Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 26, 2019*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 34 of 55 OCT. 26, 2019 35 BY TODD D. BURLAGE MICHIGAN RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE The Wolverines' offensive problems this season have been well-documented, and rightfully so. Traditionally a bruising bunch up front that takes control of games on the ground, this Michigan unit has drastically underachieved this season, even with outmanned opponents such as Middle Tennessee, Army and Rutgers already conquered. Working against an undersized front seven from Army, Michigan managed only 108 rushing yards, and in its following game the Wolverines recorded 40 rushing yards — with a long rush of nine yards — against Wisconsin. During their 4-1 start, the Wolverines averaged just 128.4 yards per game to rank 11th in the Big Ten and 102nd nationally. True freshman Zach Charbonnet emerged as the team's top option, compiling 260 yards and four scores on the ground. The Irish started the season slowly in this cat- egory, giving up 461 yards to Louisville and New Mexico in their first two games, ranking as one of the worst rushing defenses in the country. Notre Dame has steadily improved and stabilized since, moving itself into the top half of the country (61st) in ground control (154.3 yards allowed per game) heading into its matchup with USC Oct. 12. In consecutive games against Virginia and Bowl- ing Green, the Irish allowed a combined 122 rush- ing yards. Advantage: Notre Dame MICHIGAN PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE With senior quarterback Shea Patterson back for a second year as the starter and former Alabama assistant Josh Gattis taking over as the offensive coordinator at Michigan this season, production in the passing game was expected to make significant strides. Hopes were so high — with Patterson even men- tioned as a preseason Heisman Trophy hopeful — many experts picked Michigan as a safe bet to earn its first-ever College Football Playoff berth. But a 35-14 drubbing at Wisconsin last month and a passing offense that has ranked in the bottom half of the country in yardage and efficiency through the first half of this season has cooled those early projections. Through five weeks, U-M ranked eight in the Big Ten and 73rd in the country in passing yards per game (238.6), plus 10th and 84th, respectively, in team passing efficiency (129.13 rating). In addition, a struggling offensive line had resulted in a No. 75 national ranking in sacks allowed per game (2.20). Patterson completed just 58.7 percent of throws (81 of 139) with six scores and three picks in his first five outings, while averaging 210.4 passing yards per contest. Sophomore wide receiver Ron- nie Bell was Patterson's top target with 17 grabs for 263 yards, while junior wideout Nico Collins has proven to be a big-play threat (13 receptions for a team-high 269 yards and two scores). Collins' aver- age of 20.7 yards per catch ranked 20th nationally. According to Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, fifth-year senior cornerback Shaun Crawford is projected to return from his elbow injury (versus Virginia) in time for the Michigan game. Sopho- more TaRiq Bracy had filled in, while freshman Cam Hart moved from wide receiver to cornerback. If Crawford indeed returns, Notre Dame will be well- equipped to handle the temporary setback. Pass defense has been a strength of the Irish this season. Through Oct. 5, Notre Dame ranked 12th in team passing efficiency defense (105.78 rating) and 17th in passing yards allowed per game (183.2). In addition, the Irish were 30th in the country in sacks per game (2.80). Plus, with six interceptions and two fumble re- coveries from the defensive backs through the first five games, this unit has been just as opportunistic as it has been reliable. Advantage: Notre Dame True freshman Zach Charbonnet was the Wolverines' top rusher after five contests, compiling 260 yards and four touchdowns. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL GAME PREVIEW: MICHIGAN On PaPer

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