Notre Dame at Michigan
Kickoff: 7:30 Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 8 Notre Dame 5-1; No. 19 Michigan 5-2, 3-2
Line: Notre Dame by 1
View from the other side
Eric Hansen covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune (ndinsider.com) and is co-host for Budweiser’s Weekday SportsBeat (wsbtradio.com). He breaks down the Irish for The Detroit News heading into Saturday night’s Michigan-Notre Dame game at Michigan Stadium.
► Question: Ian Book took over as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback in game No. 4 last season. How have you seen him progress and what kind of threat will he present the Michigan defense?
► Hansen: I’ve seen Book progress, regress and tread water all within the first six games of the season. And that’s a departure from the steady ascent he appeared to be on both last spring and throughout much of August training camp.
In his defense, the Irish have been adding back in three of their most dynamic offensive pieces gradually from August/early September injuries — tight end Cole Kmet, wide receiver Michael Young and, most recently, running back Jafar Armstrong.
Book’s biggest threat to Michigan and the rest of ND’s opponents, even when his game flattens out, is avoiding mistakes. He’s a big reason why the Irish lead the nation in turnover margin and red zone offense.
► Question: Michigan’s offense in the second half at Penn State last Saturday finally looked like it found a rhythm, although the Wolverines fell short. How do they match up with Notre Dame’s defense?
► Hansen: The best position group on either side of the ball for Notre Dame coming into the season was supposed to be its defensive line, especially at the end positions. That needs to show up Saturday night in Michigan Stadium if the Irish are going to walk out of there with a win.The D-line, coached by former Wolverine Mike Elston, sets the tone. It can change the complexion of a game. When it’s at its best, It camouflages other areas of the defense that are still growing. The worst-case scenario for the Irish is if they lose that battle with Michigan’s offensive line, Michigan presents a balanced offense and the Wolverines don’t self-destruct with turnovers.
► Question: Notre Dame did not have a game last Saturday and the school is on fall break this week, with no classes. Did the Irish spend all that extra time preparing for Michigan while Michigan was prepping for and playing Penn State?
► Hansen: The Irish generally save a little time for Navy’s triple-option during a bye week (they play Nov. 16), but Michigan got a lot of attention last week and all of it this week. Coach Brian Kelly did give the players three days off last weekend, while the coaching staff worked on self scouting.
The bye week formula has worked well for Kelly. He’s 11-1 at ND following a bye and 22-2 in his career.
► Question: The Irish have played their last three games at home since losing at Georgia on Sept. 21 (when Michigan lost the Big Ten opener at Wisconsin). It can be tough to go from the comforts of home, especially for an extended period, to a road game at night. Any concerns the Irish may have a slow start because of this?
► Hansen: I think if they start slow, it will be more because of Michigan playing well than the Irish not having been on the road for a while. They actually got off to a good start at Georgia, faded in the third quarter and then had a late, fourth-quarter rally fall short.
Communication was a huge problem in Athens, and so the players got an advanced course in playing through the noise.
► Question: Jim Harbaugh said this week there are conversations regarding continuing the Michigan-Notre Dame series and that he’s in favor. What’s the take from the Notre Dame side? Do the Irish and Irish fans want Michigan back on the schedule at some point in the near future?
► Hansen: Yes and yes. The challenge is making it happen in the “near future.” Ohio State, Purdue and Michigan State all rotate back onto the ND schedule in the 2020s. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick told me in August that he’s scheduling in the mid-2030s now.
The annual five-game commitment to the ACC complicates things. If it’s going to be sooner than later, it might have to be a similar arrangement to the one ND has upcoming with Arkansas. The Irish return the trip to Fayetteville five years after the Razorbacks visit in 2020.
Players to watch
► Ian Book, QB: The junior quarterback leads all Power 5 quarterbacks in fourth-quarter passer rating (174.3) since the start of the 2018 season. The average rating is 126.8. He threw five touchdown passes in the first half against. Bowling Green, matching his career high (versus. New Mexico, 2019) and marking the first time in program history an Irish quarterback has recorded five touchdown passes in a half. Brady Quinn, Tommy Rees, Jimmy Clausen, Ron Powlus and Ian Book are the only quarterbacks in Notre Dame history to record four or more touchdown passes in three games in their career. Book’s 37 career touchdowns ranks him in eighth in Notre Dame history.
► Tony Jones Jr., RB: Jones had a career-high 176 rushing yards in the Irish win against Southern Cal, marking his fourth 100-yard rushing performance of the season and the fifth of his career. His previous rushing career-high came this season against Virginia (131 yards). Jones Jr. is now tied for 14th in Notre Dame history with four 100-yard rushing games in a season. He has rushed for first downs on 40 percent of his rushing attempts.
► Cole Kmet, TE: The Notre Dame tight end, who missed the first two games of the season with a collarbone injury, has 21 receptions over the last four games, which is tied for the most among FBS tight ends during that stretch. He is a big-play threat and had a career-high nine catches at Georgia, which tied the program mark for receptions in a single game by a tight end. He had 108 receiving yards and a touchdown — including seven receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown in the first half — and was named the John Mackey Award’s Tight End of the Week in Week 4.
Bob Wojnowski and John Niyo preview UM-Notre Dame and MSU-Penn State on this week's College Football Show. The Detroit News
Facts and figures
► Single digits: The Irish defense held Virginia to just four total rushing yards, marking the fourth-lowest total by an opposing team of Notre Dame since 1996, and the fewest in the Brian Kelly era. Notre Dame produced tackles for loss on 44.8 percent of Virginia’s rushing attempts, a rate which led the FBS. The four yards was also the lowest total. Michigan also held a team to single digits, actually, a single digit this season. The Wolverines had eight sacks and Iowa was credited with one yard rushing.
► Perfection: Notre Dame has been perfect in red zone-scoring, converting on 22-of-22 visits inside the 20. Nineteen of those scores were touchdowns (11 rushing, eight passing). Just two other teams boast perfection in the redz one (Iowa and LSU), and, of those teams, only LSU (31) has totaled more red zone touchdowns than the Irish.
► Turnover advantage: The Irish have a turnover margin of +10, averaging +1.67 per game, heading into Saturday night’s game. The per game number leads FBS. Meanwhile, Michigan is 84th in turnover margin and 109th in turnovers lost. The Wolverines had one turnover at Penn State, an interception.