- Michigan's defense was an elite unit in 2017 by almost every measure, and all but two starters return.
- Because Notre Dame struggles when it passes, the Irish must trust their offense to run wild on a proven Michigan defensive line.
Say what you want about Michigan’s offensive struggles, but its defense has played at a national-championship level for two seasons.
Thanks to its monstrous defensive line and a secondary to back it up, the Wolverines are a good game plan away from shutting down Notre Dame and its limited attack on offense.
Michigan is a 1-point favorite for Saturday’s game — a line that has been bouncing around all week — with the over/under set at 47.
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The Irish offense is 98th in returning production and lost nearly every skill position player to graduation or transfer. Its starting quarterback, Brandon Wimbush, completed fewer than half of his passes last season and was pulled in the Citrus Bowl because he couldn’t get the offense going.
Notre Dame had a phenomenal offensive line in 2017, producing two top-10 draft picks in Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson. Both of them are gone, along with one more lost lineman, totaling three of five from 2017’s elite unit. The Irish also lost their offensive line coach.
The Irish always reload on the O-line, but there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about the position group. Four reasons, actually. Rashan Gary, Mike Dwumfour, Aubrey Solomon and Chase Winovich — Michigan’s defensive linemen.
Where Notre Dame’s offense is inexperienced, Michigan’s is the opposite. Where Notre Dame’s offense is without a star right now, Michigan’s defense has two future draft picks, a former 5-star and Mo Hurst’s protege.
Notre Dame’s offensive line vs. Michigan’s defensive line should scare Irish bettors.
Overall, Michigan’s defense ranks 15th in the country in returning production.
In 2017, the Wolverines defense ranked third in total defense, first in first downs allowed per game, first in third-down conversion percentage, third in completion percentage and sixth in yards per play.
So that matchup is settled. Michigan could — and, on paper, should — dominate the Irish’s offensive line. Does that mean Notre Dame should find a way to run outside? Or rely on its pass game with Wimbush, or even backup Ian Book?
Not so fast. Notre Dame lost its top receiver in Equanimeous St. Brown and star running back Josh Adams, who had 994 yards after contact and got some Heisman love. And, according to just about all of the Irish media, Brian Kelly is more than likely suspending his starting running back for the game.
And while Michigan’s D-line makes a case to be the country’s best defensive unit, its strengths go beyond just what it does in the trenches.
The pass defense was arguably the country’s best, and every defensive back (even the nickel) returns for Michigan. The Wolverines allowed 5.9 yards per pass last year, No. 6 in the country.
Michigan’s star cornerbacks, David Long and LaVert Hill, are the unit’s most important returners, and posted absurd numbers last season — including a ridiculous 11.9 passer rating against when Long was targeted.
With potential All-Americans in Gary, Winovich, Hill and Long, it almost makes you forget that Michigan’s MIKE LB Devin Bush Jr. might be the unit’s best player. He’s certainly its fastest linebacker, according to Jim Harbaugh.
“He’s one of the fastest linebackers I’ve ever been around or seen,” Harbaugh said of Bush.
The junior is already a captain and an AP Preseason All-American, and he’s gotten even bigger in the offseason.
Considering Michigan’s speed and strong pass defense, it has the appropriate weapons to do something quite simple: Stack the box and challenge Wimbush to throw the ball — something he’s unsuccessful at more than half of the time.
And, if it’s anything like last year for Wimbush — which, according to those at practice, it’s going to be — it isn’t going to bode well for the Irish offense on Saturday night.