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September 6, 2013Breaking down the key matchups in Michigan's primetime showdown against Notre Dame Saturday night.
Michigan safeties vs. the Notre Dame deep ball
Notre Dame senior quarterback Tommy Rees threw for a career- high 346 yards in last week's 28-6 win over Temple.
Despite the big-time numbers, Rees completed a moderate 16 passes (on 23 attempts) against the Owls, relying on big plays to move the chains. A whopping 262 of his yards (75.7 percent of his output on the day) came on seven completions: two 32-yard touchdown throws to DaVaris Daniels, a 66y-yard touchdown to Troy Niklas, passes of 51, 26 and 20 yards to TJ Jones and a 35-yard toss to Chris Brown.
After one week, Notre Dame has more passes of 20 or more yards than all but one team in the country (Florida State hit eight passes of 20 or more yards in its win over Pitt).
The Michigan safeties are going to be hugely important in this game - and they have to make their reads smartly and decisively.
Here's a breakdown of Notre Dame's seven 20-plus passing plays.
This can all be avoided.
Three of the passes, including two of the touchdowns, came off a play-action fake. The Michigan safeties have to read their keys and make their plays. Rees will make you pay if you get caught looking in the backfield.
The swing passes are also concerning. It's an easy read, but one you have to act quickly on.
The return on fifth-year senior strong safety, who missed the Central Michigan game last week while serving a one-game suspension, will certainly help. And sophomore free safety Jarrod Wilson provided some nice help to the Michigan cornerbacks last week, and he blew up a screen pass with a quick read and a monster hit in the backfield.
This will be a big test for those two - but they should be up to the task.
Redshirt sophomore center Jack Miller vs. Notre Dame senior nose tackle Louis Nix
Nix tallied just one tackle against the Owls, but he can have a huge impact on a football game without racking up eye-popping stats.
Nix, a 6-3, 340-pound monster in the middle, returned to South Bend after considering a jump to the NFL, and his presence certainly bolsters the Irish's stout front seven.
Miller is going to have a fight on his hands, jumping into perhaps his toughest test of the season with just one start under his belt. He's giving up 50 pounds to Nix (290 compared to 340).
He cannot give too much of a push against the big man. A nose tackle that gets penetration up the middle of a formation - especially when Michigan is under center - can wildly disrupt running lanes, the passing pocket and just about anything Michigan would want to do offensively.
Miller has to hold his ground.
But he won't be alone.
Miller won the starting job in large part to his technical prowess and deep understanding of the system. He will be directing the communication and checks along the interior offensive line - and he will be calling for help when he can get it from redshirt freshman right guard Kyle Kalis and redshirt sophomore left guard Graham Glasgow.
Their ability to help Miller get set up against Nix before moving second level will be huge, too.
In our weekly staff picks, everyone but guest picker Doug Karsch said the game would be decided by a touchdown or less.
This is going to be a close game - and the little things matter in close games.
Michigan will have some opportunities to flip the field position in the special teams game.
The Owls had some success returning kickoffs, including a 39-yard return. Sophomore slot receiver Dennis Norfleet, a fan-favorite for his athleticism and speedy cuts, may find some nice lanes against the Irish.
Notre Dame punter Kyle Brindza didn't have a stellar day, averaging 41.5 yards on five punts, with a long of 47 yards and two sub-40-yard punts.
The Irish also missed two field goals on the day: Nick Tausch missed a 39-yard attempt, and Brindza missed a 44-yarder.
The Wolverines special teams looked solid in their debut. Norfleet made a poor decision to try and cover a rolling punt inside the 20-yard line. But he did take one back inside the five (which was called back) and averaged 26.5 yards per kick return, including a career-long 39-yarder against the Chips.
Fifth-year senior kicker Brendan Gibbons hit his 14th consecutive field goal, tying a program record.
And redshirt freshman punter Kenny Allen boomed a 51-yard punt.