Fresh off their 52-14 pasting of Appalachian State, Michigan’s coaching staff met with the assembled media on Monday to discuss the victory as well as look forward to Notre Dame. Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke was coy with the local media, holding back some tweaks to his offensive line rotation, unwilling to state whether or not Graham Glasgow, a starter last season, was available or will play against the Irish.
“We’ve got a plan,” Hoke said, avoiding probably the third or fourth direct question about the offensive line. “It’ll be a good one.”
After a miserable year up front for the Michigan line, it didn’t always seem like that was the case. Even with first-rounder Taylor Lewan and third-round pick Michael Schofield, the Wolverines’ offense line finished 103rd in the country in rushing and dead last in tackles-for-loss allowed in the Big Ten.
Losing both Lewan and Schofield didn’t seem to hurt against Appalachian State, with running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith combining to run for 285 yards on just 23 carries. Hoke fired coordinator Al Borges, but kept his line coach Darrell Funk, who is now working with former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The Wolverines started true freshman Mason Cole at left tackle, with the rest of the two-deep looking extraordinarily young. Only center Jack Miller and right guard Joey Burzynski are upperclassmen.
There likely isn’t a more important matchup than Notre Dame’s young defensive line against the Wolverines’ offensive front. Brian VanGorder and Mike Elston have a big week in front of them, as a lot of familiar names return.
Speaking of familiarity, Hoke seemed to be rounding into midseason form when discussing the matchup with Notre Dame, though his review of the Irish running game seemed a little curious.
“We started that yesterday,” Hoke said, when asked reviewing the film. “I think that they rushed the ball pretty well against Utah State. I think that have two backs that are a little bit similar and one that’s a bigger bruiser guy and they ran the ball pretty well.”
Give Hoke credit, he knows color schemes — with the Owls and Aggies sharing uniform colors. But his review of the Irish trio on the ground leaves something (likely intentional) to be desired. Because after listening to defensive coordinator Greg Mattison talk about Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel, the attention to detail is a little bit more exact.
“We’ve had a chance to watch film on all of them,” Mattison said, his facial expression showing his respect for the Irish personnel. “I mean, we’ve spent since that game was really over to just two minutes ago when I came over, we’ve been watching Notre Dame.
“They have a very, very good football team like they always do. They’ve got a lot of speed, they’ve got good running backs.”
And so starts a week of reading behind the quotes from each head coach. Only in Notre Dame-Michigan does a rivalry game’s definition get debated for most of the week, as Brian Kelly found out. So while Hoke prefers to play coy, Mattison — who spent eight years in South Bend and coached under both Bob Davie and Ty Willingham — understands the magnitude of this game.
“Forever it’s been Notre Dame and Michigan,” Mattison said. “I know there’s a team in Ohio, too, I understand that. And there’s that team in Lansing, I understand that. But growing up, that was football.”