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 Eifert – 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
WR Michael Floyd
RB Jonas Grey
OG Trevor Robinson
DE Aaron Lynch
LB Darius Fleming
SS Harrison Smith
CB Robert Blanton
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.
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.
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.