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And in that corner…The Michigan Wolverines

Sep 4, 2013, 2:12 PM EDT

Central Michigan v Michigan Getty Images

Whatever we’re calling the Michigan-Notre Dame game, it’s immensely important. Not just for the fans, but for the trajectory of each team’s season. For the Irish, Saturday night’s battle in the Big House kicks off a tough five game stretch that has the Irish facing three straight Big Ten teams to go along with Oklahoma and Arizona State. For Michigan, it’s an early season victory that likely vaults them into the top ten, and is a springboard (along with assumed wins over Akron and UConn) into Big Ten action.

Gathering much from Michigan’s 50-point trouncing of Central Michigan is difficult. The bullet points are certainly there: Devin Gardner, some receiving weapons, and young and aggressive defense.

But to help us dig a little deeper is the Detroit News’ Angelique Chengelis. Covering the Wolverines beat since 1992, she’s seen quite a bit of the boys in maize and blue, and was kind enough to answer a few questions to get us up to speed on the big game.

I asked, she answered:

Winning by 50 points is an impressive way to open the season. Did the dominant victory over Central Michigan answer any of your offseason questions?

Only this question — would Michigan really play a lot of young players, including true freshmen? — and Brady Hoke did that, and I think in the end, that will be a big plus for this team. I think the interior of the offensive line is still a question mark and that depth chart, as offensive coordinator Al Borges said this week, is written in pencil. It was good to see Fitz Toussaint running the ball after his offseason of rehab from a broken left leg. It was also good to get an early look at freshman back Derrick Green, who has quickly climbed the depth chart from fifth to second (in part because of the season-ending injury to Drake Johnson), and as expected, freshman quarterback Shane Morris got in the game and got his feet wet.

***

For better or worse, this offense is in Devin Gardner’s hands. Watching last weekend’s game, he put together quite a highlight reel, but also threw two interceptions, including one inside his own 10 yard line. After having their struggles with Denard Robinson (until last year), what type of quarterback are the Irish facing in Gardner? 

While Gardner doesn’t have the electricity of Denard (or the untied shoelaces), he has great athleticism, and I like what he did when he scrambled. The ONLY positive to take from the picks is that he didn’t drown in those — he rebounded quickly and recovered well. Clearly, as we’ve seen these last few Michigan-Notre Dame games, avoiding turnovers is absolutely key. I do not expect to see Gardner, who, by the way, is a better passer than Denard, making a habit of such bad throws like the two against CMU that resulted in picks.

***

After a few good recruiting classes, there is some talented youth in Greg Mattison’s front seven. How will that group do against Notre Dame’s offensive line without Jake Ryan?

Michigan played a LOT of defensive linemen and rotated a lot at those spots — Quinton Washington this week said he was more refreshed than he’s ever been during and after a game because the rotation worked and kept everyone fresh. The linebackers were solid in the opener. Desmond Morgan played well, as did Cam Gordon and Brennen Beyer, the key guys replacing Ryan, and James Ross and Joe Bolden also got high marks.

***

Another big match-up is the battle up front between the Wolverine’s offensive line and the Irish’s tough front seven. How does the rebuilt interior of Michigan’s line look?

Well, it looks like it’s still a work in progress. Graham Glasgow, who started at left guard, and Jack Miller, who started at center, are still engaged in competition at center. While I wouldn’t expect any great lineup changes, Borges suggested that could be a possibility, that jobs are up in the air. Across the board, though, the staff seemed to like the performance of redshirt freshman right guard Kyle Kalis. Again, while they got valuable game experience in the opener against CMU, Notre Dame presents a much more complete package that more than likely will give the Michigan offensive line some fits.

***

Brian Kelly ruffled a few feathers when he said he didn’t consider Michigan to be one of Notre Dame’s historic rivals. Does anybody believe that? How do you characterize this rivalry from Michigan’s perspective? Considering the drama of the last few games, the rancor of the scheduling break, and the general disdain between the two schools’ fans, how big of a rivalry is this for Michigan?

I don’t think most people from either camp really believe that, but it has made for some fun conversations this week! I’ve always looked at it this way — Michigan State and Ohio State are Michigan’s most important rivalry games because they are vital in the Big Ten championship race. But Michigan considers Notre Dame its important non-conference rival. Because they are so similar in how their fan bases and programs value their traditions, and because they often recruit the same players and because they are the winningest programs, it carries that historic value. Michigan looks at the Notre Dame game as a battle against what often is a mirror image, and that games gives the Wolverines a better sense of who they are as a team and where they need to improve.

***

I believe you are on the record picking the Wolverines in this one already. What kind of game do you think we are in for on Saturday night?

I am taking Michigan, in part because of the cliche-but-true — homefield advantage. Not that that helped Michigan two years ago under the lights against Notre Dame those first three quarters, but in that fourth-quarter flourish, the players definitely fed off the crowd. I think we’ll see a few critical turnovers, because, well, we usually do. I think we’ll see an aggressive Michigan defense doing its best to rattle Tommy Rees, get him to hang onto the ball and overthink situations. There’s no doubt Devin Gardner is aware of how huge this stage will be, and he likes that stage. I think he will be steady and play well and will find tight end Devin Funchess on some critical throws. But overall, I think it’s the Michigan defense that will dictate this one.

***

A special thanks to Angelique for fitting this into her schedule this week. For more good stuff from her and the Detroit News, check out her Michigan coverage here, or follow her @Chengelis.

  1. vegasmark - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    Muck Fichigan.

    • dickasman - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:21 PM

      Hey, you misspelled that!!! Too many late nights w drunken strippers?

      • lambda02750 - Sep 4, 2013 at 4:49 PM

        No such thing as too many :)

  2. andy44teg - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    Michigan’s D will NOT dictate this game. I have a feeling that ND’s O will rack up the yardage much like back in ’11 minus the turnovers. I’m picking ND 28 scUM 17 ( I’d pick ND 31 but that would require a successful field goal attempt)

    • rdw71 - Sep 4, 2013 at 3:07 PM

      I am amazed at the negativity about the kicking game. IIRC, Brindza was 23 for 31 last year – not All-American, but very good. He was 0 for 1 against Temple, but Kelly attributed that to Massa’s hold. Extra points were fine. He’ll be fine, both as place kicker and punter. TJ Jones has re-energized the punt return game. I also think the concerns about the defensive front 7 are way overdone. These are the same guys who played last year; they are as good or better than then, except for the absence of Manti, and Grace had a good start. Do you really think the fact that they didn’t show that last week means anything except that we have smart coaches???

      I will be surprised if Michigan’s offense (or anyone’s other than Alabama) scores 17 on this defense.

      • ibleedirish - Sep 4, 2013 at 3:37 PM

        The negativity stems from the fact that Brindza was solid last year, but isn’t starting. Its asinine.

        If you don’t recognize the glaring deficiencies of our middle linebackers, there isn’t much I can say to you to change your mind I’m sure. They are beyond awful.

      • Hakuna Budi - Sep 4, 2013 at 4:04 PM

        I agree with you completely. I think there is way too much negativity on here in general (or just trolls), and I (along with Kelly from his most recent comments) thought the inside LBs played just fine. As you said, off to a good start. Special teams are always weakest early in the season. I think the trolls are all in for a good surprise come Saturday. I’m confident.

      • nudeman - Sep 4, 2013 at 5:33 PM

        As far as the punt return game being re-energized, while I agree that anything would be an improvement over last year, I think TJ had like 10 yards last Saturday.

        Re-energized?

      • andy44teg - Sep 4, 2013 at 5:51 PM

        I wouldn’t classify 23/31 as being very good. That’s 74%. Over 80% is what I would classify as being “very good.” Tausch’s kick looked like something you would see at a 9 man football game. If NT beat out Brindza then that’s not a good sign. He must’ve really struggled throughout fall camp. I think after the 2 opportunities we all saw wasted last week we can say that right now the kicking game sucks. Please, I don’t care who, Tausch or Brindza, prove me wrong.

      • kansasirish - Sep 4, 2013 at 7:31 PM

        Actually I just looked it up and T.J. averaged 7.7 yds per punt return…..not great,but a lot better than fair catching everything.

  3. Hakuna Budi - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Thanks Keith, great feature. I had no idea there was a Skunk Bears fan that didn’t reek of entitlement. I’m psyched the game appears like it will be decided up front. Go Irish!

    • irishdog80 - Sep 5, 2013 at 4:27 PM

      Up front is where ND has the advantage. We just need someone to step up and be the leader on our defense. We have the talent and the experience, but someone or several gusy need to energize and motivate the defense. Temple did not bring out those qualities in our defense. Michigan will.

      Go Irish! Beat Michigan!

  4. sullyp18 - Sep 4, 2013 at 3:28 PM

    I must admit I am nervous about this game, but I was not aware that Michigan’s defense was that solid. I thought they were especially weak at CB and safety

    • Hakuna Budi - Sep 4, 2013 at 3:55 PM

      I don’t think they are very solid. They are very young up front and I think we’ll really test their DBs …

  5. gtizzo - Sep 4, 2013 at 4:20 PM

    Keith I beg you to write this segment on you own,

    These interviews with people who have the football IQ of a pencil is really getting old. There is better analysis of the game on Bleacherreport.com and those guys don’t have a lot of standards for there writers. Anyone who follows football knows making a team one dimensional is the object of every defense. Michigan has problems up front and against a huge, talented front seven of the Irish that is a problem. The fact Devin Gardner is young himself and Michigan receivers still have something to prove (at least to me) should make the Irish favorites. The only reason Vegas and media like Michigan is because of Tommy Rees in 2011 and because Brady Hoke has yet to lose a home game. She would have been better of saying “I”m picking Michigan because there uniforms are blue just like the sky”.

    • ibleedirish - Sep 4, 2013 at 5:09 PM

      gtizzo
      I beg you, don’t read it if you don’t like it.

      • gtizzo - Sep 4, 2013 at 9:32 PM

        I did stop reading this segment last season after the Michigan State game. That was after Keith interviewed a man who passed preseason analysis for a reason why the Spartans were going to beat the Irish. I don’t play the game of “well I leave in this state I need to cheer for that states teams”. I’m in Florida…I don’t care about Florida or Florida State. I could care less what happens to Miami. I bleed blue and gold and I”m and Notre Dame fan for life. I would have gone much easier if she had offered this for picking Michigan:

        “I think Michigan will win because they have a better grouping of skill position players and will take advantage of Notre Dame’s lack of speed at linebacker”.

        I don’t agree with that statement, but it shows she has some sense of football knowledge. Instead she goes with home field advantage…wow there is some incite. Notre Dame went to USC and Oklahoma and won and she believes home field advantage matters!!! She has been following the team since 1992 and the best reason she can come up with to pick Michigan is home field advantage. Look I don’t know how many Michigan fans are on this site, but if a home town reporter offered me that reason I would be offended.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:58 PM

        Home field advantage is important enough for Vegas odds makers to attribute 2 1/2 to 3 pts to it on a betting line.

    • bearcatirishfan - Sep 4, 2013 at 6:23 PM

      What’s a hometown reporter supposed to say,hey we should loose by 10? Last week was an exception with the Philly writer. Don’t forget espn has Michigan as the only team able to beat Ohio state in the big 10, and could challenge for the national championship. While I have no reason to understand this confidence that is the popular opinion. These local writers here that and run with it it’s good for business.

      I just hope the Michigan players are listening ,I’ll take a young overconfident team any week.

      • papadec - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:38 PM

        bearcat – you don’t really swallow the espn bullshit – do you?

      • ndgoldandblue - Sep 4, 2013 at 9:08 PM

        I agree with your last sentence wholeheartedly. Last year, before the MSU game, everyone from Michigan State was talking about how the Spartans were going to “out-physical” the Irish. The journalist Keith interviewed, whose name escapes me, stated as such, and the players echoed those sentiments. In short, there was a lot of talk coming out of East Lansing last year. Clearly, the team bought into their own hype too much, and we outclassed them.

        I hope the players from Michigan do the same as their intrastate rival did last year. I hope they buy the hype that has been heaped upon them by the media (national and local). If they go into the game thinking that they will walk over the Irish as MSU did last year, we will own these (fill in the blank with your chosen expletive) guys.

      • bearcatirishfan - Sep 4, 2013 at 9:25 PM

        Papadec, no I think they have become mostly a tabloid network with guys like cowturd and Bayless, etc. following the Fox News paradigm if I yell louder than the other guy I must be right despite the facts mantra. No political spin here msnbc and CNN’s pundits do the same.

        I guess I just don’t understand why hoke gets called a great recruiter so Michigan is a force to reckon with. While ND has had higher ranked classes and we are doomed.

        Oklahoma is another good example. Maybe the fact that I think is my problem I really should stop doing that. But then I might become just an angry little man like fnc with nothing but venom to spew.

        Here’s an idea for espn, whichever pundit chooses the loser, all those who choose Michigan in this case, get voted on by espn viewers. Person with the most votes has to appear on gameday finale in their underwear or a dress tranny style. Betcha they would think a little longer about their picks.

  6. ajw21 - Sep 4, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    Every week Keith gets someone who covers the other team. Its gives us a different perspective we can’t see being Irish fans. Don’t get bent out of shape because someone who follows Michigan expects them to win. I would expect Keith to choose ND most games if he was asked by someone who follows another team.
    Go Irish!

  7. fnc111 - Sep 4, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    In that corner… Cowards from Meatchicken…. Hoke is two faced and needs to get back to his job at Pizza Hut.

    • ndgoldandblue - Sep 4, 2013 at 9:10 PM

      Now, you’re starting to make some sense.

  8. irishair - Sep 4, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    We need to weather the first couple of series, if we do that we will be just fine! Go Irish!

    • papadec - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:40 PM

      and the last few in the 4Q.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 5, 2013 at 12:03 AM

        And don’t forget those middle quarters also.

  9. 25kgold - Sep 4, 2013 at 6:15 PM

    -_-

  10. 1notredamefan - Sep 4, 2013 at 6:40 PM

    Nobody wants to talk about this and I should probably wait till after midnight on Sun… But I am amazed at how we came out last sat. and for all those worried about this and that… I really hope it’s just talking points like that of the skip or steveA (ESPN Douchery) I’d just love to go back a few years but I’m just too damn tired to look that crap up… Don’t a worry be a Happy… GO IRISH!!

  11. sinister23 - Sep 4, 2013 at 7:26 PM

    You guys are garbage this year, I’d bet my soul we win by 21 or more. Go Blue, ND is pathetic

    • notredameirish1980 - Sep 4, 2013 at 7:38 PM

      Sounds like your soul is already bought and paid for.

    • irishair - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:00 PM

      lets count all your friends here..done

    • papadec - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:44 PM

      sin – you can’t bet what you don’t have – you lost your soul on the same foolish bet two years ago, under the lights! Thanks for the laugh – I needed it. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • ndgoldandblue - Sep 4, 2013 at 9:16 PM

      Why are you here? Seriously. If Michigan loses this Saturday, will you finally go away?

  12. 10of14 - Sep 4, 2013 at 10:57 PM

    She says that Freshman back Derrick Green was already moving up and really near the #2 spot; not what I heard from “inside” the UM huddle. While Green is talented, he is not anywhere near the #2 back as stated, so don’t try to understate the injury to the true and clear second best back at UM. If Tousiant gets hurt, they are in trouble; plain and simple.

    • alsatiannd - Sep 5, 2013 at 7:47 AM

      I don’t remember Toussaint ever causing us a problem before.

  13. mediocrebob - Sep 5, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    Derrick Green ran for almost 60 yards on 11 carries last week. I know that was against Central, but he led UM backs for the day. I don’t think they’re in trouble if something were to happen to Tousaint by any means.

    I would love to see more of Bryant this week. Thought he’d see more carries last week.

    And FNC: “meatchicken” is the worst nickname for a hated rival of all time. Let the Buckeye fans have that one. Terrible.

  14. irishbias - Sep 5, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    Michigan is definetly over confident what else could we expect. If CMU picked off Gardner twice, i like ND’s chances to get that many as well. Especially considering the fact that meeeeeshagin is worried about the interior of the offensive line!!! I am pretty sure CMU doesn’t have Irish Chocolate, Tuitt, Jarron Jones, Sheldon Day, Prince, Ishaq, and Jaylon Smith on that side of the ball. Let alone Bennett, KeiVarae, Mathias, Lo, Collinsworth, Shumate defending the pass.

    After watching our offensive line last week, I also like our chances of dominating their young front 7. Pistol, and play action!!!

    Still nervous about Tommy, but if he can play as well as he did last week I think the Irish get the W. Gardner’s escapibility also makes me nervous considering what the redshirt frosh from Temple did last week.

    The Irish need to shut the Big House up early and then keep them in the corner for the rest of the night.

    #GoIrish

  15. kazmar619 - Sep 5, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    All one has to do is watch the front 7 of Mich last week and the front 7 of ND last week. Mich looked ready to beat Alabama and ND well they weren’t even close to their 2012 form. Unless ND’s front 7 somehow learn to play defense in one week, Mich is going to beat ND in a big bad way this Saturday.

    • alsatiannd - Sep 5, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      Meatchicken’s 7 were playing against a basement team who lost their starting quarterback and running back in the first quarter to injury. Fine by me if they take that and start looking past their next game.

      • irish4006 - Sep 5, 2013 at 1:13 PM

        Please stop. WTF is meatchicken? You are now taking cues from fnc, that is probably the lowest of the low points you’ll reach in your lifetime.

    • irish4006 - Sep 5, 2013 at 1:20 PM

      Yes kazmar, we are shaking in our boots. ooooh, the scary UM defense.

      As for ND’s front seven, you have a good point. They need to learn how to play defense in a hurry. If they play like they did in the first game, it will be tough.

      You go ahead and start counting your eggs and set your eyes on the OSU game (since they already look ready to beat Alabama) for a perfect season, all I am hoping for is ND to play a good game this Saturday. ND is very capable of beating UM, all we need to do is reach about 90% of our potential on both O and D.

  16. 1historian - Sep 5, 2013 at 2:55 PM

    GOOD GUYS – 24

    BAD GUYS – 10

  17. mediocrebob - Sep 5, 2013 at 3:11 PM

    Yes kazmar … Lets hope that notre dame front7 learns to play football this week…?

  18. sinister23 - Sep 6, 2013 at 7:54 AM

    I will NEVER post again if we lose Saturday! BUT, when blue wins I wanna see you Notre Lame fans say GO BLUE

  19. irishbias - Sep 6, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    Sin… Go to a meeshagin board… I think you might find more friends there.

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