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MnB Roundtable Returns to Glory

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Michigan travels to South Bend for the final time, for the foreseeable future, and the MnB crew attempts to discuss the game and the week in college football without sounding too bitter.

Jeff Gross

What will we see down in South Bend this week against the Irish?

Atticus Finch: Some busted coverages in the ND secondary. Rice had four pass plays of 25 yards against the Irish, two for scores.

Drew Hallett: I am in agreement with you, Atticus. You will see Devin Funchess look just as effective against Notre Dame as he did against Appalachian State. Notre Dame's secondary is in shambles. Its best cornerback, KeiVarae Russell, and reserve safety, Eliar Hardy, have been held out of practice for weeks due to their possible involvement in an academic cheating scandal that is under investigation; one of its starting safeties, Austin Collinsworth, injured his knee and will miss tomorrow's contest. With Russell, Hardy, and Collinsworth on the sidelines against Rice last week, the Fighting Irish allowed the Owls to record multiple big pass plays through the air for an average of 8.7 yards per attempt. And the Owls did this mostly with receivers no taller than 6'2". So what happens when Notre Dame's short-handed secondary lines up against Devin Gardner (460 total yards, 5 TD vs. Notre Dame in 2013) and the 6'5" Funchess (7 catches, 95 yards, 3 TD vs. Appalachian State last week)? Exactly.

Anthony Mammel: While I do think that Funchess is going to register another touchdown this week, I'm skeptical of just how many times Michigan will be able to effectively target him. The Notre Dame front shouldn't have too much trouble taking Michigan's run game away, so the secondary is going to do two things: double Funchess all day and prevent the bubble screen. I think Michigan breaks more than one long pass play because Devin gets out of the pocket and finds someone like Amara Darboh or Jehu Chesson streaking by himself -- something that should be a product of the attention given to Funchess. We'll also see Michigan make Golson look immature on more than one occasion when he sees pressure coming and attempts to make a play that isn't there.

Zooby Qizilbash:  I think we need to pump the brakes a little on the Funchess train.  I love the guy's talent and he's a physical freak of nature at his position, but I fear that Michigan might struggle to routinely throw deep.  The Michigan offensive line will, hopefully, be able to give Gardner a little time to throw, but those running back's are going to have to block and produce some kind of ground game.  As for the defense, everyone is hyped on it and let's see how they do against, arguably, the best quarterback they'll face all season.

DH: Devin Funchess may not have a monster game, but, as Anthony alluded, his presence alone should open up space for Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Dennis Norfleet. This may be the game when we discover which Wolverine will become Devin Gardner's No. 2 target this season. And, regarding quarterback pressure, although Michigan's rushing attack very well may grind to a halt at Notre Dame, I think Michigan's offensive line still will fare well in pass protection. The Fighting Irish did not impress me with their pass rush against Rice. And they did not impress Eric Murtaugh, who manages SB Nation's Notre Dame blog, One Foot Down, either. Gardner should have sufficient time in the pocket to locate his open targets and shred Notre Dame's secondary.

John Williams: Look for Golson to struggle passing but excel in the running game. Michigan has an excellent secondary this year and should be able to silence the Notre Dame passing attack. As a result Golson should look to run more often than not, a decision that could be killer should Greg Mattison continue to Blitz. I'd also like to call back to my week 1 prediction of a Jabrill Peppers pick six in the third quarter after getting burned a few times in the first half. #HotPeppers will be trending.

KB: Either #HotPeppers or #GreenPeppers depending on how quickly Michigan gets a lot of rushing yards. I lean toward defense as the key for this week. Notre Dame will score points and there's always voodoo magic in South Bend that leads to at least one freak Irish touchdown. Michigan has the linebacker and secondary advantage so I look for coverage to be tight. The thing Michigan must do is not get sucked in by Golson dancing around the backfield trying to create a play. Greg Mattison hopefully has lots of blitz packages made up to confuse them, because they aren't going to stop the Irish offense as much as they stopped App State.

Zach: I AM YOUR NEW OVERLORD, DEVIN "MINITRON" FUNCHESS. HOW DARE YOU QUESTION MY THOUCHDOWNABILITY.

But seriously, I like Funchess in this matchup, not because he is a deep threat, but because he is so versatile. Remember, Michigan had a lot of success last year with Gardner getting the ball out quick to his receivers when ND brought pressure.  Michigan has the options (Funchess, Darboh, Norfleet) to get the ball quickly behind pressure, and Gardner has shown an ability to make those quick reads.

I think the biggest things I'm looking for are: 1) option routes in the passing game (something that has been talked about) and 2) using the backs as receivers.  If Michigan can do both of these things effectively, Notre Dame will have to scale back some of its pressure up front, which will open things up for Michigan to look deep.

Hollywood Hokester: We will see Michigan crush Notre Dame's hopes and dreams with a game-winning score (touchdown, field goal, doesn't matter) in the final seconds to send the rivalry into hiatus.

Peter: I'm with John on this. Golson's passing may be held in check, so he's going to look to the run. And we all know how Michigan has fared against running QBs. That being said, the defensive front should be able to take advantage of the secondary's ability to hold the passing yards to a minimum.

Shash: I like the idea of seeing DG getting the ball out quickly. Seeing a lot of three step drops and hopefully some rollout run/pass options. If he's releasing the ball quickly enough by design, that should help with the pressure against a very young O-Line. Hopefully this will set up the running game enough to make it respectable.

Defensively, I'm hoping to see whoever's at ILB hold contain on the Irish RB's and Golson running on the edges. Dude was an animal last week and I'd really rather he beat Michigan with his arm.

How about a semi-crazy prediction for something that will happen during the game?

AF: After Cal busted out a two-quarterback system last week to beat Northwestern, maybe I'm just seeing things. Then again, when Malik Zaire subbed in for Everett Golson in garbage time of a 48-16 win, his first play was a 56-yard run on a read-option. That's a very dangerous weapon, especially for somebody sitting on the bench. Brian Kelly will want to have something up his sleeve against the Wolverines, and it's probably Zaire.

DH: I am sorry, Atticus. I know these are supposed to be semi-crazy predictions, but you went full-crazy. Never go full-crazy. Everett Golson is by far Notre Dame's most lethal offensive threat. If the Fighting Irish want to win their final game against Michigan in the foreseeable future, he will need to have the ball in his hands as much as possible. Any play with Malik Zaire on the field means one play with Golson off of it. That will not happen. Unless Golson suffers an injury, Zaire will hold the clipboard for the entirety of the contest.

AF: ....Damn logic. That makes sense.

DH: I guess it is my turn. I am going to break the rules and provide a sane prediction: Michigan's rushing attack, which set a program record by averaging 9.72 yards per carry against Appalachian State, will revert to its 2013 ways and stall against Notre Dame. Michigan's success on the ground last week was more of an indictment of the Mountaineers' defense (allowed more than 220 rushing yards per game in FCS in 2013) than concrete evidence that Michigan's ground game is back in action. I expect Notre Dame's defensive tackles, Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones, to work over Michigan's guards, while future all-everything linebacker Jaylon Smith will clean up any mess unattended. Accordingly, Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith's combined yards per carry will be between 3.0 and 3.5.

AM: Shit, I'll take 3.25 YPC all day against Notre Dame. That's plenty enough to keep the linebackers honest and let this receiving core do some serious damage.

DH: True. Maybe between 2.5 and 3.0 YPC is more what I am expecting.

AM: How about this for a crazy prediction: Notre Dame goes after Jeremy Clark in man coverage all game long; he trades one busted touchdown for an interception that all but seals Notre Dame's fate, which is to crawl back into the hole they came from after losing to Michigan.

ZQ: My crazy prediction is that Jack Miller might be limited in action this week. With the return of Glasgow, I think the offensive line will continue some of it's musical chairs. Okay, I get it, this isn't that crazy. When it comes to UM vs ND, there's bound to be a pick-six and a thunderstorm. Heck, I will be happy if we can just win the turnover battle. If Meeeeeeeeeeeeeechigan can do that, there's a fighting chance for the Wolverines.

AF: Ooh, oh, I've got a good one. We'll beat them with... e's. Ease, geddit? Actually, never mind, I'll stick to my day job.

JW: No turnovers for Gardner. Zip. Zero. Zilch. He looked great against App State and should maintain the solid footwork and decision making we saw in week one.

KB: That's a great guess, John. Gardner looked like a new man last week, but I'm curious how he and Nussmeier handle a speedier defense. I'll go on the safe side, though, and wager Matt Wile nails a 50-yarder during the game. I don't think it sat well with him that his one attempt last week doinked off the upright.

Zach: Devin Gardner doesn't throw the worst interception in the history of football.

Nuts, I know.

HH: I'm looking to see two 100-yard rushers for the second game in a row. And four rushing touchdowns. By three different players. Gardner, Green, and Smith, anyone?

Peter: I don't think we'll see two 100-yard rushers, but Smith will set himself apart from Green and stake a claim as the #1 back and inspire tears of woe to the ND faithful.

Shash: I think a receiver besides Funchy has to step up. I'll go out on a limb and say it's gonna be Chesson. ND's secondary is depleted and they have to put what, four, five guys on Funchy?

Will Michigan win tomorrow and what's the final score?

AF: Hmm, how about another crazy prediction. If Notre Dame's defense can allow 5.6 yards per play against Rice, I'll say the Wolverines will pick up a second week in a row getting 10 yards a play (or at least close to it) thanks to some deep bombs from the law firm, Devin & Devin. Our running backs might have a hard time against their front, but I just don't see their secondary matching our receivers. Final score - Michigan, 48-38.

DH: Atticus, should Michigan and Notre Dame leave the defenses at home and just let the offenses go 11 vs. 0? That sure is a bunch of points. I am not sure my blood pressure can handle such a high-scoring affair. I think both defenses will be much stingier than a 48-38 score suggests. But, in regards to who will be the victor, I have been back and forth all week. One day, I like the Wolverines, with Devin Gardner unleashing an aerial assault while Jake Ryan spies Everett Golson into submission. The next day, I like the Fighting Irish, with the Ghost of Michigan Turnovers rising from the grounds at Notre Dame Stadium to haunt Gardner. But I think the former is more likely to transpire than the latter, and Michigan will beat a ranked opponent in a true road game for the first time since 2006. Michigan 28, Notre Dame 20

AF: Yeah, I'm thinking there will be some points to go around, but turnovers would definitely stunt that. My thinking there is I don't know if they can stop our passing game, and I also don't know if we can stop their running game, after giving up 4.3 yards per rush to They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Any other guys' thoughts?

AM: The problems against Appalachian State's zone rushing attack weren't major; they'll be fixed by the time Saturday comes around. I think both offenses are going to play hot/cold games, trading massive plays for equally questionable downs until one of them finds a groove. Devin Gardner ends up playing near the level he did last year and Michigan wins 34 - 24.

ZQ: I hope Gardner does ALMOST what he did to ND last year, with the exception of that horrific pick-6 in the endzone. That still gives me chills.

I think Michigan comes out to a hostile ground and shuts them up quickly. ND will put up some points but I think a lot of the receivers besides Funchess will step up and create space for the running game to be, at least, semi-functional. Michigan wins 27-19.

JW: Michigan 31-23, it'll be 24-23 until that Peppers pick six and Michigan never looks back.

KB: Zooby, I was sitting in that end zone where Gardner threw that pick six last year, and it was even more terrifying and chilling from row six. I could see it develop and in slow motion and everyone simultaneously exclaimed, "Nooooooooo Devin!"

As much as I like Michigan on paper, no Denard magic in a hostile environment might be the difference. I'm prepared to incur wrath from the MnB staff, but I think Notre Dame squeaks it out, 27-23.

DH: GUYS, WE DO NOT TALK TO KEVIN ANYMORE. HE IS A TRAITOR AND OBVIOUSLY A GOLDEN DOMER HOMER. NO, IT DOES NOT MATTER THAT NOTRE DAME IS THE FAVORITE OR THE GAME IS BEING HELD IN SOUTH BEND. OUT WITH KEVIN.

Zach: Notre Dame is down three starters on defense and doesn't have its best receiver. Yeah, Everett Golson is back, but last time he played Michigan he was yanked early in favor of Tommy "NOOOOOO" Rees. I like this defense better than that defense. Michigan 24 - ND 14.

HH: Yes. 24-23. I'll call for a last-second touchdown to give Michigan the edge here.

Peter: Michigan will win, definitely, and I don't think it's going to be all that close. ND is going to come out too hyped to have Golson in there, and they're going to make more mistakes than Michigan. Plus, Smith's 187 yards (write it down, folks) will send the series out on a 31-10 victory. Is this a lack of sleep prediction? You better believe it!

Shash: Michigan winz on a Remy Hamilton FG with no time left. Or they win by five.

There's a good batch of college football this weekend...give me one game you'll be watching.

AF: There are some great games this week. But I'll let everybody else cover them - I'm going with Ole Miss-Vandy, which will give the Rebels a perfect chance to prove me right about them and beat an SEC foe convincingly. Bo Wallace throws for 1,500 yards and that secondary gets multiple interceptions once again. Rebels, 44-7.

DH: If Bo Wallace throws for 1,500 yards, about 1,000 of them will go to Laquon Treadwell. And I just imagined a Michigan wide receiver duo of a junior Devin Funchess and a sophomore Treadwell. Oh, my. What could have been...

Shash: Hey, how much would you be willing to pay for ‘Quon-chess? He had to have gotten at least 200k to go down to Ole Miss. It's not like all of a sudden Hugh Freeze was running, say, a pristine program like Ohio.

DH: Wait. You mean to tell me that an SEC football program that has won zero conference championships and had only two 10-plus win seasons since 1963 and just hauled in a top-15 recruiting class each of the past two years is cheating and paying recruits? HOW DARE YOU MAKE SUCH AN ACCUSATION?!!

KB: Apparently USC is still loaded with talent despite a coaching change and Sarkisian having issues with a few of his players just a week ago. One quit, and one lied about an injury, yet they still crushed Fresno State not just in points but in plays run from scrimmage and time of possession. They ran 105 plays and racked up 52 points. It's a different look for them than under Lane Kiffin, and it seems to fit. Cody Kessler is really good, and they'll need ball control against Stanford. Trojans 30-23 in the warm-up game for the evening slate.

AF: Yeah, by the way, when are we beating the Trojans for taking all of the recruits we like? First Sua Cravens, then JuJu Smith and Adoree Jackson, now Daelin Hayes.... c'mon.

KB: It didn't go too well the last time Michigan faced USC but I would love to play them in a bowl within the next couple years, I think it would be more evenly matched now. Home and home series would be waaaaay better though just to stick it to Notre Dame if they aren't going to play us, then go play their so called main rival. Perhaps the NCAA will have finally decided on Ty Isaac's status by then, too.

DH: Michigan State-Oregon. For each of the past three seasons, the Spartans have fielded one of the nation's top five defenses per the F/+ rankings. Although the 2014 edition of MSU's defense likely will not be of the same caliber, I want to see what type of sorcery Pat Narduzzi plans to use to hex Oregon's up-tempo, no-huddle spread offense, one that has been in the top seven of the F/+ rankings each of the past three seasons. Michigan State arrives ready to compete and does not go down without a fight, but, eventually, Marcus Mariota and the hostile Autzen Stadium crowd overwhelm the Spartans. Oregon 32, Michigan State 21.

AM: Zach and I had a long conversation about why Oregon is or isn't suited to beat Michigan State this week. His case for Narduzzi and the Spartans was legitimate, but then he picked South Carolina over Texas A&M and I realized that any spread team Zach picks to lose is probably destined to win big. Go Ducks.

KB: Zach, I'm perfectly fine with you picking MSU if it means the opposite will happen. Then again, a strong MSU helps the Big Ten while Ohio State and Michigan fart around and Wisconsin chokes away their one big game of the year.

ZQ: I'm pretty intrigued to watch Florida play Eastern Michigan. No no, you didn't read that wrong. Muschamp is a coach on the so-called "hot seat" this year, and the similarities between him and Hoke are quite striking. Florida's game last week got cancelled because of bad weather. The Gators have a new OC and it'll be interesting to see if there's any progress on that offense. They're stacked on defense, per usual, and many people have the Gators as a sleeper this season.

DH: I will watch Eastern Michigan-Florida only if those folks from good ol' Ypsilanti try to run through a concrete wall when sprinting out of the tunnel again.

JW: I'll continue my trend of ignoring the obvious answer for a more obscure college football game. This week that game takes place in Toledo, OH when the Missouri Tigers take on the Rockets in a true road game. The SEC rarely ventures North of the Ohio River and for the MAC to get such a big team is a special treat. If Toledo pulls the upset and you weren't watching you may never forgive yourself.

KB: I also may keep an eye on BYU-Texas. David Ash won't play, and Taysom Hill had an incredible opening weekend with 3 pass TDs and 2 more on the ground. Texas is better on paper but BYU has a super good offense.

Zach: There is no answer other than MSU-Oregon. One of the best defenses of the past few years against one of the best offenses. I think MSU wins this one. MSU's defense is enough like Stanford's (schematically sound, powerful, and fundamental) to give Oregon problems. MSU's biggest worry is whether its DTs hold up. If Oregon can do what it wants on the interior of the line, that offense is hard to stop.

HH: I'll definitely be watching MSU-Oregon and Stanford-USC, but I'll be scoreboard watching Virginia Tech-Ohio because, ya know, Schadenfreude tastes so good, and Navy had Ohio on the ropes for most of last week.

Peter: Although MSU-Oregon is the correct answer, I'm going to watch Purdue and Central Michigan. WTF?! Yes, you read that correctly. Because of the shit I gave to Purdue in the schedule previews, and the deal I made with Hammer and Rails, I'm going to watch as much Purdue football as I can to watch my prediction come to fruition. And then I'm going to hate myself at the end of the season for not being able to get any of that time back.

Shash: MSU-Oregon is the correct answer here and a wonderful table setter to let you drink and then level off before the real entertainment of the night. Drink every time Oregon scores. Do it, you won't.

With this being the final game in the Michigan-ND series for a long while, let's reminisce about some favorite games and moments.

DH: From 2008 to 2011, I was a student intern for the University of Michigan Athletic Media Relations. This is the unit within the athletic department that oversees the media in the press box, organizes the press conferences, and operates MGoBlue.com. For the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons, I worked in the press box for Michigan's home football games. I had a wide variety of responsibilities, which included writing the game recaps, researching game notes, and noting player participation.

But, for Michigan's home games against Notre Dame in 2009 and 2011, I was tasked with gathering quotes from Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, respectively, in the locker room afterwards. To do so, I needed to be by the tunnel for the final five to seven minutes of each game, so I could make my way to Michigan's locker room as soon as the clock hit 0:00. I tell you, I will never forget the rampant surges of nervous energy that coursed through my veins as I stood on the sidelines in the moments before Tate Forcier connected with Greg Mathews and Denard Robinson lobbed one up to Roy Roundtree. I will never forget how my eardrums exploded as the Michigan Stadium crowd erupted into a delirious frenzy in the stands around me after both touchdowns. And I will never forget hugging various Michigan coaches and players as they stampeded into locker room, as we all wondered in amazement how Michigan had just escaped with those victories.

KB: At that 2009 game, that was my first year as an alumnus. I decided to try my luck and request a pair of tickets from the UM alumni association. They not only granted the request, but gave me two tickets in row five, right behind the Notre Dame band. The stadium was of course packed so it was like I was in the band's seats because they were in portable bleachers right below the brick wall. Drew's right that the big house was amazingly loud for that game...as Michigan woke up and kept trimming the ND lead down, it got louder and drowned out that damn band. They had this one drum major who was really egging on the crowd all game but he got his comeuppance. I don't think I have ever screamed as loud during a game than I did during that final play.

AM: I was in the very last row of the student section for the 2009 contest; I moved into the middle of the pack by the time 2011 came around. By 2013, I was hanging out with people in the press box and flipping out next to a bunch of Gator Bowl representatives as Devin Gardner put the Irish away. This series has spoiled me in just about every imaginable way.

ZQ: The Denard ‘Heisman' pose against the Irish is one of the most iconic photos in Michigan football history. It was quite the game and that image will live on long after this rivalry is, for the time being, over. I think you'll see this game come back within a decade, but ND will have to give a little. I don't blame them for not wanting to share any of the $ they get from NBC, good for them. However, I'm happy the Big Ten as a whole is moving on from them and they'll be off to the ACC next season.

JW: Freshman year, 2011, Notre Dame. Watching Roundtree's catch still gives me goosebumps. My seats were at the top of the student section but I didn't care (rumor is there is still a dent where I punched the stadium after ND scored their last TD). I will never forget the roar of the crowd, the thrill of the comeback or how sore my throat was after yelling the whole game.

DH: I guess none of us were old enough to personally experience "The Catch" in 1991 or Remy Hamilton's game-winning field goal in 1994. If we were, I am sure they would be near the top of our list of best Michigan-Notre Dame memories, if not at the top. Plus, did you know that four of the eight games played between Michigan Notre Dame from 1979 to 1988 were decided by a field-goal attempt in the waning seconds? That is astounding. And then you think about how the winner of each of the past five meetings between these two prestigious programs essentially has been determined on the final drive. Man, I sure am going to miss this rivalry.

KB: The one thing I recall from that '94 game is frequent shots of Lou Holtz on the sideline nervously crouching down and yanking clumps of grass out of the ground. I can't even easily remember the score or anything else, but I still see Holtz tearing up the grass...I guess that's a better legacy than the stupid things he says on College Gameday Final.

Zach: Watching the 2009 game at a friend's house in Ann Arbor because I couldn't get tickets. Who knew that would be the first of a series of gut-wrenching moments for the Irish against Michigan.

Alex: I probably would have to go with the 38-0 pantsing. Pick whichever one you want. Nom nom nom. That Denard run in South Bend was truly special, though.

I miss the days when maize was maize and gold wasn't quite so shiny. Michigan-ND actually looked better on a rainy day without HD. I'm crazy, though.

How about one more for old time's sake?

Peter: I've been watching these match-ups since the late ‘80s, but I usually have a terrible memory for specific games. However, I know that none of them compare to the first UTL. Mostly because it was the first time I had ever seen the rivalry in person, and it sure as hell didn't let me down. Well, it didn't let any of us down, did it? I'll miss almost everything about this series, except for Lou Holtz. He makes me so mad I want to spit...but he has that part covered already. I'll even miss Brian Kelly, because who doesn't want to witness someone's head turn into a mushroom cloud?

HH: No matter how you look at it, it's silly that this rivalry is ending. It shouldn't be. It's the easy answer, but 2011 is my strongest memory. I turned the game off at halftime, pissed off at how Michigan was playing and deciding to hang out with some friends for a while. I didn't have access to the game until getting back to my dorm room with about six minutes left in the game. The rest is history. Also, I was at the game last year, and for as awesome as the game was, I'll never forget how miserable it felt in the student section, crammed together three hours before kickoff so I could secure a solid seat.

Shash: It's bullshit. But then the PA guys can do fun stuff like play the chicken dance while Michigan goes to face the vaunted... Huskies of Washington? Blech.

Bring back this game, please.