The Great Debate: Notre Dame

So we just recently put our various toughts and opinions out there well in advance for the upcoming season... and naturally there were a few games that the three of us didn't quite all see eye to eye on.  So why not dig a little deeper and put more fodder out there for each of us to look like complete and total idiots geniuses in a few months? Sounds like a plan to us.

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The first installment will concern the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Our ridiculously early predictions were as follows: Beauford (ND), Dave (M),  and SCM (M). Without furhter ado: questions... with answers!

1. A a two-parter: Considering that both teams have first week matchups that should be garnering all of their attention, which team is the most likely to be looking ahead to the following week and end up struggling more than you would expect?  Do you feel either team's opponent features something that will give the other an advantage in the film-room heading into our matchup?

Dave - I think both teams picked opponents that set them up nicely for the week two match up. Michigan gets a "pro-style" offense that should actually be pretty good (Tim Hiller is a decent 5th year qb). Notre Dame gets to play against the "Pistol" offense of Nevada. While there's obviously going to be a steep increase in the talent level between week one and week two, both teams get a decent taste of the other's offense before the meet up in Ann Arbor. If anyone's getting less than they pay for in these match ups, I'm guessing that it's Notre Dame. The Pistol is a modified spread, but the level of talent is really, really low in comparison and the Pistol is kind of an option offense that is more reminisant of Nebraska's early 90's offense than Rodriguez's. I'm picking at straws here, looking for bad things, but really both teams have good week one match ups going into week two.

As for who could get caught looking ahead? I guess I go with Notre Dame. Michigan's not good enough, at least right now to take ANY team for granted. Notre Dame is. I don't think either team can look one week ahead, but based on last season if one was going to do it, it'd be Notre Dame.

Beauford The premise of this question rests on whether either team is good enough to be "caught looking ahead" rather than "getting their ass beat."  I actually wasn't aware that Nevada had a football team (it turns out they do) or that they run this "pistol" offense, which looks like a spread.  Here's the key to football offenses, kiddies, if it features anything but a robotic statue with a pumkin' chunker for an arm, it's the spread.  Sometimes, even pumkin' chunker QB's' run the spread.  When in doubt, call it the spread.

I digress.  

My point here is that Notre Dame is probably good enough this year to handle Nevada even if Notre Dame has an "off" day.  Michigan is probably not good enough to handle Western Michigan if they start trending towards "off."  I'm not even 100% sure that Michigan is going to be good enough to handle Western if they're 100% on.  Which team might get caught looking ahead?  Notre Dame.  Which team might just get their ass beat?  Michigan.  And I don't say that just to be Drew Sharp, I don't feel like dousing myself in that much douche.  Here are the facts though:

1)  Michigan went 3-9 last year
2)  Michigan starts a true freshman QB who is not Chad Henne
3)  Michigan went 3-9 last year
4)  Michigan is going into their third consecutive year with a new defensive coordinator

I think there is more than enough evidence to be sufficiently, maybe even borderline paranoid, pessimistic for next year.  Which team is going to give the other something to look at on film?  Well, I think both will.  Notre Dame will definitely have their "Michigan" package in defensively against Nevada.  Likewise, Michigan will have their "Notre Dame" package in for Western.  There shouldn't be too many surprises other than "how many chins will Weis have today" from either team. [no word limits in this debate by the way - Ed]

SCM -  I honestly don't think either team will be looking ahead.  Nevada has a football team that returns the majority of the 3rd ranked rushing attack and 5th ranked overall offense in the country last year (I can hear the screams of "who did they play?" now).  Point being, they aren't exactly the Coast Guard that we all know ND would play annually if, you know, the Coast Guard fielded a football team. Michigan on the other hand has no business looking past anyone.  After 2007 and 3-9 last year, I hope in my heart of hearts that we have changed our attitude in terms of how we approach those kinds of games.  Part two? The only film benefits that either team gains from the first week will be the following:

A. ND will get a look at Tate Forcier/Denard Robinson actually taking real snaps in a real college game and also what players are in the secondary that week.

B. Michigan will get some idea of we might be looking at in terms of ND's new 4-3 defense.

2. Many a wise man has pointed out that the game is won in the trenches, which team is more likely to have the advantage in the matchups between the big uglies on the O-line and D-line?

Dave - Notre Dame has a clear advantage on the O v. D line matchup. Face it, Michigan supposedly had one of its better interior lines last year and got smacked around by Notre Dame. The Domers on the line are veteran, they're big, and they're no longer coached by a complete moron. However, I'll also say that Michigan's Oline should manhandle ND's D line in a similar fashion. The ND Dline wasn't good last year and they are really, really thin this year. And like ND's OLine, Michigan's boys are veteran, finally have some depth, get a huge talent upgrade and they're healthy. I get the feeling this has the potential to be a shoot out as a result. 

BB - I've pointed it out before.  Notre Dame returns nearly all starters, and 100% upperclassmen on their offensive line.  The recruiting rankings, at least, for each of those linemen were through the roof.  Ergo, ipso facto, ad hom, Notre Dame will have a good offensive line.  Michigan, meanwhile, will be working any last kinks out of a defensive scheme that features a death-backer.  Anything featuring a death-backer must be dangerous, complicated, and if executed properly, awesome.  Will Michigan be executing properly on every play?  I kinda doubt it.  Our best player, maybe on the whole team, is Brandon Graham.  He'll be able to handle whatever ND throws at him.  The rest of the line?  I just don't know.  Add onto that a new scheme, and I think the advantage goes to ND for their offensive line.

Meanwhile, on the flip side, Michigan actually has a 2-deep for offensive line, which, yay.  Also actually: Michigan has some experience coming back on that line that wasn't 100% suck last year.  I haven't looked at ND's defensive line, but the TEE-NOO-TA BLITZ may give us some problems.  It's not all doom and gloom here though; our offensive line should be MUCH improved from last year (of course, "much improved" is a relative term...).  I'd call this a push without digging too deeply into it.

SCM - The strength vs strength matchup is ND's O-line vs our D-line, with the nod going to ND.  I worry a bit about whether our scheme will handcuff Graham's ability from the outside and while we have definite talent across the line, it's young.  BB and Dave are both right in that experience is about as valuable of an asset there is on the O-line.  ND's O-line was good for the 100th ranked rushing offense last year, but did manage to actually protect Clausen coming in 45th in sacks allowed.  I don't foresee them being a force of nature this early in the season, but I think they'll definitely be solid.  Will Michigan's defense be ready to deal with solid the second week of the year?  On the flip side, I think the Michigan O-line gets the check-mark against ND's D-line for very similar reasoning to that stated above.

3. For you "quarterback cultivators" out there, I give you Jimmy Clausen on the road last season:

@ USC, 11-22 for 41 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs...
@ BC 26-46 for 226 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs...
@ Washington 14-26 for 201 yards,  1 TD, 1 INT...
@ UNC 31-48 for 383 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs...
@ MSU 24-41 for 242 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs...

So that works out to 4 TDs against 11 picks... please discuss.

Dave - There's really not a lot to discuss. Clausen was still growing up last year. The guy made some bad bone headed throws, but he also made a couple of good ones. Clausen's an enigma to me. He should be better than he's played. I apportion a lot of that blame to the O line. He's gotten the hell beat out of him the last two years. But realistically Clausen's pocket presence is atrocious, almost Henne-esque in avoiding the rush. He's at his best when he's got time and can let his arm air the ball deep. But I think the reason for the 4/11 numbers are (1) the competition [10 of those INTs were against bowl teams]; and (2) happy feet. Clausen just trusts his arm too much to make throws a QB completes 10% of the time. I think you'll see a vast improvement this year out of Clausen, provided his line keeps him upright. But a trip to the Big House, where he was mauled during his last appearance, could rattle him a tad as could the noise off the new boxes. We'll have to see whether his INTs are more a function of growing up or a result of insecurity away from South Bend. I'm betting its the former, rather than the latter. 

BB - You conveiniently leave out the bowl game appearance, which was in Hawaii...against Hawaii... so if you add on those 4 TD's, he's at 8 to 11, which is still not great.  His home stats actually ahve 11 TD's to 4 picks, ironically enough.  So what do you get?  A mediocre quarterback.  The question is "what can Clausen become?"  My guess is that as long as he's "got it" physically, he'll become a pretty good QB.  Look, you don't coach Tom Brady as a rookie with no experience into the superbowl without knowing how to manage QB's.  Is Weis going to turn Clausen into something physically that he's not?  No.  But Weis IS going to take Clausen's natural ability, and put him into situations offensively where he can succeed.  What more is there to coaching QB's?  He's not a position coach, he's not going to teach him to throw further.  What I can guarentee Weis WILL DO is analyse Clausen's strengths, and maximize those on the field.  He did it for Brady.  He did it for Quinn.  There's a track record here.  I don't like the guy, but to claim that he doesn't put QB's in good situations is ignoring the obvious facts.

SCM -   BB and I simply don't see eye to eye on this, we're ok with it, but it's worth mentioning at the outset.  It was 5 TDs against Hawaii, and no, I didn't think to throw the bowl game in there when I grabbed the road games off of last year's schedule.  Dave teased out the point I was actually getting at here, and that is, against actual competition, ND's quarterbacks (Quinn can get thrown in here too) have been "meh" at best.  This ill-begotten myth that somehow Charlie Weis is a mastermind who will maximize his QB's performance doesn't pan out when you look at the numbers when it matters.  Brady Quinn against ranked teams in his senior year (Penn State, Michigan, USC, and LSU)?  8 TDs against 5 INTS... for the rest of the year the guy threw 29 TDs against 2 picks!!!  Weis is in year FIVE, and if anyone can show me where he's put his QB in a postion to win a game that matters you will be able to knock me over with a feather.  I'm not sure why we continue to beat down this Tom Brady thing (it was his second year in the league by the way).  Arguing as though Weis was the reason for Brady's success in New England is a somehwat tangential point.  Point being: Yes, back in 2001 Charlie Weis's offense was well organized around a young NFL QB that put him in a position to succeed.  After five years in the college ranks, what kind of correlation have we seen between the Patriots run to the title and Charlie Weis' ability to develop a college quarterback?  Little.

4. Standard question: What do you see as being the best/worst matchups for Michigan in this game? 

Dave - Our secondary v. Golden Tate. Morgan Trent spent last years match up getting burnt to a crisp by Tate.  We've got a pile of new dudes in the secondary and at least two new safeties. Not good.  If you're looking for a great big bullseye, it's our secondary.

Beauford - Worst matchup = our secondary, which is a big fat "???" right now.  The best matchup is the fact that we actually might have some little dudes with dreads who can break some shit open provided they, you know, catch the ball first.

SCM - I totally concur with my associates on the "bad matchup" here, but 'll get specific: I'm not quite as worried about our corners... it's the safeties that have me on alert in this game.  An early game with a young secondary and a team that you know will test us deep carries a lot of risk for confusion in coverage assignments, etc.  Our pursuit angles from the safety position haven't exactly been anything to write home about over the past two years either.  And by "anything to write home about" what I really mean is "eye-gougingly-bad".

Best matchup?  I think it's our offensive line against their defensive line.  I loved how this unit started to improve towards the end of last season and you could see our ground game come around.  It's all the more impressive when you consider the youth and no threat of any kind of a credible passing attack at that time in the season.  With all of that experience returning, I think this O-line has a chance to take a big step in the right direction this year.  If they open up holes against ND, we've got the horses to make them pay.

5.  Notre Dame or Ohio State... who boils your blood more?  Why?

Dave - Not even close, Ohio State. 

I've always felt what makes Michigan fans and Notre Dame fans so irritable about one another is that they're so much alike. Both are elite educational institutions. Both churn out extremely successful alumni. Both are delusional about their football teams and like to live in the past. Honestly, the only difference between a Michigan fan or Irish fan talking football is who they're rooting for.  There are assholes on both ends of the spectrum, but the majority of ND fans are welcoming, nice people. Plus, I married a Domer. Marrying into the cult changes your perceptions a tad, and even my wife will admit that. 

However, with Ohio State, I've found the vast majority of OSU football fans to be very unpleasant come game day, and not in the slightest way friendly or welcoming. I have plenty of OSU friends and colleagues, but even they'll tell you Columbus is not a safe place for an opposing fan. And for some reason the core of the OSU fanbase wears that like a badge of honor. THAT, I hate. College Football's a game, and supposedly a fun endeavor. I think that point was lost, or set on fire, a long time ago in Columbus. 

BB - I might have to turn in my MICHIGAN MAN status for this, but I like Ohio State.  I think they're a good football team that is well coached, and I think that they're probably the 2nd best team of the decade, right behind USC.  I want to beat them so bad it hurts, but you've gotta hand it to them, they're at least a real team.  Notre Dame, on the other hand, does everything wrong, has sucked for the better part of the decade, and still they feel a sense of entitlement.  I hate Notre Dame on a whole different level than I hate Ohio State.  Plus, Ohio State fans are obviously morons, so you give them a little slack.  Kind of like how you might toy with an ape at the zoo.  You know it's not their fault that they're pissing and shitting all over themselves, and rubbing one out in front of everybody.  You expect it.  Notre Dame fans, however, have acquired the ability to walk upright, and yet are completely irrational over their sucky team.  I can't punish an ape for being an ape, but I can punish a fully functioning member of society for being a moron.  That's why I hate Notre Dame.

SCM - Dave, marrying into it means that you are no longer able to speak freely on the matter... we understand, and it's ok.  Fans being one part of the equation, I'd say that I am more annoyed by Notre Dame fans for their general sanctimoniousness (and ridiculous defenses of a wide spectrum of subjects, including indefensibly easy schedules year after year after year, etc, etc, etc).  That said, I am more appalled by Ohio State fans for... well everything.  The majority of Ohio State fans I've interacted with out in public can be thrown into the utterly classless category.  They don't so much root for their team as they take joy in being assholes to other fans.  Rational OSU fans always point out "every fanbase has some ____ fans" yeah well your fanbase has the highest percentage of them bar none.  I've been treated very well in my trips to South Bend.  I refuse to go to Columbus.  There are simply far too many accounts of horrifying behavior, and no, that crap doesn't happen everywhere.

There's more here than just the fanbases however.  Perhaps it's because I grew up in an area where Notre Dame was on the front page of the sports page EVERY... SINGLE... DAY, but quite simply put I can't stand Notre Dame.  I loathe the pretentiousness of the place.  Talk to a ND grad for 2 minutes and you will know that they went to ND without even asking because they will tell you, always in an obnoxious fashion.  I loathe that I have to watch our game on NBC every two years with their horrifyingly awful commentary.  I loathe that every year is a "return to glory"... whereby glory MAY mean a winning record.  I loathe the utter hipocrisy of a school that fired Ty Willingham too early, and yet makes nothing short of a littany of excuses for their currently overpaid and underproducing head coach.  

I can at least respect what Jim Tressel has accomplished on the football field (off the football field is another accomplishment alltogether isn't it Jim?).  The man can coach.  Charlie Weis on the other hand makes excuse after excuse about his lack of results, and there's simply too many examples to name them all here.  

Ohio State is a member of a conference.  Notre Dame clings to an independent status and pitiful schedule for money (hey at least that makes some sense), but they get a ludicrous deal with the BCS that basically states "if you don't choke on applesauce and are willing to take a whipping in January, here's a huge freaking check".

All in all it's really splitting hairs between the two: I want to win the THE GAME more than any other on the schedule.  However, I prefer to see the Buckeyes at the top of their game, it makes the whole thing that much better.  With Notre Dame, I can't think of a game I'd want them to win... honestly, I can't.  So for me, probably more than other Michigan fans, Ohio State is clearly the arch-rival... but ND comes in at 1A.

 

So there you have it, a lot of words and thoughts... what's your take?  Anything we've overlooked or gotten just plain wrong?  Let us know.  Next installment to follow sometime in the near future.

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