Handling Michigan's Pass Game Is Key For Notre Dame
Michigan will certainly try to run the football, and keeping the Wolverines from having a big game on the ground will be a key part of the Irish defensive attack. But the bigger key for Notre Dame is to limit the effectiveness of the Michigan pass game.
When the Michigan offense is rolling there are three things you will see:
1) Shea Patterson is protected by the line and making quick decisions
2) The wideouts are making plays down the field
3) There is a lot of yards after the catch
Michigan’s pass game isn’t overly complex, and there are three key ingredients to the pass attack. The first is the quick game:
Michigan will look to establish the quick game early in an attempt to get Patterson comfortable and into a good rhythm. It is also designed to give the wideouts and tight ends a chance to get into the game early as well.
Notre Dame must tackle well to limit the yards after the catch, but slowing down this part of the game will be key as well. If Patterson gets comfortable early he’ll be hard to stop. The key for Notre Dame is mixing up its coverages, which will keep Patterson from dropping and throwing I rhythm. That’s when he makes mistakes.
Michigan also likes to attack the middle of the field, and it will do so on all three levels.
Despite being just 6-0 and 184 pounds, Ronnie Bell is a frequent middle of the field target, and you can see that here. Michigan will also use its tight ends and bigger wideouts to attack the middle.
The Wolverines were especially effective over the middle against Penn State, with Patterson completing 17 of 26 passes for 181 yards. There were also two drops over the middle that would have added to the effectiveness. Notre Dame’s inside linebackers will be stressed in this part of the field and will have to be on top of their game.
It also stresses the safeties, who will be tempted to jump those middle of the field routes. When Michigan sees that you know they’ll go deep.
Hitting plays like the next two is how Michigan will have a chance to win this game. Michigan has lived and died on big plays this season, and its ability to get the ball over the top is big part of what they do.
This is the same route that Nico Collins beat Notre Dame for 52 yards in 2018. He’ll attack the middle of the field deep, but they will also throw to him and Tarik Black on one-on-ones on the outside against Notre Dame’s smaller corners.
When Michigan is getting Patterson on the move he’s effective, whether it’s a designed movement throw or him moving around due to pressure. This is another area where Michigan can make big plays.
Michigan has an offensive line that was considered one of the nation’s best coming into the season. Left tackle Jon Runyan started the season banged up but he’s back to good healthy. Michigan gave up a lot of pressures in the first four games, but in the last three it has been much better at protecting the quarterback.
Notre Dame cannot allow Patterson to have a lot of time to throw the ball. The reason is two-fold; Patterson will get into a rhythm, which makes him dangerous and it gives Michigan’s talented wideouts a chance to catch the ball in space.
Patterson gets a lot of flak for not being effective when pressured, and the stats back that up. But when he was time you will see a lot of plays like this:
There are two ways to get Patterson out of rhythm. The most obvious is to pressure him, but that’s easier said than done. If Patterson is able to hit the top of his drop and release the ball the Wolverines will be efficient and effective.
Four-man pressures will be key, but you can’t just rush four and play man all game behind it. The second part of effecting Patterson is mixing up the coverages to force him to go through multiple reads. Patterson is really good when he can make his drop, go to his first read and throw on rhythm. When his first read isn’t there he’s not as good, and mixing up looks is key to getting him out of sync.
That means using the corners to try to limit the quick game, and then using the linebackers and safeties to effectively limit the in breaking routes and crossing routes that Michigan likes to use.
Wisconsin keeps one safety deep to protect against the deep ball, but the rest of its coverage was aggressive and jumping into the throwing lanes. Patterson couldn’t hit his first read and had to hold onto the ball longer. When that happens you can see him start to press, and he’ll either force the ball into traffic or just miss, which he does here.
Wisconsin and Iowa showed the blueprint to beating Michigan. Win at the line of scrimmage, limit the effectiveness on downfield throws, get Patterson out or rhythm. If Notre Dame can repeat that, attack the Michigan line with its talented front four and force Patterson to hold onto the ball a bit longer the defense will have a lot of success.