Grading The Performance: Notre Dame

The Good

Devin Gardner to Jeremy Gallon- Michigan fans have seen dynamic QB-WR duos in the past. Grbac to Howard, Brady to Terrell, and Henne to Edwards/Manningham come immediately to mind. While duos of the past have often produced stunning numbers, few have displayed the kind of relationship that the nation was treated to on Saturday night. Gardner and Gallon acted in unison for most of the night and seemed to be connected almost telepathically. The back shoulder fades that Notre Dame found so difficult to defend takes an enormous amount of practice and trust between QB and WR and Michigan’s 2013 duo made it look easy. Devin and Jeremy put on a beautiful display of teamwork and execution on Saturday that is likely the envy of many in both college and the NFL.

The Bad

Nonexistent pass rush- Getting pressure on the QB with a 4 man rush has been the major point of emphasis for the Michigan defense since the end of last season. Despite multiple opportunities for Michigan defenders to go one on one, the Wolverines failed to consistently beat blocks and pressure the QB. Notre Dame used a variety of maximum protections to keep Tommy Rees upright. Michigan struggled to beat blocks and get pressure with a 4 man rush even on the occasions when Notre Dame did not leave backs and TEs in to block however.

The Ugly

4th Quarter Interception- There were a number of instances that could have gone in this space. Notre Dame’s horrific secondary, Eminem’s bizarre halftime interview, Louis Nix’s nonexistent vertical jump. In the end, Devin Gardner’s interception in the endzone was too ugly to ignore. In reality the entire drive could have been include but Devin’s decision to throw the ball while being tackled in the endzone takes the cake. While ultimately not costing Michigan the game, the play marred was was otherwise a flawless performance for Mr. Gardner.


QB: A-

A single offensive series keeps the grade from reaching A+ level. Devin was the maestro for a Michigan offense that seemed unstoppable.


Two of the biggest plays, a run and a reception, occurred on a single drive in the 4th quarter when it mattered most. With limited running room, Fitz Toussaint was able to eek out a number of big plays purely on effort.


The difference in the game was the Michigan passing game, highlight by the playmakers outside. Gallon, Jake Butt, Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, and Devin Funchess all contributed big plays to a stellar day through the air.

O-line: C+

Notre Dame’s defensive line and constant blitzing did a number on the Michigan offensive line. The holes were few and far between and Devin was running for his life on too many occasions. Jack Miller put forth a Heraclea effort inside against Louis Nix, though the interior had issues overall identifying and picking up blitzers.

D-line: C

The lack of pass rush was alarming for the 2nd game in a row, registering zero sacks and only 2 TFL. Michigan is badly in need of high impact, game changing defensive linemen.

LBers: B-

Michigan’s LBers did an adequate job of filling run lanes and making tackles but there were issues with drops into coverage and proper pursuit. James Ross put in a Dr. Jerkel-Mr. Hyde performance, looking like an All-American one series then following it up by looking like a true freshman the next. Both Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon did a great job making plays from the SAM position.

Secondary: B

Thanks to the defensive gameplan, the primary job of the secondary on Saturday was coming up and making tackles. The Wolverines did a masterful job of limiting the yards after catch for the Irish and also managed to produce two huge turnovers. Blake Countess is well on his way to becoming a bonafied playmaker.

Special teams: D

A dropped punt, a shanked kick, and poor kick coverage all played into a special teams unit that struggled to contribute in a positive way for the team.

A: Unit played as close to flawless as possible. Unit played well enough to win the game on their own.

B: Unit had a major positive impact on the game but also had several assignment/execution miscues.

C: Unit did not negatively or positively affect the game. Unit made key positive plays along with several errors.

D: Unit made multiple critical errors that could potentially cost the team a win. Unit blew assignments and had poor execution across the board.

F: Play of the unit was bad enough that it could directly cost the team a victory.

Note: Plus and minuses denote degrees of the grade.

Notre Dame Game Prediction

Electricity will fill the air Saturday in Ann Arbor, perhaps for the last time in the storied rivalry that is Michigan Vs ND. Some hundred plus years ago, Michigan taught the little leprechauns the brutal game of intercollegiate football, and hope to do so again Under the Lights in only the second night game in the 86 year history of the Big House. If the first time was any indication, we’re in for a treat at Stadium and Main. It’s the kind of setting that would just seem perfect for Keith Jackson.

With Michigan’s main three rivals all struggling to a certain extent with MAC schools in week one, The Wolverines handled CMU by half a hundred. While we shouldn’t read too much into that, it’s hard to ignore the success Michigan had, in spite of the numerous teaching moments. The secondary without its starting safeties ( one to injury, one to suspension) was human for much of the game in spite of the front seven generating a good amount of pressure. Some of that should be cleaned up this week, and both safeties return at least in part, assuming Courtney Avery hasn’t suffered any setbacks in his recovery from minor knee surgery.

The linebacking corp showed signs of excellence, even without potential all American Jake Ryan, and for the most part tackled very well.

By and large, the front 4 played well, generating pressure, albeit against a young, less talented offensive line, and a team which lost a starting QB and 1500 yard rusher in the first quarter to significant injuries.

On the offensive side of the ball, the line played very well. Holes were enormous on several occasions, and Devin Gardner had little pressure. Even the second team OL played very well, showing how the past couple of years in recruiting that group is paying great dividends.

Devin Gardner had success, in spite of a couple of ill advised throws, and continued to show how dangerous he is running the football when the play breaks down or simply isn’t there.

Brian Kelly brings his Fighting Irish in after a 28-6 victory over Temple. While the score is much closer than one might have thought, ND did put up over 500 yards of offense. They have explosive offensive weapons, as only one of their 4 scoring drives was over 3 plays. That being said, Michigan will be able to put more pressure on Tommy Rees, who has shown the propensity to turn the ball over under pressure (see 2011 UTL1).

On defense, you can definitely see that the Irish miss Manti Te’o in the middle, and from the film I watched of the second half of the Temple game Louis Nix was gassed. He looked physically exhausted. Carrying 357 pounds will do that to you. Expect Michigan to pound the leather on the ground. Even if they aren’t as successful as they would like early. If you wear out Nix in the second half, by constant double teams, he will be sucking on an oxygen mask. Temple showed that ND is susceptible on the edges and I expect to see the stretch running plays as well. Even if it’s not a normal thing for Al Borges to show, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some hurry up offense.  In the passing game, ND has a couple of good corners, but has inexperience up the middle, both in LB and Safety spots. I expect the TE’s to play a huge role in this game, especially Devin Funchess. He’s a mismatch that they can exploit.

If one thing Tommy Rees is good at, it’s pre-snap reads. He’s very good at getting the Irish into the right play. DC Greg Mattison will do his best to disguise what he’s doing, and he’s got the team speed to do it. If I were Brian Kelly, I’d try to run some hurry up offense as well. Michigan has so much depth on the defensive line, that he could neutralize that by running some no huddle.

At the end of the day, similar to last year, turnovers will reign supreme. If Devin Gardner can protect the football, Michigan should score a decent amount of points. I also don’t think Notre Dame will be able to sustain long drives on Michigan, and if the safeties keep the ball in front of them, ND more often than not will stall. 

Michigan 27, Notre Dame 17.

Notre Dame Preview

What to watch on offense

Brian Kelly led rapid turnarounds at both Cincinnati and Central Michigan before taking over an underachieving Notre Dame program hoping to do the same. While it took longer than previous stops, Kelly now returns thirteen starters off of a team that produced an undefeated regular season, and a National Championship berth. Kelly largely serves as his own offensive coordinator, though he retains Chuck Martin as a major player in the game planning and preparation. Kelly earned his offensive reputation as a spread coach but has run a more traditional offense in South Bend.

One of the biggest stories of the off season was the dismissal of QB Everett Golson from the team for an academic violation. Golson, who led the Fighting Irish to an undefeated season, was the most dynamic member of the Notre Dame offense and represents a significant loss. Even with the loss of Golson, Notre Dame still returns a QB with game experience in Tommy Rees (18 career starts). The Irish return a pair of starting WRs in the speedy TJ Jones, who produced over 600 yds last year, and the physically imposing DaVaris Daniels. The Irish lost its leading receiver from a year ago in Tyler Eifert and the Irish will attempt to replace him with a committee approach led by Troy Niklas.

The Irish head into the season having lost its top two rushers in Theo Reddick and Cierre Wood. George Atkinson who saw averaged over 7 ypc a year ago has taken over the mantle at RB, though Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel will also see extended snaps

The top two returning linemen are Zack Martin and Chris Watt, both of whom play on the left side of the line. The interior of the line entered the season as a question mark, thanks to the Irish breaking in a new C and RG.

Best Offensive Player

DaVaris Daniels – Daniels is the most physically gifted of the Irish offensive players and has drawn comparison to former Golden Domer Michael Floyd. At 6’2 200lbs, Daniels is a large and physical target that presents major matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Head Coach: Brian Kelly-4th Year

Off Coor: Chuck Martin-2nd Year

Def Coor: Bob Diaco-4th Year

2012 Record


Returning Starters



Key Losses

QB Everett Golson (suspended)

TE Tyler Eifert

RB Theo Riddick

RB Cierre Wood

OC Braxston Cave

DE Kapron Lewis-Moore

LB Manti Te’o

SS Zeke Matta

Key Returners

WR TJ Jones

WR DaVaris Daniels

QB Tommy Rees

OT Chris Watt

DT Louis Nix

DE Stephon Tuitt

LB Prince Shembo

CB Bennett Jackson

CB Keivarae Russell

What to watch on defense

Bob Diaco presided over a 2012 defensive unit that finished 2nd in the country in scoring defense, and 7th in total defense. 8 starters return to an Irish defense that has fully embraced the 3-4 schemes. Diaco lives to pressures the QB and control the line of scrimmage with his linemen, allowing the LBers to roam freely.

The Irish boast two of the best defensive linemen in the country in DE Stephon Tuitt and the insanely large Louis Nix at NT. While the Irish lose the services of Kapron Lewis-Moore who accounted for six sacks a year ago, they replace him with the highly touted sophomore Sheldon Day who saw action in all 13 games a year ago.

Manti Te’o put together one of the greatest defensive seasons in Notre Dame history and was a Heisman candidate a year ago. Left in his wake are seniors OLBs Prince Shembo and Dan Fox who both recorded over 50 tackles a year ago. Replacing Te’o at MLB is sophomore Jarret Grace who saw limited action a year ago.

The Irish return both starting CBs, including the physical Bennett Jackson who finished 3rd on the team in tackles a year ago. The Irish break in two new starting safeties in Elijah Shumate and Matthias Farely. While both players saw action a year ago, neither has played extensive minutes at the safety position.

Best Defensive Player

Stephon Tuitt/Louis Nix – It’s impossible to really say which of the Irish linemen is the best. Both Tuitt and Nix play major roles in Bob Diaco’s defense and both are expected to go in the first round of the NFL draft. Nix is a space eater that every team not named Alabama found impossible to move a year ago while Tuitt was a terror for opposing QBs, registering 13 sacks.

Michigan Rush Def vs. Notre Dame Off

The Wolverines were stout against the run against helpless Central Michigan, allowing under 70 yds on the ground. Stopping the run remains the focal point for the Michigan coaches and the Wolverines have their best defenders engaged in the run game.

Notre Dame had little trouble running the ball against Temple last week but questions remain concerning the overall ability of the Irish to run the ball when needed. The interior of the line and the loss of their two leading rushers leaves them with a stark disadvantage.

Advantage – Michigan

Michigan Pass Def vs. Notre Dame Off

The Irish boast two very talented WRs in Jones and Daniels, both of whom have the ability to keep opposing DCs up a night. Tommy Rees is capable passer who has seen his share of success against the Wolverines secondary in the past.

The Wolverines suffered several breakdowns a week ago against Central Michigan but return senior Thomas Gordon and Courtney Avery at safety. Along with the pass rush, the secondary remains the major question mark of the Michigan defense.

Advantage – Notre Dame

Michigan Rush Off vs. Notre Dame Def

Michigan has committed to a power running game and while the results a week ago were sometimes inconsistent, the Wolverines showed flashes of a brilliant rushing attack.

Unless your jersey colors are crimson and white, you don’t successfully run the ball on Notre Dame. Even with the loss of Te’o the Irish have one of the best rush defenses in the country

Advantage – Notre Dame

Michigan Pass Off vs. Notre Dame Def

Devin Gardner had his share of struggles a week ago, tossing two bad interceptions. Though he rebounded nicely, the Michigan passing attack is far from humming on all cylinders. The Wolverines continue to search for a playmaker to compliment Jeremy Gallon.

Aided by an outstanding front 7, the Irish secondary face little in the way of true pressure a year ago and through the first game that fact remains the same. Breaking in two new safeties leaves the Domers with vulnerabilities. Much will depend on the pass rush and taking pressure off the back 4.

Advantage – Push

2012 Game Preview – Notre Dame

Brian Kelly’s Michigan Week Press Conference

What to watch on offense

Head Coach Brian Kelly is known for his offensive prowess. After successful runs at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, Kelly has struggled to engineer the same level of offensive success at Notre Dame. Kelly is among the increasing list of coaches who have been labeled a “spread guru.” A master of the WR route tree, Kelly’s version of the spread favors the pass over the run. Kelly’s offense hinges on taking what the defense gives and exploiting one on one match ups in the passing game. 4 WR and empty sets are the norm for Kelly’s offense even when he has a talented RB on the roster.

Off the field issues sidelined Tommy Rees heading into fall camp, paving the way for redshirt freshman Everett Golson to take over at the QB position. While noted for his athletic ability, Golson is an underrated passer with a powerful arm who isn’t afraid to take shots down the field. The graduation of Michael Floyd left a huge gap at WR for the Irish who have been using multiple WRs to try to replace his production. Speedy sophomore George Atkinson has been used a variety of roles on offense, lining up at QB, RB, and WR. Look for the Irish to get Atkinson the ball in space, in one on one match ups, or on end arounds and reverses.

1,100 yd rusher Cierre Wood returns for ND and leads an Irish rushing attack that gashed a stout Michigan State rush defense for 123 yds. The offensive line returns 3 starters from last year and insert the talented Christian Lombard in at RT this year.


Best Offensive Player

Tyler EifeTyler Eifertrt – ND has produced 2 straight All-Americans at the TE position. Kyle Rudolph gave way to Eifert who accounted for more than 800 yds and 5 TDs a year ago. Eifert is a match up nightmare for opposing defenses, showing the ability to run away from LBs and outmuscle DBs in the passing game.

Head Coach– Brian Kelly -3rd year

Off Coor– Chuck Martin -1st year

Def Coor– Bob Diaco -3rd year

2011 Record



Returning Starters



Key Losses

WR Michael Floyd

RB Jonas Grey

OG Trevor Robinson

DE Aaron Lynch

LB Darius Fleming

SS Harrison Smith

CB Robert Blanton

Key Returners

RB Cierre Wood

OT Zack Martin

TE Tyler Eifert

LB Manti Te’o

DT Louis Nix

DE Stephon Tuitt

LB Prince Shembo

What to watch on defense

For years the Notre Dame’s defense has been the butt of jokes, and rightfully so. Slow, unathletic, and patently overrated, the Irish defense was easy to carve up via the run or the pass. The arrival and Kelly and DC Bob Diaco have put a sudden stop to the joke thus far this season. While ND has been known for its offense in the recent past, the current ND defense boast multiple NFL prospects in its front 7, something it has rarely enjoyed. Diaco is known for his 3-4 defenses but consistently played with a 4 man front against the Wolverines a year ago. Diaco is uber aggressive in most games but has largely refrained from his patented sell-out blitzes against Michigan after being torched by them in 2010.

The Irish have the best defensive front 7 they’ve enjoyed since the late 90s under Bob Davie. Considering the play of the Irish defense in recent years that probably doesn’t sound like much, but this unit is actually one of the most talented in the country. The strength of the unit is the defensive line where Kapron Lewis-Moore, Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, and OLB/DE Prince Shembo are all difference makers with NFL potential. The 6’6 295 Tuitt is the best of the bunch despite being a true sophomore. Tuitt is a terror inside and makes his living penetrating into the backfield.

The most well known Irish defender is Sr. Manti Te’o who earned 3rd team All-American honors a year ago and is the favorite for the Butkus award this season. Rated by many as the #1 MLB prospect in April’s NFL draft, Te’o brings a rare mix of size, speed, and power.

Notre Dame’s secondary has been decimated by injuries. Even before the injuries hit the Irish, the secondary was a major question mark. Injuries have turned an already shaky secondary into a disaster. Safety Zeke Motta remains the lone Irish DB with extensive experience. True freshman Elijah Shumate has turned heads with his play thus far but he has yet to be challenged by a WR with both size and speed outside.

Best Defensive Player

Manti Te’o/Stephon Tuitt – Te’o’s name will come as no surprise to most, but it is the play of Stephon Tuitt that has really turned around the Irish defense. Te’o played at an All-American level a year ago yet the Irish still surrendered a lot of yards and points against the talented offenses on Notre Dame’s schedule. Tuitt has been the real difference maker and he already has NFL scouts drooling over his potential

Michigan Rush Def vs. ND Rush Off

Rush defense has been the major cause of concern for Brady Hoke and the Wolverines. The Wolverines rank 107th in the country in rush defense and have yet to shut down an opposing rush offense.

While Brian Kelly will always favor the pass the run, he knows the importance of a semi balanced approach. The Irish rank 71st in the country with 155 yds per game on the ground.

Advantage- Notre Dame

Michigan Pass Def vs. ND Pass Off

Michigan currently ranks 12th in pass defense in the country and while they have yet to face a prominent passing attack, the Wolverines secondary remains the most experience unit on the Michigan defense.

The loss of Floyd coupled with having a young passer at QB has resulted in an average passing attack for the Fighting Irish. Notre is tied with Michigan as the 67th ranked passing offense in the country.

Advantage- Michigan

Michigan Rush Off vs. ND Rush Def

Notre Dame’s strength on defense is in its front 7, especially against the run. The Irish allow a paltry 96 yds per game and held a strong Michigan State rushing attack to 50yds on 2.2yds per carry

Michigan continues to struggle with its run blocking despite large gains on the ground by Denard Robinson. For the first time in the last 3 years Michigan heads into the match up with the Irish with question marks about the running game.

Advantage-Notre Dame



Michigan Pass Off vs. ND Pass Def

The emergence of Devin Gardner at WR and Devin Funchess at TE has changed Michigan’s fortunes in the passing game. Boy plays have showed the ability to make big plays in the passing and have combined with Michigan’s other pass catches to form a decently productive unit. If Denard Robinson can channel his excitement level, deal with pressure in his face and deliver consistently accurate passes the Wolverines will have the change to put up monster numbers in the passing game.

Simply put, the Irish secondary is a mess. The recent loss of safety Jamoris Slaughter has turned the Irish secondary into Armageddon.

Advantage- Michigan