What’s Their Deal?
Their deal is that I hate them and I hope we finally win in their Big Outhouse and stiff them every time they offer to renew the series. But you already knew that. Per usual, the read on Michigan would seem to be that they have an elite, swarming defense, as evidenced by their #4 defensive ranking in SP+. And sure, they smothered Rutgers and Iowa, allowing a mere field goal to those offensive juggernauts. But the Skunkbears have allowed at least 21 points to their other five opponents, including Middle Tennessee State, Army, and Illinois. Wisconsin’s run game was able to absolutely ruin them and make it a laugher by mid-second quarter. Ohio State pulverized Don Brown last year with the genius strategy of, um, running a lot of crossing routes. Still, that top five ranking means something, even if it sometimes feels like UM has gamed the advanced stats to have a crush on them no matter what happens on Saturdays.
Buzz about new wunderkind offensive coordinator Josh Gattis reached a fever pitch over the offseason, but the results so far have been decidedly mixed. Their 52nd ranked offense is averaging 29 points a game and has disappeared for whole halves (and games, really) at a time despite some outstanding skill position talent. Shea Patterson is still starting at quarterback, and sure, he has his moments, but on the whole is averaging only 7.5 YPA while completing 57% of his passes. The big men in front of him were supposed to be a major strength, but have allowed 12 sacks, and running backs have only been able to generate 4 YPC. There’s clearly work to be done for the supposedly new and improved Wolverine offense, even after displaying plenty of mettle by climbing back into it against Penn State.
One Scary Man: DE Kwity Paye
Michigan’s most disruptive player is an unlikely candidate. Born in Guinea as a refugee of the first Liberian civil war, the Rhode Island transplant was an afterthought to UM’s 2017 recruiting class, ranking #986 nationally when he committed. Now he leads the team with 8 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, already an improvement over last year’s numbers. Paye will be a headache when the Irish drop back to pass.
A Few Things I Hate About You
Throwing it back to our very first things I hate about you post here.
What to Expect
I’m alternating between “Michigan is a sitting duck, they’re demoralized after being knocked out of B1G title contention, we’re clearly better than them anyway” and “Michigan will be amped to be back home in the spotlight with a chance to play loose and redeem their season” with alarming frequency, but my gut tells me there’s more truth to the latter (drat). They have every reason to be hungry for a big game win after falling just short, yet again, in Happy Valley. It’s going to be a nervy few hours.
Saturday should tell us a lot about Ian Book and where he is in his progression as a college quarterback. The environment in Athens wasn’t too big for him, pre-snap issues aside, but can go on the road against a very good defense and bring home a win? The only ranked road win under his belt is Virginia Tech, and they were a paper tiger. Ian wasn’t ready to be the guy against UM last year, but Devin Bush, Chase Winovich, and Rashan Gary are all gone, and he needs to be ready now. Their rush defense is only giving up 3 YPC, but Chip Long needs to trust his offensive line to wear down the Wolverines’ front seven and set up Ian for some mesh routes and deep shots against a unit that’s vulnerable to them.
Defensively, there’s reason to be worried about the Wolverines’ deep reserve of talented receivers, even if Patterson’s inconsistency mitigates those concerns slightly. Gattis would be wise to use his quarterback’s legs in an attempt to neutralize the Irish pass rush, and his quarterback would be wise to trust his big receivers to go up and get the ball against ND’s cornerbacks, who are stretched thin and very much need Shaun Crawford to be ready to go. Blue chip freshman running back Zach Charbonnet hasn’t yet lit the world on fire, but has been gaining steam the past couple weeks. He shouldn’t have the same kind of holes Markese Stepp did a couple weekends ago — the corners will need safety help, sure, but the alignment shouldn’t be as dramatic as keeping three of them 15 yards deep on a regular basis. Look for Clark Lea to get creative in his attempts to hit Patterson early and often — he’s put the ball on the ground six times this year, in addition to his four picks thrown.
Irish jump out to a small lead, lose it temporarily, and finish strong. Typing this is making me sweat. ND wins 24-21.
Play ’em Out
Michigan’s most famous modern-day musical export is not up my alley. Thankfully, Sufjan Stevens exists.