A new season of football is upon us, and the first week features the Michigan Wolverines facing one of their oldest rivals.
It’s been a few years since these teams have battled, and with the time that has passed, it’s created a massive intrigue that’ll likely make this game the most watched of the 2018 season in all of college football.
With that in mind, let’s get to know Notre Dame.
State of the Program
After a putrid 2016 season in which ND went 4-8, it looked like head coach Brian Kelly would surely get fired. Kelly was retained and 2017 provided much better results. They finished 10-3, annihilating Michigan State and USC along the way. The Irish lost to National Champion runner up Georgia by a mere point (20-19), but also got demolished by Miami and Stanford on the road.
Notre Dame’s only loss at home in 2017 was week one against Georgia. And they’ll have another tough week one matchup Saturday when the Wolverines head to South Bend.
All in all the state of the program is in a stable place. This is an experienced roster with a handful of play-makers on both sides of the ball.
Going into this game, Kelly’s record at ND is 48-33.
2017 Team Statistics
- Total Defense- 46th (369.2 YPG)
- Rushing Defense- 51st (154.5 YPG)
- Passing Defense- 53rd (214.7 YPG)
- Total Offense- 27th (448.2 YPG)
- Rushing Offense- 7th (269.3 YPG)
- Passing Offense- 102nd (178.9 YPG)
- Sacks Allowed- 83rd (30)
- Sacks- 83rd (24)
- Interceptions- 67th (10)
- 3rd Down Conversion Percentage- 32nd (.438)
Three Players to Watch
QB Brandon Wimbush
Wimbush is a mixed bag and has been inconsistent to this point at ND but his ceiling is sky high. His athleticism and arm talent can wow you on any given play. Wimbush rushed for 803 yards in 2017, rushing for over 100 yards four times while notching 14 rushing touchdowns.
Wimbush’s completion percentage in 2017 was below average at just 49.5%, but his arm talent exceeds that number. He isn’t good to this point in his career when pressure is in his face, but when he has a clean pocket the kid can throw a ball into the smallest of windows.
I spoke with FOX Sports analyst Brady Quinn last month about Wimbush, and he felt the game was too fast for Wimbush last season and that he has great ability. Quinn believes that football at the college level will be more natural for Wimbush in 2018, which will lead him to more success.
RB Dexter Williams
Williams is an all-purpose back with a skill-set that can dash and gash. Williams only carried the rock 39 times in 2017, but he rushed for 360 yards nonetheless, a whooping 9.23 yards per carry. Possessing a good center of balance, shiftiness, power, and quick open field acceleration, Williams will be a worthy foe for the Wolverines D.
While Williams wasn’t the lead back in 2018, the depth ahead of him is now gone and he should be the bell-cow for ND. He may not give Michigan problems, but he will give a good handful of teams fits in 2018.
LB Drue Tranquill
A team captain and the leader of this Fighting Irish defense, Tranquill has an impressive skill-set that has him around the football nearly every play. Strong and fast, Tranquill racked up 85 tackles (44 solo) in 2017, 10.5 of which were tackles for loss.
It’ll be an interesting matchup between Tranquill and Shea Patterson who will be playing games of chess against each other on the gridiron with their checks and audibles.
What they are saying
Harbaugh on @JamieandStoney on ND: "Veteran defense, very athletic, very physical. Offensively, the linemen they lost, we know there are good linemen behind them. The quarterback's really good...across the board, similarities to both teams."— angelique (@chengelis) August 29, 2018
Asked Karan higdon if there were similarities between Notre Dame defense and Michigan. "Naw. Our defense is one of a kind."— Chris Balas (@Balas_Wolverine) August 28, 2018
Winovich on starting off w a win at ND: "It’s no surprise we haven’t been very good on the road the past couple of years. If we can go into Notre Dame of all places first game of the year and set the season off on that note, it says a lot about the trajectory of our season."— angelique (@chengelis) August 28, 2018
Brian Kelly very high on Michigan’s defensive front, compares to Georgia and N.C. State.— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) August 28, 2018
Notes Rashan Gary comparable to N.C. State's Bradley Chubb, who got drafted one slot ahead of Quenton Nelson last spring.
I covered Notre Dame’s Spring Game, and while I thought they have a ton of talent, I also saw some areas where they can be exposed.
- On deep pass plays, their secondary can be had
- Their front seven is solid but I believe Michigan’s offensive line will be able to get the running game going.
- ND’s offensive line has lost key contributors but have a hell of an offensive line coach in Jeff Quinn that will have these dudes ready to roll
- Brandon Wimbush could be a great player if he progresses, or he’ll remain an average player with a rocket arm if he doesn’t correct his accuracy issues.
- Michigan has more talent on both sides of the football, but that doesn’t mean jack, you have to go out and win.
- Playing at Notre Dame Stadium is rough, the fans will be loud. But Wolverines fans could make their presence known like Georgia did against ND last season. That could be pivotal.