Pat Leonard | Thursday, September 8, 2005
The last time Notre Dame played Michigan in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines ran the ball 54 times. Michigan won the game, 38-0.
It’s no secret Michigan coach Lloyd Carr is most comfortable when his team is running the ball efficiently. Even last Saturday, with Michigan up 27-10 at halftime of an eventual 33-17 win over Northern Illinois, sophomore running back Mike Hart had 27 carries for 117 yards and one touchdown. Freshman back Kevin Grady also had nine carries, 42 yards and a touchdown.
“They always had a great offensive line, so in the last 15, 20 years they started recruiting nationwide and the skill has come on board to give them as much speed as most of the marquee teams in the country,” Irish defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. “I think it’s all about stopping the run.”
Irish head coach Charlie Weis said his defense will be prepared not only for a strong running game, but a diverse one, as well.
“[Grady] holds about every Michigan rushing record there is known to mankind,” Weis said. “So you can’t just be concerned with just one guy. They could run the ball inside. They could run the ball outside. They could run with speed.”
Weis is not far off in his description of Grady, who holds the Michigan high school state records for carries (1,154), rushing yards (8,431), touchdowns (151), scoring (924) and consecutive 100-yard rushing games (24).
When he and Hart are both clicking, that means more opportunity for second-year quarterback Chad Henne to throw the deep ball – something Notre Dame struggled against last season and still appears prone to, as Pittsburgh exposed on its first series last Saturday.
“If we’re running the ball well, the safeties have to come up, which open up things for Chad,” Hart said.
Minter aims to make Michigan one dimensional in the passing game because he knows when Notre Dame did so last season, the result was an extra stroke in the win column.
As opposed to 2003 in Ann Arbor, when Michigan ran 54 times to its 24 pass attempts, the Irish forced the Wolverines into the air last September – they threw 40 passes and ran the ball 30 times.
Against Northern Illinois last Saturday, though the Wolverines rolled, their fifth-year senior left tackle Adam Stenavich felt his group turned in a sub-par performance.
“I felt we were just kicking ourselves in the foot a lot,” Stenavich said. “When we’d get down there, and then that fourth-and-one we didn’t get, that stopped the drive.
“Then we had a fumble on the goal line that stopped another drive. We just can’t make those mistakes this week against Notre Dame. They’re going to definitely capitalize more on them.”
All aspects of football including preparation, adjustments, coaching, special teams and others will come into play in the heated rivalry Saturday. But the truth, evidenced by recent and all-time history, is simple.
When Michigan runs well, Michigan wins.