Discussing a resurgence of run-heavy play calling in the FBS, former Notre Dame head man Lou Holtz recently revealed on ESPN that boosters at Notre Dame had confronted him after Holtz’s #1-ranked Irish had whooped another powerful opponent.
“You’re running the ball too much,” they growled at him. “Put a real passing QB in.”
“Yeah but we beat ‘em! We beat Texas. We beat Michigan. We beat USC!” Holtz shouted back, only to be told that the victories were worthless, that he was brought in to produce the “next Joe Montana.”
It’s great for publicity when you’ve got a Joe Montana leading your squad. Montana still is on more memorabilia than current UND quarterback Brandon Wimbush. The gap between the pair’s level of fanfare may be decreasing in Joe’s old age, though.
Wimbush cruises into his senior season after leading Notre Dame to a 10-3 record in 2017, but he didn’t do it by passing on every down. In fact, coach Brian Kelly’s style of Gold & Blue offense is to attack with an 11 on 11 running machine. Somewhere, Lou Holtz-era boosters are crying.
The pessimistic fans who surround the Golden Dome will always find play-calls to gripe about. But there’s not one member of Fighting Irish Nation who will be anything but full-force cheering for UND in the season opener this weekend. That’s because the dreaded Michigan Wolverines are in town.
Fiery head coach Jim Harbaugh has jump started UM’s football program, but he has yet to win a conference title or earn a playoff berth for the Big Blue. A road win over Notre Dame would be an excellent kick-start to the season, and he’s got a new toy at QB just for the occasion.
Harbaugh confirmed SEC transfer Shea Patterson as his starter behind center against UND. Beat writers believe that UM’s group of quarterbacks is more solid than ever, but Patterson’s ceiling will be a focal point of the season.
Perhaps worth more attention is that the Wolverines are ranked 14th in the AP Poll in August. It is the ideal starting point for a team such as Michigan. The top-15 ranking will provide players a competitive edge while keeping their drive at a high level. A poor ranking might have inspired a Harbaugh fiasco, and a high ranking would have provided a high cliff of potential to come crashing down from.
Strong defenses (and run-heavy offenses) are not in an ideal position right before the season opener. That’s because high-powered offensive units are finely tuned and have not been hit by the injury bug or put under the microscope by opposing defensive coaches. Harbaugh leads a conservative, hard-nosed program at UM, but he may decide to unleash an air bombardment with a quality passer in the pocket. Can the Fighting Irish respond if the Wolverines light up the scoreboard?
Former Irish RB Josh Adams will be replaced by Dexter Williams in what is likely a fine trade-off for Notre Dame. The possibility of Wimbush scampering the other way on read-option plays gives any running back an edge. As far as Wimbush’s arm is concerned, the senior could not hit the accuracy mark during an otherwise exceptional season in ’17. He attempted 30 or more passes in a mere 3 occasions, but only threw for 250+ yards once. Against Miami he was 10-of-21 and picked off twice, and the Stanford defense also intercepted him in the regular season finale.
It would improve the situation if there were more talented, experienced WRs hanging around on the outside. 2017’s leading pass-catcher Equanimeous St. Brown is playing on Sundays now. Miles Boykin is a speedy, elusive athlete, however, a 6’4” senior who caught a remarkable TD and reeled in 100+ receiving yards in Notre Dame’s Citrus Bowl win over LSU.
UND’s depth at receiver can be questioned, but there’s an electric running game to power the offense. The Irish defense will place high-caliber linebackers like Te’von Cooney and hybrid/rover Drue Tranquill on the field to create havoc for opposing offenses.
What we don’t know is if Wimbush can perform in crunch time if he has to live off his arm against an elite defense. Last year, there appeared to be a cap on his production level. Michigan has a defense stacked with quick, strong, and tenacious athletes that can create nightmares for quarterbacks.
Notre Dame vs. Michigan: Week 1 CFP Prediction
I’m starting to lean toward Michigan. The Wolverine defense could possibly one of the most feared in the country, with pass-rushers like junior Rashan Gary returning to a squad that held opponents to an average of 150 passing yards per game last year.
A sturdy run defense is crucial against Notre Dame, and UM should be loaded with Michael Dwumfour’s presence on the interior, and tremendous depth featuring 9 defensive linemen in rotation.
The Irish have potential holes on the OL, with Mike McGlinchey and Quinton Nelson leaving the program. That creates targeted weaknesses for Michigan’s front-7 on run blitzes.
I’m confident that the Wolverines can out-last the Irish and win in the 2nd half. Avoiding a sluggish start will be paramount for the Wolverines when facing the rabid South Bend environment. But assuming they avoid a rocky start, I would give Harbaugh’s crew a 4-in-5 chance to turn a halftime lead into an important OOC win.
My pick: Michigan on the moneyline.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.