If you recall, last season, Justin Potts of Maize and Go Blue reached out to do a little guest post exchange. I gave him thoughts on why Notre Dame would beat Michigan over at Maize and Go Blue and he responded with the reasons why Michigan would win here at HLS.
This year, we did a Q&A exchange. Think of it as the IBG but with much, much less I.
Anyways, below are my questions and his answers for the final foreseeable tilt with Michigan. You can find my answers to his questions over there. If you’d like to give Justin a follow on Twitter, you can do so here.
1) I need to get a B1G fan’s perspective on this: what do you think about the nine-game conference schedule? Particularly, do you think Delany has handcuffed your scheduling with his desire for such a schedule (and late in the season no less)?
I’m all for it. In my opinion, the more conference games the better, instead of playing Appalachian States and directional Michigan teams. College football is trending away from it, but in my perfect world, conferences would be 10 teams, each team would play each of the other nine plus three non-conference games. I don’t like the fact that some teams can reach a conference championship games by playing an easier conference schedule than others. For example, the SEC East and West disparity the past few years, and the Big Ten East looks to be much tougher than the West this season.
I get the argument that more conference games limit quality non-conference opponents, but if conferences were equal across the country with everyone playing nine conference games AND college football had a playoff that rewarded playing tougher schedules, I’d like to think teams would schedule quality non-conference games like we’re really starting to see happen now.
Michigan has already been beefing up its non-conference slate with Florida, Oklahoma, UCLA, Virginia Tech, Washington, and Arkansas in the coming years. So I don’t think the nine-game conference slate handcuffs scheduling. And as we saw with today’s announcement of the Notre Dame-Ohio State series, Ohio State isn’t shying away from scheduling quality opponents either…they now have both Notre Dame and Texas in the 2022-23 seasons.
Regardless of who cancelled the Michigan-Notre Dame series, I wish it would stay for good, simply because it’s such a natural rivalry and the programs share such great history. And even though it has only been played 41 times, it has produced so many great games.
2) Which do you think better describes Michigan’s offense last week: Won because they ran the ball or ran the ball because they were winning?
Option C: Won because they were by far the better team. The running game was certainly encouraging with 350 yards and two running backs over 100 yards in the same game for the first time since 2007. But it’s way too early to tell whether that was a sign of things to come or simply a product of the quality of opponent. Let’s not forget that in the first couple games last season Michigan’s offensive line didn’t show signs of what it eventually became…leading the nation in tackles for loss allowed.
That being said, I think the most encouraging aspect of last Saturday’s rushing performance was that only nine of those 350 yards were by Devin Gardner. If he’s not counted on to pick up rushing yards — and just does it naturally when plays break down — the offense will be much more efficient than it was last season. Add to that the fact that new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has taught Gardner how to make pre-snap reads and given him the responsibility of doing so, and that will allow the offense to avoid the disasters that befell them a year ago.
3) Sticking with the rushing attack, I was struck by De’Veon Smith’s performance even though it appears he’s the #2 RB behind Derrick Greene. Was this a one time thing or do you think Smith will take the #1 RB roll over?
To be honest, I don’t think it matters. They’re going to share time all season (as long as both stay healthy) and that’s a good thing. Neither is the clear-cut favorite. They are fairly similar types of runners, both listed at 5’11”, 220. At this point, Green has a little bit more burst to him and accelerates through the hole pretty well when it’s there, but goes down more easily. Smith has more power, better vision to find the hole, and doesn’t go down as easily, but probably won’t produce as many big plays. Neither is going to outrun defensive backs as we saw last Saturday when both got caught before the end zone on big runs, but I do like what they bring as a duo and they fit in well with Nussmeier’s offense. They’re both true sophomores and will continue to get better, but I don’t see either getting a vast majority of the carries.
4) The other thing that stood out from watching Michigan play App State was how aggressive the defense was, especially with blitzes. I don’t seem to remember Michigan taking this approach last season. Is this new? Is this something you like?
That has been talked about all offseason and has been one of the things Michigan fans are most excited about entering the season, but Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield said after the game that he was surprised by it.
“This game was not what (Michigan) had shown all last year,” Satterfield said. “Why they did that, I don’t know…it was all game. Even the last drive, they were playing man.”
That Michigan got only two sacks last Saturday isn’t indicative of the pressure the defensive line created. App State only tried throwing downfield a couple of times and Michigan’s defensive backs didn’t give receivers any room to get open. Now, will it work against a team like Notre Dame with an experienced quarterback and much better athletes throughout? We’ll see. But Michigan does have enough talent and experience on its defense to be able to be more aggressive than the past few years.
One thing that is slightly concerning is linebacker. The biggest news on the defense throughout the offseason was the move of Jake Ryan to middle linebacker to allow the team’s best linebacker to be involved in more plays and prevent opposing offenses from taking him out of plays. But he didn’t look good or natural in the middle last Saturday. It will be interesting to see if Greg Mattison leaves him there or moves him to his more natural outside position where he can fly around and make plays. The bad news is that depth took a big hit with a (rumored) injury to Desmond Morgan. Hoke doesn’t talk about injuries, but Morgan is rumored to be out six weeks. If there’s one position group that Michigan has a lot of experience and depth, it’s linebacker, but if Mattison doesn’t figure out the linebacker situation, Notre Dame certainly has the ability to take advantage in ways App State wasn’t able to.
5) What’s your prediction for the game?
I’m still in the process of re-watching last week’s Notre Dame game, so I don’t think I can provided my definitive prediction at this point. That will come in tomorrow’s game preview. But I do see this one being a back-and-forth game right down to the wire. I think the two teams are pretty equal in terms of talent right now and both have an experienced quarterback that can make plays. Right now I’ll say Michigan wins it late, but check back tomorrow morning for my official prediction with more detail.