Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Michigan Wolverines Pick
Notre Dam Fighting Irish (5-1 SU, 4-2 ATS) vs. Michigan Wolverines (5-1 SU, 2-4 ATS)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 26th, 7:30 PM
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
Point Spread: ND +2 / MICH -2 (SportBet)
Over/Under Total: 51
SETUP FOR SUCCESSNotre Dame comes in off of a bye week after defeating and but not covering against USC 30-27. This weeks’ game against Michigan is currently their last game of the season against a ranked team, as none of their remaining five opponents (Virginia Tech, Duke, Navy, Boston College, Stanford) are ranked in the current top 30. A second loss would undoubtedly end any Irish chance of getting into the BCS Playoffs, making their trip to Michigan this week that much more important and crucial for them to make the most of their remaining opportunity.
PROTECTING THE BALLOne reason for Notre Dame’s continued success this season has been the play of quarterback Ian Book, who has protected the ball well with just two interceptions on the season compared to 14 touchdowns, a stat that has gone a long way in helping the Irish who currently ranks third in the nation in turnover ration with a mark of +10. After throwing an interception in six of his last seven games in 2018, Book has thrown a pick in just one game this season (vs. Georgia), but it’s not only through the air that he has found success, running for 188 yards and three touchdowns. He is second on the team in rushing scores, and the team is now 5-0 overall in games in which he gets into the endzone on the ground.
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GROUND BREAKINGRunning back Tony Jones Jr. continued his successful season against USC, rushing for a career-high 176 yards. On the season, he is now averaging seven yards per carry and has tallied four rushing touchdowns. His expected backfield sharing mate to start the year Jafar Armstrong briefly returned last week from injury and should provide a healthy boost to the backups along with C’Bo Flemister, who has scored a touchdown in the previous three weeks.
AIR ATTACKIan Book’s favorite target remains senior wide receiver Chase Claypool, who this year leads the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. The team is now 8-1 throughout Claypool’s career when he gets into the endzone, though only one of those wins was against a ranked opponent, and the only loss was this year against highly touted Georgia. Second on Book’s look list has been tight end Cole Kmet, who since returning after a brief absence due to injury has posted 265 yards receiving and three scores through his first four games of the season.
DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWNFree safety Alohi Gilman is the current team leader in tackles with 38 and joins Jalen Elliot and Kyle Hamilton (two interceptions apiece) to round out a well-balanced Irish defensive backfield. Up front, Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareen have a combined 7.5 sacks, while the middle of the defense is patrolled by Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Asmar Bilal and Drew White, who ranked 2nd thru 4th respectively in team tackles. All will have to play at their best against a Michigan offense that may have underachieved so far this season (they don’t rank above 67th in any major offensive category), but still has the potential to put up points if Notre Dame suffers any sort of a letdown or mental lapse.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELFMichigan heads into this week coming off a disappointing 28-21 loss to Penn State, a defeat that now drops them to an embarrassingly unfortunate 1-24 in their last 25 games against teams ranked in the top 12. The loss dropped Michigan to 19th in the AP polls, and they still have plenty of roadblocks in their way this season with games on tap against Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State, a team that has beaten them in 14 of the last 15 years.
SHEA WHATThe loss to Penn State also continued a disappointing season for quarterback Shea Patterson, who many expected to make the leap in his senior year and become the player originally expected of him coming into his college career. Instead, he threw an interception for the seventh game in his last ten while also completing less than 59% of his passes for the fifth time out of seven games this season, and his season average remains at just 57.4%. It’s not all bad for Patterson, as he is second on the team with five rushing touchdowns and has thrown twice as many scores (9) as interceptions (4). The problem is when Patterson is off-target, it does seem to affect his teams’ success, as he has thrown a pick in nine of the last ten losses he has suffered in college.
SOMEONE’s GOTTA STEP UPOne problem for Patterson is the lack of quality targets available in the Michigan offense, as not one player has caught over two touchdown passes on the season, and only one has over 20 receptions (Ronnie Bell), and he has yet to get into the endzone himself. Nico Collins, Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Nick Eubanks are the only other players with over six receptions on the season, and if the Michigan offense wants to be able to trade points with an Irish team averaging 39.2 points per game all five will need to step up their play.
BACKFIELD LEADEROne area that looks to have some promise is the backfield, with two freshmen and a sophomore leading the way amongst the running backs. First-year Wolverine Zach Charbonnet is the best of the group with 457 yards rushing, 4.9 yards per carry average, and seven touchdowns scored. The Notre Dame run defense has been one weak spot statistically so far this season ranking just 64th nationally, and if Charbonnet could find a hole or two, it would go a long way in helping Michigan gain any sort of advantage in what is expected to be a highly contested rivalry game.
THE FINAL DECISIONOne variable that has taken on a clear recent historical advantage has been who is fortunate enough to be the home team, with the host having won the last five in the series and Notre Dame going just 1-7 in their previous eight at Michigan Stadium with their last win there coming in 2005. Michigan has also gone 23-2 in their last 25 games at home while Notre Dame is 1-10 in their previous 11 road matchups against ranked opponents and 11-13 in their last 24 away games overall. The problem for the Wolverines of late though has been their ability to hang with teams that can put points on the board, as they are 31-2 in their last 33 games allowing less than 24 points, but are just 1-11 in their previous twelve games when allowing 24 points or more. Something has gotta give amongst the Michigan trends, and I believe a Notre Dame offense that’s putting up just under 40 points per game and has had two weeks to prepare should be to get enough done behind an experienced game manager in Ian Book and eventually pull the upset win against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
Mike’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Notre Dame +2
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