

  4. dudeacow - Sep 19, 2012 at 8:59 PM

    I’m sure Tuitt and Nix are watching scUM film and are just salivating looking at the O-Line. I’m calling for another 2 sack night for Tuitt, and that’s saying a lot seeing how Robinson runs a 4.38 40.

    Go Irish!
    Beat Michigan!
    And Miami!
    And Stanford!
    And BYU!
    And Oklahoma!
    And Pitt!
    And Boston College!
    And Wake Forest!
    And USC!
    And Ohio State the next time you play them!

    • papadec - Sep 20, 2012 at 12:16 AM

      dude – ….. and whoever (probably Alabama) for the BCS Championship!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. bigboi30 - Sep 20, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    Come on 808, really bad joke, seriously, thata what passes as funny in Irish country? Guess im not surprised, thats what comes out of there,
    Im sure ill get a bunch of whinners and big talk, already been called a troller, lol. Give you all a couple of wins and the big talk comes.

    Here is the facts, we have owned you, we will continue to own you, cant sack what you have not been able to catch.

    Michigan > Irish 2-0 under the lights. Accept it now,less disappointment later.

    Bring it on haters.

    • seadomer - Sep 20, 2012 at 1:20 AM

      Welcome back, this is the place, let out the hate … its good for you.
      Promise us you’ll be back after the game though.

    • atlirish1013 - Sep 20, 2012 at 1:26 AM

      Ladies and gentlemen!!! May I present to you, the pride of the Michigan English Department!! Bigboi!

    • irish91088 - Sep 20, 2012 at 11:55 AM

      Impressive sentences you just formulated bigboi. You all never cease to amaze!

  6. scardino - Sep 20, 2012 at 6:23 AM

    I think the square peg analogy fits Denard well. Hoke’s offense seems to do him a disservice but it is still up to Denard to adapt.

    Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out how Brady Hoke ended up as the head coach at Michigan.

    • 9irish - Sep 20, 2012 at 7:36 AM

      Ha! You know, I’ve been thinking that, too. Hoke and Michigan don’t exactly seem analagous. He has done well, though. So far. I used to laugh at people when I lived in Ann Arbor and they were so obsessed with getting rid of Lloyd Carr, “I would say, Yes! Please do that! Ditch that system that’s been working for 40 years!” Hire Rich Rod, great idea!
      So we’ll see…

      Go Irish

    • zorichmidriff - Sep 20, 2012 at 9:14 AM

      At least now he’s acting like he’s coaching, wearing a headset and all. Before he just walked around like he was looking for spare change on the sideline.

      • 9irish - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:41 PM

        I know. Hey, he is a good coach. But perception is reality…I keep expecting him to tell me that the fan belt needs to be replaced.

  7. piratey - Sep 20, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    Brady Hoke IS Flounder

  8. piratey - Sep 20, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    Brady Hoke IS Flounder

    • bb90grad - Sep 20, 2012 at 11:09 AM

      Gotta love the classics. As Kevin Bacon said, “Remain calm, all is well.”

    • madmick69 - Sep 21, 2012 at 3:35 PM

      And it wasn’t over when the German’s bombed Pearl Harbor!

  9. piratey - Sep 20, 2012 at 8:18 AM

  10. phillyj - Sep 20, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    Anyone else concerned that all of our wins thus far have come against teams we beat last year as well (see: Navy, Purdon’t, MSU). Can we pull one out – in primetime and under the bright lights- against a squad that beat us last year?

    I’m so excited, I’m so … scared.

    Go Irish!

  11. mtflsmitty - Sep 20, 2012 at 9:50 AM


    I can’t tell if you’re being serious of not. If being sarcastic, dryly played. Well done. If serious, I hope you are a 9 yo girl.

  12. mtflsmitty - Sep 20, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    ….because the way you’re telling us you’re excited and scared all at the same time would just bee creepy and really weak otherwise.

  13. runners00 - Sep 20, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    Michigan was 11-2 last year. They’re not chumps. But on both sides of the ball, the team has lost some key people. They’ve lost 6 offensive starters and 7 defensive starters. Three out of the four starting defensive linemen are different in 2012 than in 2011. Two out of the five starting offensive linemen are different in 2012 than in 2011. It looked like that in their first two games. Air Force, for example, was 12-21 on third down conversions and 2-5 on fourth. They rushed for almost 300 yard against Michigan. Air Force. They also had the ball for almost an entire quarter longer than Michigan had the ball.

    Now, Michigan was able to generate some serious yardage as well (425) but a lot of that was Denard Robinson (who broke one for 80 yards and also threw for over 200 yards). But we’re not Air Force. I mean, our defensive front seven is largely made up of guys who played a lot last year. As a defensive unit, if we stay healthy, they’re going to have to grind it out. We’re not giving up any 80 yard plays (or 7 yards/rush). We’re too big and too fast and too experienced. I don’t think that they’ll move the ball on us the way that they did to Air Force.

    I feel pretty okay on this one. I know — give Notre Dame fans a single victory and we all feel like we’re title contenders. But looking at the two squads and our strengths and weaknesses, I’m okay here. It’s a tough rivalry and Hoke’s a good coach. But I think we have too much.

    No prediction on the score, but I think we win this one — and I will even say that if we stay healthy throughout the game, we win handily.

  14. irish91088 - Sep 20, 2012 at 11:56 AM

    Over/Under 4.5 twinkies we see Hoke shotgun on the sidelines.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 20, 2012 at 9:16 PM

      Take the over. He says the cream filling coats his stomach.

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