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Wolverines might take aim at Irish secondary

Sep 20, 2012, 6:06 PM EDT

Massachusetts v Michigan Getty Images

You could fill up a few notebooks contemplating the ways quarterback Denard Robinson can beat the Irish. We’ve seen it first hand with his virtuoso running performance in 2010 and his fourth quarter passing display last season, where Robinson threw touchdown passes of 14, 21, and 16 yards in the games final eleven minutes to beat the Irish. (No matter how they looked, it worked.)

Still, as we break down the countless match-ups worth watching in this game, the electric speed that makes Robinson so dangerous might not be the most logical way for the Wolverines to attack the Irish. With big bodies Devin Gardner, the 6-foot-4 converted quarterback now leading the Wolverines in receiving, teamed with 6-foot-5 freshman tight end Devin Funchess, Michigan has to feel like they have some match-up problems for the Irish in the passing game.

If there is an X factor on Saturday night, it’ll be the Michigan aerial attack. The Wolverines are averaging an impressive 17 yards a catch, with their top four receivers, Gardner, Jeremy Gallon, Funchess, and Drew Dilleo averaging 21.2 yards a catch.

While there were plenty of question marks about the receiving corps heading into the season, it appears that the Wolverines staff doesn’t have any.

“I think it’s probably one of the better positions on our team from a depth standpoint,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday.

Offensive coordinator Al Broges echoed the sentiments, explaining the evolution of the passing offense, anchored by two guys you wouldn’t have expected last season.

“I think about going into camp the perception was we lost some key players,” Borges said of his wide receivers. “But we knew we were working Devin Gardner at that position because we had done so much of it in the spring And Devin Funchess kind of manifested himself. We knew he was a good player, but we didn’t know to what degree, and he didn’t play much in the first game. It became increasingly evident he needed to be part of our passing game.”

The same could be said for the Notre Dame secondary. Heading into spring practice without starters Gary Gray, Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton, the Irish felt confident about Bennett Jackson at one corner and the trio of safeties Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter and Austin Collinsworth. Lo Wood would spent the offseason battling with Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown at field cornerback. If you told most Irish fans that Notre Dame would be without Slaughter, Collinsworth, and Wood after three games — and the Irish would be undefeated — you’d have some incredulous listeners.

With true freshman KeiVarae Russell manning the field corner and Jackson playing on the short side of the field, the pass defense hasn’t missed a beat. With Mathias Farley now taking over for Slaughter and Elijah Shumate excelling in nickel coverage, the young secondary is gaining major experience, all while learning on the fly.

With a front seven that’s protected the back-end of the defense and allowed the Irish to routinely drop five and six men in coverage, that’s a convenience the Irish didn’t have last year at this time. And if Notre Dame can get to Robinson without having to send the house, they’ll likely be able to dictate terms, helping a young secondary against Michigan’s raw but promising group of receivers.

  1. dickasman - Sep 20, 2012 at 6:13 PM

    I may regret saying this but hey yes please throw the dam ball and let’s see what happens. I am curious myself to see what we’ve got back there.

    • seadomer - Sep 20, 2012 at 6:41 PM

      Know what u mean but they would anyways, we will be stuffing the run except for a couple of flashes from Laces (out of respect)
      But Te’o and … wait for it … Fox will show Denard the quality of ND stadium turf.

    • 808raiderinparadise - Sep 20, 2012 at 7:15 PM

      Its clear the only way to beat ND’s defense is thru the air.

      Thats why I see USC and OK as the hardest games on schedule.

  2. ndrocks2 - Sep 20, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    Might??? At this point may as well see what we have. I read Robinson is about 50/50 on TD’s & interceptions when throwing the ball greater than 15 yards. Go Irish!!!

  3. ndgoldandblue - Sep 20, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    The game is on Notre Dame’s home turf. Plus, the Irish have an undefeated record (unlike Michigan) and the higher national ranking. With all that, there are a lot of experts who think that Michigan is going to come in to South Bend and beat the Irish. This team still isn’t getting a lot of respect, and that’s fine with me. I’d rather the college football world continue to underestimate this Notre Dame team. Then, the Irish could go out there every game with something to prove. I hope they have that same mind set against the Wolverines this weekend.

    Respect the Wolverines for what they could do offensively. That way, you don’t come out flat. However, don’t respect them too much because that might lead to the Irish playing tight. Just respect them enough to know that they could beat you if you don’t come ready to play. With that mentality, the Irish should be able to play fast and physical, like the MSU game. Do that, and I think Notre Dame wins. Do it not, and who knows?

    • joeschu - Sep 20, 2012 at 8:23 PM

      Nude said it on the previous post, and I agree completely. BK has to have something up his sleeve to motivate a bunch of guys who did a hell of a job last week and have had a full week of everyone telling them how great they are. Coming out flat is not an option here.

      Manti Te’o has done more for this program than any of us could have ever asked, but I believe this game has to have his signature on it. His time in blue & gold lines up with Robinson, and it has never gone to plan. Manti is an incredible man and a damn good football player, but he’s also been known to over pursue quick/shifty runners. As the front 3/4 create pressure, it is Manti’s time to mirror Robinson and clean up with some disciplined, smart defense. If this is the kind of signature performance that Manti is capable of, I think the heart and soul of the Irish delivers ND a win that propels the entire program forward.

      This is also Kelly’s signature moment. He might have called last weekend that, but this program needs this>/em> win far more. Beating a ranked Michigan team, at home, at night, vaulting ND into a top 10 ranking – that’s delivering. It is going to take a disciplined game plan that has equal parts protection and aggression. Losing to Michigan in the past few years has been the prime indicator of ND’s downturn because it hasn’t been the losing, it has been the nature and way we’ve been losing. Coming out flat in the big house under Weis, or crumbling in the 4th last year. That is not Fighting Irish football as it was played under the greats. If he can get to his bye week undefeated, with a third of the nation’s toughest schedule behind him, THAT is the kind of coaching and leadership we’ve been hoping for.

    • kansasirish - Sep 20, 2012 at 10:36 PM

      Guess what fello ND fans……Mark d-bag May just picked Michigan to beat our IRISH. What joy it’ll be Saturday night to see him eat crow!!!

      GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. upthera44 - Sep 20, 2012 at 8:01 PM

    Great opportunity for a pick or two this weekend — ehem, Zeke Motta and Bennett Jackson

  5. dudeacow - Sep 20, 2012 at 8:04 PM

    I was excited at the beginning of the season to start unranked and play our top 5 big games as the underdog, as I really thought we would beat MSU, UM, and Stanford. Now only two of those 5 teams are ranked higher than us. I’m not saying that I’m complaining about the 11 ranking, but I liked seeing everyone predict MSU beating ND. You know, after the game of course.

    I have been very impressed with Jackson and Russel. I have been extremely impressed with Motta, as it seemed almost every play I thought “Oh look, #17 made the tackle. Who’s #17? Oh yeah, it’s Motta GO BABY TEACH THEM WHAT ND FOOTBALL REALLY IS!!!!!!!!!!” Sadly, I haven’t been very impressed with Slaughter, as I had big hopes for him this season. It could be that I really haven’t seen much of him, as I only remember the big Purdue hit and his blown coverage where Navy scored a passing touchdown. Whatever, I hope our young secondary can develop and become an area of averageness instead a liability.

  6. chisports14 - Sep 20, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    No, they aren’t going to do it through the air. Check the forecast. 22mph winds, rainy, and probably 45-50 degrees at game time.

    My predictions to come shortly on the blog

    • dudeacow - Sep 20, 2012 at 9:11 PM

      Great. I think our runners will cough it up for the first time this year, then.

      • kansasirish - Sep 20, 2012 at 10:49 PM

        Anybody that goes by dudeacow has to be a total toooool!!!!!!

      • fitz79 - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:32 PM

        Actually a rainy day will only benefit the Irish. Michigan is the team that has a running game based entirely on a scramble happy quarterback.We have Wood, Riddick and Atkinson just waiting to excel in a more traditional run game.

    • chisports14 - Sep 20, 2012 at 11:04 PM

      Got my predictions on the blog. check it

  7. glowplugv - Sep 20, 2012 at 9:21 PM

    Going to be at the game. The weather is not cooperating as a 50% chance of showers in the afternoon and evening are predicted. Defense will do their part, but one request for the offense. Do the old guy (me) a favor and score lots of points so I don’t have a heart attack in the fourth quarter! Go Irish!

  8. jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 20, 2012 at 10:03 PM

    A rainy evening will militate against the pass. If Michigan has to keep it on the ground, Denard is certainly fast enough and elusive enough to cause problems for our D. The problem with wet grass is that the runner knows which way he is running and which way he is faking and a defender can easily be juked right out of his jock strap. We need a controlled, grind it out running game to control time of poss and keep 16 off the field.

    • kansasirish - Sep 20, 2012 at 10:52 PM

      Remember the last rainy home game vs Michigan? They coughed it up all over the place!!

      Lets hope we see a replay of that game!!

    • alsatiannd - Sep 21, 2012 at 7:07 AM

      Big thumbs up. The best defense against Robbinson is to not let him have the ball. Time of possession will be a big factor.

  9. ndgoldandblue - Sep 20, 2012 at 10:14 PM

    This is completely off-topic from the Michigan game, but I’m watching the BYU-Boise game tonight and…I don’t know…BYU doesn’t intimidate me at all. Who knows? Maybe this is the year that the stars align and we can pull out 10 wins and get to a BCS bowl. With this schedule, that’s progress.

    Oh, and for all the worries about high winds and wet grass, I’d say that a low-scoring game tends to favor the team with the better defense, and that would be the Irish. And jerseyshorendfan, sometimes the player with the ball knows where he wants to go, but he feet don’t always cooperate. Just look at Notre Dame’s game against Stanford last year. Our backs had an impossible time keeping their feet. Who’s to say that Robinson won’t have a similar problem? After all, he’s played on nothing but turf so far this year. This Saturday is his first taste of real grass, and it might take some time for him to adjust. Who knows? Maybe he won’t adjust at all until the game is out of hand. Let’s keep some optimism, folks.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 20, 2012 at 10:57 PM

      Good points ndgold. Fact of the matter is that both teams will have some problems with wet grass. I didn’t mean to sound like a pessimist, I still feel that we will win by two TDs. I think if our ground game gets going, that our best defense will be our offense keeping old shoelace off the field, that’s all. I remember that field at Stanford last year. They should have been ashamed of the condition of that field. The field tackled Cierre more than the Cardinal did.

    • bernhtp - Sep 20, 2012 at 11:27 PM

      I think that Everett will fare better in wind. He has a stronger arm, but more importantly, throws a tighter spiral than Denard. While a wobbly ball is never good, it is lethal in wind.

    • nudeman - Sep 21, 2012 at 10:36 AM

      BYU – and Boise for that matter – looked terrible.
      One offensive TD between the two of them for the whole game.
      And terrible QB play

      Interesting because many thought BYU would be the ultimate “trap game” for ND
      ND could beat them with their walk-ons

    • fitz79 - Sep 21, 2012 at 6:04 PM

      I thought BYU would be decent but clearly they’re not. Manti T’eo is a good example of a Mormon who chose the right school to play for! Which just goes to show, not only Catholics, but people of all faiths succeed and thrive at Notre Dame.

  10. atlirish1013 - Sep 21, 2012 at 12:18 AM

    This week feels like it is dragging. Does anyone else feel that way? Maybe I’m just bored of hearing about the inadequacies of the pass defense. Brian Kelly has recruited much better athletes than Charlie Weis ever dreamed of recruiting and it is showing itself in how many passes these true freshmen have batted down. I’m racking my brain trying to remember Darrin Walls, Robert Blanton, or Gary Gray making these kind of plays consistently and I am coming up short. These kids are for real and I not only excited about this year but the next 5.

  11. alsatiannd - Sep 21, 2012 at 7:21 AM

    UM is best on the ground. They’re no USC or Oklahoma. For them to think attacking our secondary is a good idea, they must not have any confidence they can beat us at the line of scrimmage. Good. I agree.

  12. 9irish - Sep 21, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    I think the mid-range pass defense (LBs etc) is critical. Denard is made to run on turf, if that long wet turf has him falling down, and everybody is covered in the middle, he has to go deep. And I’m hoping that he used up his share of lucky turkeys last year. Not a good deep passer, especially if they are hurrying him. I don’t know how it will lean, but I think the Irish will win.

    Go Irish

    • 9irish - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:55 PM

      I meant artificial or “field turf”. Grass is harder for him to make his little slashing cuts on, especially if it’s wet. I don’t think it’s going to matter, he is going to be running for his life, not for yardage.

  13. mayo1010 - Sep 21, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    I for one would welcome DR passing. IMO he is a below average passer. His best attribute is when he goes back to pass, and speads everybody out, then starts zig zagging through the open areas of the defense. That scares the hell out of me. So I say let it fly! GO IRISH!

  14. fitz79 - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    Hey Mr Robinson, bring it on! Let’s see what happens when you try to drop back and pretend you’re a pocket passer. You’ll be running for your life within 3 seconds and will not get a chance to throw the deep ball with the likes of Tuitt, Shembo and Fox hot on your heals. Seriously though, I’m confident in our young and mighty secondary thus far. After all, Gary Gray was an experienced senior last year and watched the game winning TD, a weak pass from Robinson, sail right over his head. Can’t get no worse than that! Go Irish, CRUSH Michigan down to size!

  15. schaffershokai - Sep 22, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    The Wolverines are gonna CRUSH the competition:

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