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MnB staff roundtable: What Michigan needs to do to save their season

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It’s about pride and preparing for 2020 now

Michigan Wolverines v Notre Dame Fighting Irish Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We got a post-game vent-table out of our systems. There’s still a game to play on Saturday night, and Michigan must now adjust what this season is going to accomplish. Arguably the best half of football this team has played so far occurred against Penn State, but other things still set off alarm bells. A dumb field goal attempt, poor calls on fourth down attempts, failure to (again) adjust pass coverage to avoid the deep pass.

And a timeout on the very first play.

One step forward, two or three huge steps in the other direction.

Let’s focus strictly on the football matchup this week, instead of shouting into the void about what the program has to do to change the ugly narrative it finds itself trapped in.

We’re not sure how good Notre Dame is, but beating them is still one of those season goals that isn’t already out of reach. The Irish are balanced like Penn State, but Ian Book is not a freshman quarterback, and when everyone can quickly figure out how to beat Michigan’s defense, that’s going to be trouble.

While I get the rain gear out, fire away…

Daniel A: Beating Notre Dame is step 1 on the “preparing for 2020” tour. If you win the three big games remaining, all at home, you carry some momentum into bowl season, signing day, and spring camp. I’m not sure how much value that has, but it certainly has some. We saw how ending strong in 2015 (sleepy game against OSU notwithstanding) carried into a brilliant and confident 2016. We’ve also seen how ending seasons poorly has carried into early-season hangovers the last three years.

Jim Harbaugh has only lost four games in the Big House during his tenure as head coach. Roughly zero of those games have been against teams besides Ohio State and Michigan State. Put another way, Harbaugh doesn’t lose games to anyone else at home. Notre Dame is likely the toughest test he’s faced yet, however.

Statistically, Michigan really dominated last week, particularly in the second half. They threw the ball tremendously well, and if the receiving core had brought the right gloves, I think Michigan throws for 350-400 yards in Happy Valley against a great defense. That is very promising for the road ahead.

Against Notre Dame, I want to see the offense come out pass-first, establish all three levels in the passing game, and really utilize speed in space the way they did against the Nittany Lions. Teams simply do not have the stable of athletes to cover Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black, and especially Nico Collins 1-on-1. Thus, they overcommit and you’ve got Ronnie Bell matched up inside on an island against linebackers and backup defensive backs. THAT is the vision for this offense, and I’d really like to see Michigan completely commit to it this week.

Despite the growing pains, I’m excited about the direction of Michigan’s offense, both short and long-term. I truly believe Josh Gattis has had too much success at every spot, and worked under far too brilliant of offensive minds, to be bad at this. There’ve been open receivers and running lanes. Execution has time and time again hurt this team. Over the back half of the year, I want to see that cleaned up. Maybe this is the week Shea Patterson breaks his turnover streak.

Defensively, I don’t even know man. This feels like a solid, yet deficient unit. There aren’t any game changers on it, and that’s been a real problem. There’s no Devin Bush, Chase Winovich, Jourdan Lewis, Taco Charlton, or Mo Hurst. Notre Dame is a very good, not great offense, but they tore this unit apart a year ago with a less talented quarterback and more talented Michigan defense. I don’t believe this game stays low scoring.

Michigan’s offense will have another chance this week to prove that they can run with an elite team. They came up just short a week ago, failing to make big plays in key moments. Behind a raucous home crowd at night, however, I’m going to let myself believe that the breaks go their way.

Jared: I’m going into this game as though we won last week, and this is the second half of the season. We play all three of our rivals at home in the last 5 weeks of the season; and you want to tell me the season is over? I am not here for the slander, and I’ll rebuke publicly those that are.

I’m going to have to disagree with Daniel on the “preparing for 2020” thing as well. We still have Ohio State on the schedule, and I know some fans that have said they would take 1-11 if the one victory was over those degenerates. So there is a lot of football left to be played, and you couldn’t possibly tell this team the season is over.

This is a team that has struggled mightily in the first half of the season under a new offensive coordinator for a myriad of reasons, but they are now starting to look like a football team right in time to lay it one the three teams you REALLY want to see them lay it on.

Notre Dame will admittedly be a tall order, even with the added backup of a night game crowd. Ian Book will play on Sunday’s and they are just a balanced team that doesn’t beat themselves very often. But look at what he did against Georgia (the best defense they have seen up until now by far) and you will see a relatively pedestrian statline from Book and the offense in general. They couldn’t run the ball against Georgia to save their lives.

Michigan finally has something going on offense, and have definitely found their two-headed attack with Haskins and Charbonnet. The forecast is calling for rain. Ride these horses as far as you can- and for the love of God, hold onto the ball.

This defense is going to feed off of the energy of the crowd and some early TFL’s and maybe a turnover or two, and control this game outright. If any of the old-heads at the game tell you sit down or be quiet, you have my permission to politely, yet firmly rebuke them. Michigan is going to win this game, and I am excited about football again.

Jay W.: You can admit it. I’ve done it too, there’s really no shame. At some point this week, you watched the video. If you’re a certain type of Michigan fan, older than current students but younger than most season-ticket holders, UTL1 is the high-water mark of being a Michigan football fan. There are other games, sure, but this is the one that I casually refer to as The Greatest Night of My Life. Maybe this isn’t the season we wanted, but you tell me we’re playing Notre Dame at night, and I am just as hype as I was in 2011. Or 2013 for that matter.

The close loss to Penn State confirmed a belief I’ve had even when this season was at its lowest points: We’re going to beat Notre Dame, and it’s going to be really weird. I’m predicting a game that has a score similar to last week’s game, though likely with a little more back and forth. I think it’s clear that the defense is theoretically capable of stopping a team of Notre Dame’s calibur, but there have been too many obvious lapses for me to believe that this will be a low-scoring contest. Ian Book has only gotten better, and I can see them scoring on similar gashes to the final Penn St. TD last week. The hope is that even if they do give up the big play here and there, the defense can get to Book just enough to give him pause about staying in the pocket too long.

On offense, Michigan has to keep passing. Daniel’s right, with the full complement of receivers, no one has the athletes to defend them all. And when Notre Dame is scared of the pass, it opens space for Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins to chip away at the defense, getting crucial small pickups while the passing game gets the big yardage. Something I’ve been frustrated with is how it doesn’t seem like the staff fully trusts Patterson, but when forced to just give him the ball and let him play, it almost worked. Hopefully his performance last week earned their trust a little more, and they’ll be more likely to go for mid-field fourth down conversions and deep balls.

One last prediction: Ronnie Bell gets a 70-yard or more TD. Redemption time.

Kevin: One final note: Rudy was offsides, and Tyrone Willingham was an excellent coach.