For Michigan, it's about their ability to protect the QB long enough for him to get past his first read without being ear holed into concussion protocol. For Notre Dame, it is about whether or not Brandon Wimbush has improved his passing game (49.5% completion percentage in 2017) enough to fend off his backup Ian Book who has proven to be the better passer.
Returning Starters Analysis
Matchup and Starters Analysis
Please note the following:
Bold letters represent returning starters.
24 point star represents elite level performer.
6 point star represents up and coming star.
Plain team colored circle represents average player.
Red Highlighted outer circle represents below average player
Jim Harbaugh fired his best friend, best man and "run game coordinator" Tim Drevno, who was also the offensive line coach and replaced him with Ed Warinner who by all accounts coming out of Schembechler Hall has simplified the offensive lines blocking schemes and terminology enough that the players are now showing more consistency in both pass blocking and run blocking. Warinner who is a zone blocking technician who was once the offensive coordinator and O-line coach at Ohio State under Urban Meyer has brought a nmuch needed optimism with him to Ann Arbor.
Michigan did not have a spring game to analyze due to weather cancellation, so my guess is as good as anyone else as to what the offensive line will look like in 2018. We do know that Michigan returns a lot of experience and right at the center of the offensive line will be Cesar Ruiz.
Ruiz is expected to be the leader of the offensive in 2018. Ruiz was also Shea Patterson's center when they attended high school at IMG Academy, so there is some familiarity between the two most important pieces on the Michigan offense.
The Center position in football is just as important as the QB. The center is the one who is responsible for pre-snap reads and will help make pre-snap adjustments by calling out to his fellow lineman what scheme to use based on the defensive alignment. Time will tell if Cesar Ruiz will live up to his 4-star hype.
Michigan and Notre Dame Pass Offense
in 2017 the Michigan offensive line struggled when it faced higher tiered opponents giving up 36 sacks, or one sack every 9.61 att. And ranking 11th in passing offense.
Notre Dame was not any better giving up 30 sacks, or 1 sack per 11.73 att.
Michigan and Notre Dame Rush Offense
The Michigan rush offense in 2017 performed well at times but still ranked 49th nationally giving up a TFL every 6.37 att.
Notre Dame behind two first-round NFL draft Picks G Quentin Nelson and T Mike McGlinchey who were both top ten picks. Add in Josh Adams who rushed for 1400+ yds who also left for the NFL and you are left with an unproven backfield in 2018 and two significant holes to fill on the offensive line. Notre Dame has done a great job with offensive line development under Brian Kelly, and it will be interesting to see what the new starters can do against the Michigan defensive line.
Michigan and Notre Dame Run Defense Analysis
The Michigan defense will be top five once again this year. In 2017 they ranked 18th against the run and forced a TFL every 3.96 att. Forcing 3rd and long will be key.
Notre Dame was not as stout and ranked 51st against the run and forced a TFL every 6.41 att. This number indicates to me that if Notre Dame has not improved from last year defensively, Michigan should be able to find itself in a lot of 3rd and manageable situations.
Michigan and Notre Dame Pass Defense Analysis
Michigan's pass defense was number one in 2017 sacking the QB every 7.81 att.
Notre Dame ranked 53rd in 2017 and was not as potent when getting to the QB forcing a sack every 18.54 att.
The final Review: Michigan Defense
The one thing that is certain for Michigan will be the defense. The core of the defense is right up front on the defensive line where two defensive ends Rashan Gary, and Chase Winovich who combined for 30.5 TFL's and 14 Sacks in 2017 is primed to wreak havoc.
The second level of the defense will be led by two more experienced players, MLB Devin Bush, and Viper Khaleke Hudson. These two combined for 27.5 TFL's and 13 sacks.
The third level of the defense has become an embarrassment of riches for Michigan Defensive Coordinator Don Brown. Michigan had the nations top pass defense in 2017, and the two men who bolstered the secondary were defensive backs Lavert Hill and David Long who combined for four ints and 13 PBU's.
The Final Review: How Can Brandon Wimbush Overcome This Fierce Michigan Defense?
For Notre Dame it is about whether or not Brandon Wimbush has improved his passing game (49.5% completion percentage in 2017) enough to fend off his backup Ian Book who has proven to be the better passer.
Yes, Brandon Wimbush will have a mountain to climb in this game, and if he has improved his passing game, it may not be reflected in week one against the Michigan defense. But let's discuss some numbers on Wimbush starting with his recruiting ranking and his size.
Brandon Wimbush came to Notre Dame in the 2015 cycle as a four-star, third-ranked dual-threat QB nationally according to 247 sports. He is 6-1 226 lbs and has an explosive running ability. Wimbush gained 801 yds rushing in 2017 on 141 attempts and scored an incredible 14 touchdowns. Wimbush scored one point every 9.5 yds gained. But it is not the run game that Wimbush is lacking; it is his accuracy as a passer.
In 2017 Wimbush completed only 49.5% of his passes and was 87th nationally in total passer rating.
Using our situational tendency analysis, we can try to identify some of the critical areas that Wimbush will need to be successful on Saturday night if Notre Dame is going to win. I filtered the analysis to focus on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down situations and I immediately recognized that Wimbush hits the big play (BPO) when passing on first down in 2017.
This may have had a lot to do with the now departed RB Josh Adams who is in the NFL.
Adams averaged nearly seven yds per attempt in 2017 making first down BPO a little easier on Wimbush. The knock is not on Wimbush's long game; it has been on his short to intermediate throws that require more precision into tighter windows.
The windows tighten on third and obvious pass situations in football. Wimbush may get into trouble on Saturday night if he is still wildly inaccurate on short and intermediate throws. Michigans third-down pass defense allowed a 28% conversion rate on 98 total attempts in 2017. If Notre Dame cannot run the football effectively on first and second down and get into third and 7-9 yds to go situations against the Michigan front and secondary, they will struggle to score points.