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Objectives cut and dry for both teams

Sep 3, 2013, 11:58 PM EDT

Central Michigan v Michigan Getty Images

Football is a game of numbers. And it’s not hard to look at a few of them and understand the difference between winning and losing.

When you check the stat sheet from last year’s 13-6 game, the Irish held Michigan’s offense to just 299 yards while forcing a whopping six turnovers in a hard-earned victory. Compare that to the game in ’11, when Michigan racked up 452 yards, while going +2 in the turnover differential in their furious comeback win. Turnovers and defense. Hold onto the football and limit yards. Just about any guy with a gas grill and a cable TV package can figure that one out.

That said, the key to the Irish’s defensive plan makes simple math look mighty complicated. Especially when facing a quarterback like the ones Michigan has had behind center the past few years. Gone is Denard Robinson, a quarterback Brian Kelly called the most dynamic and electric playmaker he’s ever seen at the position. But in his place is Devin Gardner, another dual threat player that also happens to throw the football with grace and accuracy.

Kelly talked about defending a guy like Gardner, who he compared to Randall Cunningham, and how it’ll be different than facing someone like Robinson.

“Gardner throws the ball with much more accuracy,” Kelly said. “He pushes the ball down the field very easily.  And he certainly scrambles very well, keeps his eyes downfield and is not afraid to run. Another dual‑threat quarterback that is going to be very, very difficult to defend.”

As the Irish prepare to face yet another Wolverine quarterback that keeps defensive coordinators up at night, Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges talked about the challenges that he faces in the Irish defense, a group that shut down his offense last season.

“They’re as good as anybody we’ll play I think, across the board,” Borges said. “A stout nose guard, two athletic defensive ends. They don’t have Te’o any more at linebacker, but they’re still pretty active kids. Solid cover guys on the back end.

“They know their system pretty well because they’ve been playing it for a while. They’ll be formidable. That’s a good defensive football team.”

Borges brings up what life is like for Notre Dame after Te’o. Kelly also talked about Michigan’s offense post-Robinson. That leaves a little bit of guessing for both teams, as tendencies and structure tends to change.

“We’ll have a little bit of a different plan,” Kelly said. “There’ll obviously be some similarities, but they’re different players.”

Borges conceded the same, though reserved the right to go back and use some things that have been successful.

“We’re different, but there’s still a little carry over here and there that you can steal from a year ago,” Borges said.

That carryover exists in the ability to scramble. Michigan coaches likely watched Temple quarterback Connor Reilly scrambling last Saturday and began licking their chops. That’s where Gardner is at his best — dangerous with his legs but deadly with his arm — and put together a few highlight reel plays against Central Michigan, extending plays until a receiver broke open. It’s something Borges and the Wolverines offense has worked hard at perfecting.

“You have to have some structure within your improv. What we practice, and talk about a lot, is how we are going to adjust when the pocket is broken,” Borges said.

Last year, that rarely happened. The Irish were able to pin Robinson in the pocket, using an overpowering front seven to keep Michigan’s quarterback hemmed in and hassled, forcing bad decisions by Robinson, which turned into four interceptions.

While Gardner sparkled over the weekend, he still threw two interceptions — one a very bad decision deep in his own territory and the other when he was under duress.

“I know one thing about Devin. If he uses good judgment, he’s a problem for the defense,” Borges said. “There’s some stuff you just don’t draw up on that board to account for. You’ve got to cover him and cover the receivers. And that’s not easy to do.”

Limit yardage and force turnovers. Play mistake free and get outside the pocket. Only one of these two objectives will be reached. And that team will likely be celebrating a hard fought victory Saturday night.

  1. dickasman - Sep 4, 2013 at 12:09 AM

    Oh Christ it’s gonna be a nail biter! Good test to see where we are at I dunno what team will show up. Still early in the season though. I just have this gut feeling our kicking game will let us down.

    • tsombanj - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:31 AM

      Agreed. I’m thinking the game comes down to the wire. Tausch’s miss wasn’t bad, it was pathetic. Keep Brindza at FG’s and try and block one person on punt returns. Punt return shortcomings are inexcusable.

    • ibleedirish - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:00 PM

      I think we all feel like that about the kicking game. And thats weird considering I never felt that way last year, and that years kicker is still on this team…Can’t help feeling that despite this great coaching staff, they’ve really botched the kick game so far.

  2. onward2victory - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:22 AM

    I’m gonna be so nervous before kick off…

  3. yaketyyacc - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:02 AM

    hey, look at the good side. the Irish defense faced a scrambling quarterback in Reilly, and held the Owls to six points. the Temple game was like having an extra week of practice to prepare for Gardner, but against a Gardner, not a stand in ND quarterback.
    all we need to do better is for the Irish defense to pick up speed and for Nix to hold his temper. and turn his anger into savage violent rushes that will leave Mr. Gardner seeing stars, literally.
    Cheer cheer for old Notre Dame!

  4. ndfaithful - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    I’m not into predictions very often. But I’m going to go out on a limb here. I think the kicking game is going to disappoint us. I also think Gardner is going to get a way for a scrambling touchdown. I think all of this is going to be too much for the Irish to… preserve the shutout. Irish WIN 31-10. I don’t think Michigan is ready for a big team with skill and speed in the backfield and on the edges. Tommy will go nuts and play well (again) against Michigan. The Tommy Gun formation works great in this game. Irish win big and jokers here still have stuff to complain about after the lopsided victory…

    Just sayin…

    Go Irish!

    • c4evr - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:20 AM

      Ah, in mid-season form with your leprechauns and unicorns I see…

      Just sayin…

  5. gtizzo - Sep 4, 2013 at 9:19 AM

    Keith football is only a numbers game to fantasy football nerds,

    Those guys who live in there parents basement and wonder who is going to throw for the most touchdowns every year. Numbers are not everything in football keep in mind Texas A&M was out gained by Rice last week. Notre Dame out gained both S. Florida and Michigan and lost both games in 2011. Notre Dame gave up yards to good teams last season. The difference was that they made teams one dimensional in the red zone…which made them predictable. Gardner is not Robinson he doesn’t have the break away speed (I would bet Jaylon Smith could run him down). The good passer has yet to be realized because he only attempted 15 passes last week. He completed 10 of those passes and 2 were intercepted. Stopping a mobile QB hasn’t changed. The defensive ends set a hard edge, the defensive tackle plugs the middle, and the middle linebacker (or linebackers in ND’s case) fill the gaps. Michigan has a weakness in the middle of the offensive line because there young in the interior. Louis Nix will demand a double team, Tuitt and Shembo will set the edge which leaves one lineman left…Sheldon Day. I would guess he is one on one all game long with one of the young Michigan guards…advantage Notre Dame. My guess is Day has a big game against Michigan and could be the difference maker. Kelly is being tactical in his comments he isn’t going to give motivation to Michigan. Daniels went for 115 yards against an SEC secondary in the BCS title game I would guess he can go for at least 100 against Michigan.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:17 PM

      Great points all!

  6. mediocrebob - Sep 4, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    Not sure we can compare Temple QB to Gardner. But I’m also not sure we can compare the defense the Irish gave last week to what we’ll see this week.

    A lot of questions but I think the 2 factors will come down to Irish kicking game and if the Irish can make UM one dimensional. UM backs look scary to me.

  7. 1historian - Sep 4, 2013 at 10:03 AM

    I have a sneaking feeling that Kelly made that remark about the ND-Michigan (non) rivalry just to see what would happen, and I don’t think he was surprised at all by the various reactions.

    And we know that Brent Muschburger (sp?) will be having the vapors about it Saturday night.

  8. fnc111 - Sep 4, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    No need to be nervous. I have zero confidence in Kelly to pull this game out. I will never forget the 2011 game. I think that game changed me forever as a fan, obviously most would say in a bad way.

    • goirishgo - Sep 4, 2013 at 10:40 AM

      So your incessant and illogical negativity is Brian Kelly’s fault? Yikes.

      • c4evr - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:18 AM

        In the inimitable words of Phineas. Yes… yes it is.

        How the posters on this board can continue to stand behind BK is beyond me. Just because he can recruit, you guys choose to overlook his interviewing for an NFL job days after laying an egg in the BCS title game – for a position they ultimately didn’t even offer the man. And, while you tout his ability to develop and prepare his teams for battle, you simply look the other way when a Temple team comes to his house and pushes his defense around for 56 minutes. And the offense… well, if they were hiding their good stuff they plan to use against UM, they did a helluva job. Talk of a vanilla offense and defense so as to not reveal anything to future opponents is laughable and simply wishful thinking because the alternative is just too painful. How does Nix being manhandled show them anything other than he wasn’t prepared mentally nor physically for the season to start. And, in true form, BK this week he flip flops on a seemingly benign remark regarding the ND-UM non-rivalry rivalry… have the balls to say what you mean and mean what you say. Look for his team to lay down this week as they have in all their big games under the leadership of this true, Notre Dame man. Lou said it best, “I can name you the coach, but I can’t name you the leader. Leaders are named from below.” This season will prove that T’eo was the leader of last year’s run.

      • shamrocknroll - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:54 AM

        fnc & c4ever, there’s a couple of warm glasses of milk waiting for you over at NDNation.

      • ndfaithful - Sep 4, 2013 at 3:18 PM

        We probably should give Kelly a lot of blame for that loss. Let’s blame him for the 12 regular season wins last year too.

    • audomer - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      Kelly? Not in that game bud.

      If you said the Tulsa game, no one would argue.

      If Gary Gray could have turned around just once or twice, We win!

    • nudeman - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:20 AM

      As usual fnc is the village idiot
      If one game turned you around you were never much of an ND fan.

      Your stuff is the same drivel, day after day; week after week. “Kelly sucks”; “ND will lose”.

      Time for you to just STFU, or get hit by a semi

      • dickasman - Sep 4, 2013 at 1:31 PM

        Hey stop, I personally throughly enjoy reading his rants. Must be ex coke head comraderie thingy! It makes me happier to see there is another more pessimistic individual out there than me, sighhhhh. Thank you fnc and keep it up. These guys are all democrats on here anyways, they accept anything and everything and nothing is wrong, ever we ll just bend the rule and make them pay.

      • papadec - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:00 PM

        nahhhhh – his hard head & heart would cause too much damage to the semi. STFU is best.

      • mayo1010 - Sep 4, 2013 at 9:04 PM

        Nude, add C4evr to that list also. Talk about mid-season form. With his, oh so obvious, BK bashing.
        The same BK that’s the reigning college football ” Coach of the Year”! But C4 knows all and he can’t coach.
        Just like when he reiterated several times that ND would never ever be relevant with BK as their head coach-and when BK proves him wrong by running the table last year he does an about face all while never admitting he was wrong (because that’s what real men do–guess what he’s not?). Then as soon as he gets his first chance to bash when ND got thoroughly outplayed in the NC game–well he takes it never missing a beat and ignoring the incredible 12 game winning streak..
        Now here he comes after and the very 1st game with what Nude wrote: ” same drivel, day after day; week after week. “Kelly sucks”. Do us all a favor and go kick your cat around because we don’t want to hear anymore! You know nothing.
        Actually your love affair with Lou Holtz is kinda weird since the guy hasn’t coached in almost ten years and getting close to 2 decades away from ND.
        We are all aware that Holtz was a great coach. Although many would argue that he should have won more NC’s at ND. And let me enlighten you in regards to your Lou Holtz love affair–he had a won/loss record of below .500 his last 6yrs of coaching.
        So get off your high horse, we are lucky to have such fine head coach in Brian Kelly!

      • irish4006 - Sep 5, 2013 at 12:15 AM

        c4 is weird one, i must say. He only comes here to talk about how bad BK is. Why/how someone hates another individual so much is beyond me. There can be a number of things, one can only speculate –
        1. He was in love with Mrs. BK and she (very wisely) chose BK over him
        2. He played football for BK but never was good enough to see the field
        3. He is someone whom BK fired for gross incompetence
        4. He is Dayne Crist or his mother

        I think it’s #4, what do you guys think?

  9. idratherbeinsouthbend - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    If the numbers DO tell the story, then somebody needs to take a closer look at Devin Gardner. He’s started 6-7 games in his career and if you look at the 5 games he has had against quality opponents, his completion percentage is barely over 50%. He’s throw at least one interception in every game he’s started at QB.

    Would i pick him first on playground at recess? Yes!

    But the kid, thus far, is a mediocre QB who happens to be a good athlete. To be honest, I think he’s a little like Ev was last year. They both benefited from a Defense that got better every week. And as the defense kept winning ballgames, the QB got the credit.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:10 AM

      To counter my own point though, I wouldn’t want to face Ev after 6 games of experience :)

  10. kazmar619 - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    ND can be 11-1 even with the loss to Michigan as long as Rees doesn’t get hurt in this game. I hope Kelly gets Hendrix in there before Tommy gets really hurt by Mich’s big, strong, talented and very deep defensive line.

  11. dillcassidy - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    we jumped on Temple right out of the gate. after that we showed very little and stayed vanilla. I think our D-comes to play, Tommy manages the game, and god help us speacial teams is a bit better. we harass Gardner, and wwin. ND 34. MI 26. it’s time for s breaks to go are way at The Big House. GO IRISH.

  12. yaketyyacc - Sep 4, 2013 at 12:32 PM

    you’re right, Reilly is not Gardner. Reilly is better. We felt we also had a powder puff, a brand new rookie, untested, naïve, and, found out, we were up against a smooth rhythmic savvy capable and scrambling quarterback, AND handled him.

    • alsatiannd - Sep 4, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      From my seat behind the flag pole, Reilly was noticeably gimpy in the 4th quarter. He was favoring an ankle so much he was pretty much immobile. His numbers could have been better if he didn’t get lame. Reilly was no slouch and holding him to 6 points was respectable and good prep for Gardner.

  13. 4horsemenrideagain - Sep 4, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    I will hold off on annointing Gardiner the next great thing until he shows something against good competition.

    As for his fate on Saturday, the big movers up front will remind us all why [until the Temple game} we were pretty confident in the pass rush. They will show up and there will be pressure, forcing Gardiner to either force throws or tuck it and run. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jaylon Smith spying on Gardiner and to see Jackson and Russell holding down their respective islands of man coverage. I liked the safety blitz package we saw last week, though with a mobile QB who isn’t afraid to run, I doubt the safety blitz comes off the edge this week instead of a delayed blitz up the middle.

    As for UM getting points in this one, I think Vegas is just trying to entice pissed off ND fans to lay their money down. Watch this line be flat at by kickoff and for good reason; ND wins going away.

  14. ndgoldandblue - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    “Hi, I’m c4evr. This team sucks, and this coach sucks. I’ll explain why with a long, overly pessimistic rant that is based on exaggerations.”

    “And I’m fnc111. I don’t like to explain my interminably negative views of a team I supposedly like. I just throw my claims out there with no support whatsoever.”

    “Hey guys. I’m ndfaithful. Even if the Irish stink up the joint, it’s still all sunshine and rainbows for me. They are the best team ever, and anything anyone else says is just rotten, stinky, icky stuff. Come join me with the other Care Bears in our fun city in the clouds.”

    Jesus, how about a little objectivity? I swear, there’s only a handful of posters on this board who call it like it is.

    • c4evr - Sep 4, 2013 at 4:04 PM

      And, by these caricatures, I’m assuming you are one of the handful. You want objectivity, wait until Kelly jumps to the NFL, then you’ll see why he will succeed whereas Holtz failed. Lou could motivate and inspire – NFL players are inspired by green and possibly losing their position. Why else would BK be so eager to jump to the NFL? Saban, Holtz, Spurrier get the best out of their players and yet sucked in the pros.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Sep 4, 2013 at 4:21 PM

      i think this is cyber bullying.

      just kidding, but why the call for objectivity? what’s so great about “calling it like it is?”

      are we, fellow visitors to ND football blogs, somehow bound by ethical considerations to be objective as if we were journalists writing copy for the Associated Press? no. we’re football fans so let’s ease up on the criticism of those among us whose optimism outpaces their realism. and if ndfaithful wants to believe ND is going 12-0 every year from now until football is outlawed, and that tommy rees is going to rush for 1000 yards this year and be the #1 draft pick, so what?

      can’t we all just get along?

      • ndgoldandblue - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:54 PM

        Point well taken, 4horsemen. Point well taken, indeed.

      • irish4006 - Sep 5, 2013 at 12:21 AM

        “Hi, I am 4horsemen, I want all to get along…” Sheesh! :-)

    • ndfaithful - Sep 5, 2013 at 7:40 AM

      Good point ndgoldandblue. The ‘old familiar’ comments get a little tiresome in here. So I’ll give it a whirl… Partly because it’s a great point. Partly because I resent your representation of me. So here goes…

      Objective thought #1 – you’re kind of a jerk. (I’m still working on the new objectivity thing). Maybe I should have used the word A-hole? I’ll work on it…

      Objective thought #2 – since the only opinion I’ve offered yet this year is that I think they’ll beat Michigan handily in a surprisingly one-sided victory, I’m not sure it’s fair to characterize my thoughts as rainbows and sunshine. It’s not some undying belief that they’ll always be great. Nor do I think anybody with a different opinion is just icky. I do think there’s some idiots in here that should quit watching the games if they’re going to be all bent out of shape and predict the sky is falling after 22-point victories. Oh yeah, let’s run the stinkin’ coach out of town too because he held the clipboard wrong and got smoked during the frikkin’ NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP game(!). But getting back to objectivity, I think ND will be ‘solid’ and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them whip Michigan. Again – it’s college football, so anything could happen. They could lay a big golden egg for all anyone knows.

      Objective thought #3 – I wouldn’t ‘expect’ a national championship or even a ticket to the big game this year for ND. I wouldn’t ‘expect’ that for any team, any year. It’s too difficult of a task to take it as a given. Objectively speaking, I think coach Kelly and his staff have turned the Fighting Irish into a solid program again. I think we can expect the embarassing and humiliating play to stop. The team has a sense of pride, skilled athletes, big guys where you need them, and discipline. I think ND’s chances of going to the big game again this year died when Te’o and Golson disappeared from the roster. Objectively speaking, I’d expect more like 9 or 10 wins this year. I think they’ll be very good. I just don’t think the have the strength and leadership Te’o brought and I don’t think they have the X-factor in Golson that can propel them to the NC game.

      Objective thought #4: – I’m a fan, not a professional analyst. I’d be surprised if anyone here gets paid for objective analysis of college football. I get too much of that on ESPN anyway. Even the objective analysts are guessing 50% of the time, propping up ratings 25% of the time, and dead wrong the other 25% of the time. I’m not sure many people would show up here if it weren’t for posts like your stupid representations of us, and the colorful banter that goes on in between the occasional football opinions.

      Objective thought #5: – you’re an ass. It’s becoming clearer to me after re-reading your posts. I’m just “calling it like it is”

      Painting black unicorns today with scary red eyes,
      NDFaithful

    • ndfaithful - Sep 5, 2013 at 7:48 AM

      Hey, one more thought on this one…

      Objectively speaking – I was F’n right about almost all my predictions last year. My only real miss was that I expected a close game in the bowl game. All you haters that think I’m just a dreamer might wanto STFU and listen once in a while.

      • goblue33 - Sep 5, 2013 at 10:48 AM

        Lets all be honest. We are all homers. The truth is this game will again be close and come down to end of game. I’m a Michigan fan, and I saw us move the ball and have more total yards against ND “great D” last year and we self destructed. I give credit to ND but let’s face it, Denard made some dumb ass throws and fumbled. Despite 6 TO’s we only lost by 7 on road.

        Our D is better. We are 2 Dimensional now on O. We should have beat a good SC team in bowl (Gardner drove field for winning score and we lost with 11 sec left). This game is for sure under 7 points either way and probably 3 or under. I’m picking UM b/c we are at home and I’m a fan, but ND could certainly win by FG or less in close game.

      • ndfaithful - Sep 5, 2013 at 1:33 PM

        nobody knows… that’s why they play the games. Your ‘truth’ is just another hopeful prediction. I don’t see this one being very close. I also don’t buy into the “we would have won if we weren’t dumbass idiots that turned the ball over” way of thinking. Denard the tard was probably dizzy from meeting up with Manti in the hole too many times.

        I have no crystal ball, although it appears they sell them in the Michigan bookstore. I would predict an ND blowout this year.

      • ndgoldandblue - Sep 7, 2013 at 1:19 PM

        “I would predict an ND blowout this year.” Gee, that’s a big surprise. If your posts weren’t so damn predictable, I’d actually give them a little credence. But it’s the same crap from you every week. And I’m not a cynical or negative guy. Look to c4evr or fnc111 for that crap. I’m just tired of you attacking people and assuming we aren’t fans if we’re just a little worried about the Irish. I’ll call off my dogs if you call off yours toward me and everyone else who disagrees with you. Douche.

      • ndfaithful - Sep 8, 2013 at 10:43 AM

        I don’t care if you call off the dogs or not. I don’t take this stuff so personally or need freak out like you. When it comes to the game, I was surprised and obviously wrong about what I thought would happen. As for your other drivel, I don’t really know what you mean. Who’s attacking who? I really don’t care.

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